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By Vic Kings

1. You started your career in cinema working as an assistant director and editor. How have these experiences helped you to build your filmmaking style and your experience in directing, writing, and producing your works?

Starting as an assistant director and editor allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the work involved in filmmaking. As someone who prefers to write their scripts, or at least be part of the scriptwriting process, my experience has given me the reflex to always consider the production aspect of things. This includes considering how we can shoot certain scenes, and how we can bring the script to life on screen. This balance between creativity and practicality has been invaluable in my career as an author-director. Ultimately, it's crucial to make our ideas a reality, and my experience has taught me how to make the right decisions that serve the art.

2. Besides being a director, you are also a lecturer and researcher. How do these various sides of you contribute to your filmmaking? And how does filmmaking affect these other areas of your career?

I consider myself fortunate to be involved in both practice and theory, as I don't necessarily prefer one over the other. Instead, I find that they complement each other. Engaging with theory not only enriches my knowledge but also allows me to generate original thoughts and ideas, much like creating artwork. I believe that art and theory share a close affinity. In my work, theory helps me maintain a high standard of artistic value, serving as a constant reminder that my work should never be mainstream. On the other hand, my fieldwork enables me to be the best possible instructor for my students. Having personal experience allows me to connect with my students on a deeper level, teaching from the heart and sharing real-world examples to help them understand the concepts.

3. As a researcher, you are doing your Ph.D. in Latin American Cinema. How would you describe the impact that Latin American Cinema has on your cinematic style and approach?

I often ask myself why I ended up studying Latin American cinema. The answer, which I discovered not long ago, is that I found in these films, particularly the early works of Alejandro Iñárritu and Walter Salles, protagonists who resembled us in Lebanon. They were like a mirror to me, sharing the same concerns, feelings, and beautiful chaos. I was fascinated by how I could relate to them so deeply and powerfully, even though they were speaking a different language on a different continent. This connection is what drew me to delve into this cinema, and it continues to amaze me to this day. While I cannot confirm that my cinematic style is directly influenced by Latin American cinema, I began my research after completing my first film, "Ila Haythou – To Nowhere." My second film, "Mouhawala – An Attempt," tells a story of a Lebanese teacher during the 2019 Lebanese October Revolution. When I wrote the film, my main concern was capturing the events happening in my surroundings. It's interesting that I later realized that similar events were unfolding in Latin America at the same time. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but it revealed an unintended connection between our regions. This realization deepened my appreciation for Latin American cinema, as it highlighted the socio-political similarities between our cultures. Isn't it amazing?

4. Speaking of influences, can you tell us more about which filmmakers inspire you in your career as a director and screenwriter?

It has always been difficult for me to answer the question of who my favorite filmmaker is, as many of them have left a great impact on me. I would be more comfortable naming films that affected me deeply. For me, they are films that evoke deep emotions every time you watch them as if it's the first time. While I don't have a particular favorite, if I had to name a few, "Bleu" by Krzysztof Kieslowski and "Hiroshima Mon Amour" by Alain Renais would be at the top of my list. The main reason I adore these films is the masterful depiction of sadness in their storylines and characters. Watching Julie try to take control of her life after the tragic loss of her family was intense and moving for me. Seeing everything about Hiroshima through Alain Resnais' lens and Marguerite Duras' text left a deep impression on me. I am not entirely sure why this theme, in its many forms, affects me so much. However, I am convinced that sadness, tragedy, and pain can be powerful triggers for beautiful and unforgettable artworks, and these two films are excellent examples of that.

5. "Ila Haythou" was your first short film as a director, and it projected your career on an international level through film festivals. How do you perceive the impact that film festivals have on independent filmmakers?

The relationship between festivals and independent filmmakers is a bit problematic for me. To answer this question, we need to clarify what kind of festivals we are talking about. Are we referring to the Class A festivals? Undoubtedly, it is every filmmaker's dream to have their work featured there. However, the reality is that these festivals are now more politically driven than artistic. Every few years, there will be a popular theme, and filmmakers who conform to it and have the right connections and circumstances can get in. I am not degrading their work, but it does raise the question of how independent we can remain as artists if we adhere to the dominant discourse adopted by these festivals to be featured.

In my experience, I can confidently say that independent filmmakers are better served by independent film festivals, even if they are on a smaller scale. The scale is not as important as the festival's respect for the artist's independent ideas and their refusal to compromise. This is the freedom of expression that I genuinely believe is at risk of being lost.

