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Shankaboot, the Arab world’s first Web video fiction series

Text by Jean-Baptiste Marot

Latest update : 2010-05-01

The Arab world’s first Web series tells the story of Sleimane, a young deliveryman from Beirut. Online since March 12, the series hopes to compete with popular Turkish and Latin American TV dramas.

From Algiers to Damascus, it could be the next big thing on the Arab-language Web. Discreetly being tested since March 12, Shankaboot – the Arab world’s first Web series – has already had some success. Less than two months after its first broadcast, the 11 episodes of season one, each of which is between four and five minutes long, have been viewed more than 24,000 times on YouTube. The site has had nearly 30,000 visits.

Financed by the BBC World Service Trust and the Batoota Films production company, the series tells of the daily life of Sleimane, a young deliveryman who zips through the streets of Beirut on his scooter to deliver medicines, bottles of gas and food to the city’s residents. The stories of several other characters revolve around him, including those of Roueida, a young woman with whom he falls in love, and Chadi, an enigmatic character who is somehow responsible for allowing Sleimane to work.

Being a Web series, Shankaboot was freed from the usual limitations applied to TV programs but had to conform to the formatting needs of the Internet. With its dynamic editing, realistic settings, engaging music and use of regional, idiomatic Arabic, the result is a story that young Lebanese can identify with – one that is a world away from the usual locally produced or imported series that use more formal, literary Arabic.

Inciting debate on taboo subjects

“We have worked according to one principle: do not lose the audience’s attention, which can be very fleeting on the Web,” says Katia Saleh, the producer of Shankaboot. “On the internet, people don’t want to watch a long, feature-length film – they want to see things quickly.”

In a country where Internet connections can be problematic, the series’ authors did not want to make anything too long. Some Internet surfers already have to wait more than half an hour to download one episode.

Despite the technical challenges, the Web has many advantages, say its makers. “Shankaboot is not just a Web series,” says Saleh. “It is also an interactive project that, thanks to its forum and its Facebook page, has inspired people to debate subjects that one cannot speak of on either radio or TV in Lebanon.”

In season two, which is being edited now, the series discusses topics that are normally taboo in the Arab world, like corruption, drugs or prostitution. 

The official launch of Shankaboot will take place on June 12 in Beirut, and a large concert with many Lebanese artists has been planned for the occasion. Its promoters are hoping that this big event will allow their Web drama to compete with the Turkish and Latin American televised series that are popular in the region.

Date created : 2010-05-01