Why do we make films? Every director has its own intention. For Dania Bdeir, a young Lebanese filmmaker in her 30’s, filming is all about reporting slices of life, telling stories infused with her own. Her last short film, In White, won multiple awards and is now eligible for the 2019 Oscars.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I always wanted to work in the cinema industry. When I was a teenager, I was troublesome. My father noticed that I was always using his camera, so he bought me one. I used it all the time. With my cousins, we used to shoot short films. Growing up, I kept this dream of making movies, but my parents thought it was a hazardous and difficult career. They used to tell me I wasn’t going to be able to make a living out of it. To reassure them, I did a B.A. in graphic design at the American University of Beirut (AUB). I felt it was a little bit connected to my dream and that I could easily find a job later.
But one day, during a trip to New York, I heard about the New York University Tisch School of the Arts and their great cinema program. I applied without saying anything to my parents. A few months later I got a positive answer. I went to my parents, put the paper on the table and told them: “now I got accepted to this very good university, will you refuse to let me go?”. And of course, they didn’t.
What can you tell us about your experience in New York?
New York is completely different from Beirut. The atmosphere is incomparable. There, everything goes a hundred times faster. You keep meeting interesting people who have projects, ideas… It is thriving. For all that, I remember feeling lost when I first arrived to the Big Apple. All my certainties and judgements were deconstructed bit by bit. When you grow up in Lebanon, you hang out for a long time with the same people. They think like you so you tend to believe that your vision of the world is right. But when you go abroad and have to confront your ideas, you begin to question yourself. At first, all this rethinking was hard.
How would you describe the life of a filmmaker in few words?
It is hard, as you can never predict your future. You always have to struggle with everyone in order to get things done. You never feel economically safe, if you don’t work you don’t have an income, there is no secured monthly pay check. But, most importantly, it’s a thrilling and inspiring job. You get to live so many wonderful experiences and meet extraordinary people.
When you write scenarios, what are the main sources of inspiration?
I use my background. To be honest, in the beginning I wanted to make films like the American ones. Then I told myself, why would I want to write a new Sex and the City? I don’t know anything about this life. This is when I realised that I had to write scenarios that looked like me. My first notable short movie is called “Shisha”. It is the story of Adnan, an Arab immigrant living in New York. He has a humiliating job that he hates. He distributes leaflets dressed as a chicken. All he wants to do after a long day is to go home and indulge in his one pleasure: to smoke shisha, because it reminds him of the good old days.
What can you say about the film industry in Lebanon?
The film industry in Lebanon is still undeveloped. Apart from this, few people would want to live the complicated professional life of a filmmaker. In particular for our parents’ generation, writer, director or screenwriter are not considered serious and stable jobs. Which is explainable by a lack of success stories. If our parents don’t see examples of success they won’t easily let us evolve in this field of work. I thank Nadine Labaki for that. She was my example and she opened the doors of cinema to so many young Lebanese filmmakers. Despite that, I feel that the film industry is growing. There are more and more production companies and young Lebanese actors and directors.
Finally what do you think of the moussalsalet?
I hate them they are so poorly made! Everything is bad in them, from the acting to the shooting. I don’t understand why people keep on watching them. The problem comes from TV channels. They justify continuing to air them by saying that it is what Lebanese people like to see and that they don’t want to watch anything else. But thinking like that is wrong. Producers must try to educate people to new things and dare to broadcast shows that open the Lebanese’s minds.