6. Still about "Ila Haythou", how was the production process of your experimental short film?

As you mentioned, the process was experimental and far from classical. It relied on feelings, impressions, intuition, and most importantly, deep personal past experiences. Ila Haythou, my eight-minute experimental film, took five long years to complete. I had to step away from it many times as it was really heavy on me. The production phase was a healing phase for me, therapeutic in the deepest sense of the word. I connected with myself, understood myself, and forgave what hurt me, allowing it to inspire me and push me forward.

Technically, Ila Haythou was unplanned. The cinematographer Joseph Abdo and I started shooting without having any plan, just sharing the common interest of discovering the body in a new form, in a new vision. And when the footage started to become more powerful than us, I decided to include text. Fawzi Yammine, a Lebanese poet, was my choice for this project as I was a fan of his work. And this is when I clung to the text and allowed it to lead the experimental experience. We shot for five years, one day each year. A dear friend once told me in a conversation, "You should learn when to stop." And that is what made me move to post-production because I had decided to stop.

The footage and the process can be addictive, and that is the beauty of it. This is not a classic way to make a film, but I like unorthodox methods.

7. One of the central themes of your first short film is the observation and examination of the endlessness that is the body, especially the female body, formed by unique lines, volumes, curves, and textures. How was the choice of the poem that comes with Joseph Abdo's amazing cinematography done?

As I mentioned before, the text came after we started shooting, and for me, it became the leading line. I chose the poem because of the writer's style, but to explain why, I need to highlight something about the Arabic language: Our written language differs from the spoken dialect, and while the Arabic language is common throughout the Arab world, each country has its dialect.

Fawzi Yammine, like me, is Lebanese, and what is interesting about his poems is that he sometimes uses words from the spoken Arabic language, making his poems direct, understandable, and powerful. In general, poetry can express what normal language cannot articulate, but when Arabic poetry includes words from my dialect, it becomes even more powerful for me. In my experimental journey, I chose to include Fawzi Yammine's style to express what I felt. The combination of the macro images in Ila Haythou and the written text worked because the images allowed me to see what my eyes do not usually see, and the text said what I usually cannot express or say.

8. Your second short film, An Attempt, has a completely different technical and thematic approach than its predecessor. How was this new challenge for you as a filmmaker?

Well, "An Attempt" was my first fiction film. Although experimental filmmaking is deeply ingrained in me, I found myself impulsively starting to write "An Attempt". In the fast-changing reality that we were facing in Lebanon, my defense mechanism was the only medium I understood: cinema. When the decision to make the film was made, we did not expect the challenges we would face. We started shooting just before COVID hit, and then we faced lockdowns. Additionally, we faced rapid inflation in Lebanon concerning the dollar rate. And most importantly, we faced the Beirut Blast. The country was in a constant state of shock, struggling to breathe. We were being hit harder each time, and there seemed to be no hope in sight. I remember that the four days of shooting were scheduled after the Beirut Blast (of course, we did not know this would happen). A crew meeting was scheduled for August 5th, but the blast took place on August 4th. I was in total shock and unable to speak for 24 hours, just like any Lebanese. Our capital was literally on the ground. I called to cancel the meeting and even the shooting, but the crew did not accept and insisted on moving forward. It was a heavy burden for me. However, life goes on, and challenges and pain find their way into our art to shape it and make it more authentic.

During the shooting, due to the new reality, we were facing, we had limited access to fuel. The money we had on hand for the production lost its value, and Covid made it dangerous for us to be present in large groups. All of this put us in an impossible situation, not to mention the tragedy of the blast. We had to change the plan of execution many times and the production team was in a tight position. However, we were somehow able to make it happen. I consider myself very fortunate to have had such a dedicated and supportive crew. Each member believed in the production and we worked tirelessly from the heart to bring the production to life.

9. As said before, the social-political relevance and impact of "An Attempt" is very present in the film. How do you perceive the importance of cinema and the other arts as political tools?

Cinema has always been a political tool, from propaganda to guerrilla cinema, used in various contexts to serve different ideas and movements. However, while it can be dangerous if used for propaganda, it can also be noble if employed for positive socio-political change. Nevertheless, for me, cinema should never be treated as a tool. Rather, cinema is an art, and in fact, it is a fine art. If treated properly, its impact will transcend its usage as a tool and make a difference that can resonate throughout the world. This is what defines my passion for this medium.

