My parents are Syrian but I grew up in Lebanon. As a child, I would spend hours in front of the TV, taking in the moving pictures and dreaming of being a part of them one day as an actress. On my 15th birthday, my father gifted me a video camera and I quickly discovered my love for telling the story through my lens, capturing moments inspired by the scenes that mesmerized me as a kid. I also met Syrian director and producer Moustafa Akkad a year later, who further inspired me to be the storyteller.
Although I had established an interest in filmmaking, I pursued a degree in graphic design at AUB. I wasn’t the best designer, but it quenched my thirst for the stories I wanted to learn – the stories that make up Lebanese culture. I graduated and immediately applied for a masters at NYU in filmmaking. When I got accepted, my mom was concerned with my career choice.
But when Nadine Labaki made it to the Cannes film festival with her film “Where Do We Go Now?”, I sensed a change in my mother’s attitude. It made me believe more strongly than ever in the power of representation and the impact that local successes can have. Unfortunately, my father had died in 2009, so taking this step meant a lot to me knowing I was continuing a path that he had put me on in the first place.
Beirut has become a major source of inspiration for me because I got to know its people and culture more than anywhere else in the world. My first time coming back from New York as an expat, the country was in a state of turmoil as protests broke out. This inspired me to write my first film “Kaleidoscope”, a coming-of-age story about a Lebanese boy who loses his innocence to the fact that his country won’t allow him to embrace whatever remains of his hope. You’ll find such a protagonist in every film I make; one that reflects an experience of my own while living a life I had barely scratched the surface of.
There’s this pressure that is often placed on Arab filmmakers to be “precise” with their representations. I felt that pressure as I started with my own work, but I realized that if I wanted to shed light on issues like corruption or social norms and hypocrisies, it would be based on my own observation of how people are experiencing them. Not everyone will relate to the reality of the story, but it awakens a sense of empathy that we all share and I believe that’s a key tool in communicating with my audience no matter what the message behind my film is.
“In white” was a more personal project for me because the story was much closer to my own experience. It’s about a girl who comes back from New York with questions about her family and society’s norms and rituals, and a newfound curiosity about what would happen if she refuses to conform to them. I remember having that curiosity when my father died. All my sisters and I wanted to do was to stay home and grieve, but we had to join in the communal grieving rituals of our traditional and family-oriented surroundings. A part of me wanted to go against it, but I also found beauty in gathering for the sake of my father’s memory. One reason why my protagonists are usually reconciling between who they want to be and what their background tells them to be is because it was part of my process of discovering myself and what matters to me.
Filmmaking is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s tough because you’re sharing a part of yourself with the world. But I love the magic that is unveiled at every step of the process, especially in the beginning : the research, the exploration of a new world, the obsession; it’s like the beginning of a new relationship. I also love the moment when I finally share with the audience and discuss different interpretations because it reminds me that I have no control over how each person will interpret the story I’m telling.
My last film Warsha was very well received in a lot of festivals, especially at the Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia which I was particularly excited about because I felt like it was the right place to start this film’s journey through the Arab world. It’s a country that had no cinemas just five years before the screening and now has the biggest density of theaters so there was such a hunger for film and art that made my audience very passionate with their feedback. Making a film with no audience to receive it would be pointless, but my audience is much more than just a receiver of my ideas. It’s part of what inspires me for more ideas to come.