Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Dubbing Disney

Nesmahar Sayed breaks into an all but secret world

Dubbing Disney
Dubbing Disney
Al-Ahram Weekly

While watching Ice Age: Collision Course, my eleven-year-old son Abdel-Rahman asked why everyone was speaking in Fusha, or formal Arabic — as opposed to Ammiya, the spoken colloquial more common in the entertainment industry — so I decided to ask Aysha Selim, director of dubbing at the biggest company in the business, Masria Media. 

Selim has been in the field since 1997, when she joined the newly launched Disney Channel as Arabic dubbing manager, and she has always had the same philosophy, “I will quote Nelson Mandela: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’” Dubbing not only allows the viewer to focus on the picture without the need to read subtitles at the same time, it is also believed to make a movie more accessible to the target audience. The rates for voice actors depend on the medium — online or television, home video (i.e., DVD) or theatrical release — as well as the market situation.

Yamen Abdel-Nour, a Syrian voice actor who has been in the field for many years, played Julian in Ice Age: Collision Course. He says he recorded his role in three hours. “The client decides the language used in dubbing,” Abdel-Nour explains, “whether it is Syrian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic or Fusha, the most frequent recently.” According to Abdel-Nour a company’s success depends not only on the quality of acting and the script translation but on other factors too. “Professionalism as well as talent, using a good studio and keeping deadlines all contribute to a good reputation and market stability.”

Abdel-Nour moved to Egypt four and a half years ago following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. He does not believe the political situation as such has affected the dubbing market back in Syria, although the war has driven artists and intellectuals out of the country. “But the studios, to my knowledge, are still operating. Some may have moved to Lebanon.” According to Selim, “Having Syrian actors here has benefited the market. It allows the co-existence of a variety of dialects, which has also allowed production houses to offer Syrian dubbing as a service.” 

Selim agrees that the current boom has led to a corresponding rise in dubbing courses in Egypt, but she is not convinced they help much: “Dubbing is a trend and many people want to be part of it, but nothing beats actual first-hand experience. Dubbing is just like acting: you can take as many courses as you want to, but until you actually do it on stage, on screen or on the radio, you cannot call yourself an actor.” 

None of which answers Abdel-Rahman’s question, however. The reason, according to a veteran director who has been in the business for 35 but spoke on condition of anonymity, is simple. Using Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the simplified-modernised Fusha used on news programmes across the Arab world, has been the trend for a few years because MSA is understood by more or less everyone in the Arab world. Clients choose the language not only on the basis of the target audience, what is more, but also to match the content: Egyptian Arabic tends to work best for comedy, for example; Turkish drama is dubbed into Syrian while Indian drama is dubbed into Gulf Arabic, to accommodate de facto cultural associations.

In a New Yorker article published in May 2014, taking the example of Frozen, Elias Muhanna germanely asked, “What is missing is a constituency for cultural production in dialectal Arabic?” For Nevine Agha, however — Ellie in Ice Age: Collision Course, who has been in the business for 15 years — MSA has the added benefit of familiarising children with Fusha, thus improving their literacy at an early age.

According to Selim dubbing exposes lack of talent because, as she puts it, there is nowhere to hide: “No make-up, no lights, no set. It’s like radio drama but more difficult as the actor or actress have to deliver within a specific time frame in sync with the picture, at the same time making it believable in their own own culture. It’s a challenge. So basically one has to be talented, then the technicalities come with practice.”

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