Power Couple

May 17, 2017

Meet the DePaul filmmaking duo shaking things up in the Middle East

Hamzah JamjoIMG_2449om (CDM ’06, MFA ’12) and Jacquelyn (Chenger) Jamjoom (CDM ’10) fell in love with DePaul—and then with each other. Both describe their first steps on campus in glowing terms. Hamzah, originally from Saudi Arabia, had been studying engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, but the emphasis on theoretical concepts didn’t satisfy his yearning for hands-on work. In DePaul’s computer graphics and animation program, Hamzah found the excitement he’d been seeking. Meanwhile, Jacquelyn enrolled in the College of Communication to pursue radio, television and film, only to transfer to CDM’s nascent film program as soon as it launched.

By that point, Hamzah was pursuing an MFA in digital cinema. As part of his graduate duties, he led an editing workshop for the Introduction to Production course. “Jacquelyn was one of the only students to show up,” he remembers, “and she was the only one paying attention!” Soon, the two budding filmmakers were collaborating on projects. It was a heady time as students and faculty alike worked to shape the film program. “Everyone was desperate to learn,” Hamzah says. “We were very involved with our own development and growth.”

Hamzah’s studies took a surprising turn when he received an opportunity to work on the big-budget IMAX film “Arabia.” The movie was shot over four years, and Hamzah’s responsibilities grew over that time. But DePaul never asked him to take a leave of absence or drop out of the program. Hamzah remains grateful to DePaul for helping to facilitate that experience. “My advisors and professors understood that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Hamzah says. “It truly helped me to become a better filmmaker.”

Today, Jacquelyn and Hamzah, along with adjunct faculty member Patrick Wimp (CDM MFA ’09), run Digital Hydra, a Chicago-based film production company. “At the beginning, we had a lot of ideas and were really excited, but we had to figure out how to fulfill certain roles to make it work from a business perspective,” Jacquelyn says diplomatically. Hamzah gets straight to the point: “Patrick and I are artistic and creative and disorganized and don’t know how to manage our time; Jacquelyn keeps us in check, on budget and on task.” Fittingly, Jacquelyn’s title is director of operations/executive producer, while Hamzah and Patrick are co-owners/creative directors.

Digital Hydra’s varied projects include commercials for WGN, Sprint, Facebook, McDonald’s and HBO, as well as the television series “Dine and Dash” and “Wa Mahyaya.” The latter, a philosophical show that explored the ego in everyday life, was the third most-watched series in the Middle East in 2015. Now, the founders are pursuing their passion for narrative projects; Hamzah is creating a sci-fi show called “Balance,” while Jacquelyn is working on a pilot, “Public Housing Unit.”

Working together can be challenging at times, in part due to long hours and the difficulty of separating home life from career ambition. “When you have big dreams and you take your work as seriously as we do, it’s really hard to let go, even at home,” Jacquelyn says, adding that she and Hamzah worked side by side on their laptops until 2 a.m. the night before. “Plus, we’re getting paid out of the same pot,” Hamzah notes. “That can be scary at times.”

On the other hand, they are thrilled to be able to do what they love together. “It feels like things started clicking this past year, and that time investment we’ve made has really paid off,” Jacquelyn says.

“It’s a great feeling to know that we’re getting to the point where we can help shape the next generation of storytelling.”

In particular, the couple is focused on disrupting the status quo. “As much as we want to make amazing, action-packed, entertaining films, we also feel an obligation to tell stories that will resonate with people who don’t always feel that they’re being represented,” Jacquelyn says. “We’re trying to build a more inclusive future.” It’s a tall order, but the Jamjooms are optimistic. “A show can be exciting and entertaining but still tell a very deep message,” Hamzah says. “We hope our future shows impact the world in a positive way and change people for the better.”