10. Brazil and Lebanon have been sharing sad realities in the last few years: the deep and chaotic political and economic crisis. Do you believe that these problems are more motors for artists from countries in this situation, or are they more like brakes that only obstruct artistic manifestations?

The answer can be paradoxical. When talking about crises, especially the kind that Lebanon and Brazil are facing, we cannot disregard the fact that artists are humans. They feel and react to these events differently. After all, they are not superheroes who can detach from their reality to make art. Art comes from within, and thus, it is very much tied to the reality we are talking about.

My answer cannot be a general truth because it depends very much on the individuals and their way of dealing with things. But in general, if an artist is sensitive, then no doubt that the problems mentioned will be a driving force, as you called them. A crisis will change the surroundings, and how people talk, move, and act. Crises introduce a new discourse and new preoccupations, and a good artist - a good filmmaker - is the one who can depict these changes and spot the beauty in them and the feelings they project. However, in times of crisis, cash cannot be ignored, and the lack of money will be a threat to production. Of course, this will affect the workers in this field economically. We have witnessed and are still witnessing low-rate payments in job offers for production, and even foreign funders are taking advantage of the situation and have lowered the amount they offer yearly to artists. If one chooses to look at the problem from this perspective, it can be quite depressing. But for me, I always say, and I said it loud and clear at the avant-première of my film An Attempt: money is never a problem. A good film can be made with the highest quality delivered by the finest equipment, and another good film could happen with minimal resources, with what we have in hand, starting with smartphones.

11. What advice would you give to young filmmakers in countries sunk in crises like the ones mentioned above?

To the young filmmakers, I say: Write and keep writing. Film the world around you, capturing the moments that catch your eye and the ideas that reach the depth of your soul. Never give up. For one day, the notes you've taken and the images you've captured will become something greater, and the beauty hidden within the chaos of crisis will be revealed.

12. Besides being a filmmaker, you are also an educator. How do you evaluate the role of education in the formation of new artists?

Artists are born with an innate desire to create, not taught to be one. As they grow to adulthood, this drive to feel different and express themselves through art only intensifies. Education then supports this deep need and enriches their perception of the world beyond the surface level of things. It is here that the role of theory becomes crucial. The insightful texts written by masters and the remarkable films directed by the greatest filmmakers offer a hidden layer through education that inspires natural artists to create their new vision and style.

13. What are your prospects for the future of cinema, with more and more artificialization of creative functions through AI, such as in scriptwriting, for example?

Oh, my goodness, this is a disaster for the human mind. The signs are becoming clear, even in education. We are headed towards dark places when it comes to creativity. I'm not sure how we can handle this growing technology. I'm not denying its existence, as it can be used for great purposes. However, replacing an artist's brain and creativity... that's beyond my comprehension and acceptance. At this stage, no one can predict how things will unfold. But in the meantime, the challenge is to hold onto the human aspect, starting with educational institutions.

As a scriptwriting teacher, I opt to keep my classes offline. Writing and creating are done inside the classroom without any online connection. This is to encourage my students to enjoy the process of writing and deal with writer's block without AI assistance. After all, this is how we've learned for the past century in cinema. It was the human brain that created masterpieces, and it is the human brain that created AI. So, I believe in the power of the brain, and I don't think it can be substituted.

I hope that cinema and other art forms can use this technology to improve work management, but not for creative purposes. As an individual responsible for a limited number of students, my approach may not make a significant difference. The question is: what will be the general discourse around this technology? We'll have to wait and see. Until then, I will do whatever I can to distance myself from it as much as possible on a creative level.

14. Can you tell us more about your upcoming projects as a filmmaker?

I am currently creating my fourth short film, and it happens to be of my favorite genre: experimental.

This project is incredibly personal and has been in development for almost a year since I spent three months in Spain in 2022. During this trip, I connected deeply with myself and was suddenly inspired to write and eventually film. While I cannot disclose much at the moment, what I can say is that the crisis had a profound impact on me. Although it once stood as a roadblock holding back my progress, it now catalyzes my artistic endeavors, particularly concerning this film.

15. Do you intend to expand your career as a filmmaker by producing outside Lebanon as well?

Producing art is not just a desire, but a necessity for me. Wherever I go, creating is like oxygen to me. I don't do it for the money. I create it to maintain my sanity and because I love cinema. Therefore, the physical location doesn't add any value to the work I produce. Whether I am here or there, in any situation or circumstance, producing art will always be with me.


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