NRFF Interviews Director Dania Bdeir
Movie • 16 min • Drama, UK Premiere
USA / Lebanon
DIRECTED BY Dania Bdeir
Lara, a 24 year old Lebanese artist living in NYC, returns home to Beirut for her father’s funeral. Her elegant strong-willed mother, Mona, pushes for Lara to behave in accordance with the social mores of Beirut and the traditional ways of grieving. Lara, in mourning and in need of her family, yields. Her Jewish American fiancee, Noah, shows up to support her – but is surprised to discover that Lara has never told her family about him. Lara can’t bring herself to risk losing her family but eventually must find a way to be true to herself.
1. Welcome to the New Renaissance Film Festival. Congratulations on your nominations for ‘In White’. How does it feel to be nominated in 3 categories: Best International Film, Best Actress (International) and Best Female Filmmaker?
Thank you so much for having me!
Honestly, it’s amazing. I was so happy when I heard. It’s always an awesome feeling to be nominated for one award let alone 3! I was also very happy for my main actress Maria. She did such a great job on the film and I really enjoyed working with her. She really deserves to be nominated.
2. Tell us about the central character in your film – her journey. What inspired you to write this story?
The film is very much inspired by true emotions. On one hand, it’s an impressionistic memory of my father’s funeral which I experienced back in 2009. On the other hand, Lara’s journey is one that is familiar to me as I’m sure it is to other Lebanese youth or anyone really who’s ever left their comfort zone, moved somewhere new, gone through an internal change and then comes back “home” to face their old selves.
I wrote this story because I felt like I needed to.
I actually first started by writing the feature version which starts with Lara in Beirut then follows her to NYC where she connects with her true self and then finally comes back with her to Beirut to her old world. When I finished my first draft, I felt like the film wasn’t ready to be shot as feature so I decided to take the moment of highest conflict and rewrite it so it can stand alone as a short.
In the short, Lara’s two worlds meet in one space and everything rumbles under the surface of the ritualistic funeral. So most of the clash really takes place inside her head. That is the real journey.
3. How did you cast the role of Lara?
Casting Lara was quite difficult. I went through a lot of actors and it never felt quite right. But I was looking for something completely different. When someone first suggested Maria to me, I thought she wouldn’t work at all. She was nothing like the character I imagined in my head, but I was getting desperate and figured I had nothing to lose.
It is only when I saw her face through the camera at the auditions that I felt something very strongly. Maria’s face had such a beautiful vulnerability that expressed a world of emotions through without saying a word. She had a face that made me want to jump through the screen and hug her and save her I was sold right away. Especially given the fact that I had already cast the iconic Roula Hamadeh to play the role of the mother.
I thought that having both their faces on screen together was going to be great.
4. The film is shot in the Beirut. What are some of the challenges of making films in the Lebanon?
When I shoot in Beirut, I have to always throw away most of what I learned at NYU. It is not a city with set rules, bureaucracy and systems in place. It is a city where an experienced producer has to budget for bribes and it will come in handy.
It’s definitely more of a guerilla style filmmaking. But I love it. There is something very magical about shooting there. Everything is much more raw. It is not a city brimming with actors and acting schools. A lot of the time, we end up working with non-actors. Maria for example wasn’t an actress by training or by profession, but she breathed life into the character and brought so much of herself to the role.
It’s also not a place that is used to have a whole industry of independent filmmaking so everyone working on the project, from creative crew to the residents of the neighborhood you’re shooting in, really gives their heart to the film. I had an amazing crew and a lot of family, friends and acquaintances came together to help bring this story to life.
5. How did you raise the finance for the film?
First, I was very happy to receive the Spike Lee Production Grant and that was a great start. Then I also got a small grant from Al Arabiya Cinema, an Egyptian Production and Distribution Company. I also threw a fundraising party which was only made possible through the generous and kind offerings of so many supportive people around me from the venue of Behind the Green Door to the music provided by the great people at C U NXT SAT and the alcohol provided by Diageo.
All, awesome institutions, who, along with the great guests who danced the night away, helped me raise most of my budget. The last bit of the budget was raised by the executive producers who really believed in the film and who wanted to see it to fruition.
6. What was the most challenging scene to film and why?
The most challenging scene to shoot was by far the rooftop scene. it was the last thing we shot after having been cooped up in the apartment in a funeral setting with a lot of extras for 5 days.
We had been running late and so only started shooting at 2 am.
It was a very important scene that finally showed Lara and Noah together yet here they were exhausted and a little cold.
I’m so happy with the way it turned out but that being in the moment on set, it was pretty stressful.
7. Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker? What films inspired you growing up?
I first wanted to be an actor for the longest time. Like since age 5 till 16. On my 16th birthday, my father got me my first video camera and that was it. After that I would take my camera with me everywhere and shoot & edit everything and anything.
I wasn’t a huge cinephile when I was younger. I just watched the basic Hollywood blockbusters. My interest in film stems more from a need to tell stories and document everything around me. That was always a stronger drive for me more than anything else.
8. What is the central message of your film that you want audiences to understand?
In an ideal world, each person would connect to an aspect of the film that they relate to. That’s how it’s been in the various screenings so far and I really love that.
I obviously wrote the film from the point of view of Lara but I often have audience members who tell me they connect to the mother, or others that connect simply to the feeling of losing someone and wanting to grieve in their own way or to having a lover that their family or society wouldn’t accept…etc.
So more than me wanting audiences to understand something specific, I want them to find themself in the film in any capacity. If they manage to feel Lara’s inner turmoil and relate to her or any of the other characters or situations in the story, I’d feel so happy and content.
9. What are your future plans for ‘In White? Have other festivals picked it up?
Many exciting things for In White in the horizon. It will be playing at the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival and at the Lebanese Film Festival in Sydney Australia.
It’s going to be screening in a very renowned festival in October but I’m not allowed to reveal which yet until they announce their program in the end of August. I’m very excited about that one.
It’ll also be playing at Film Femmes Mediterranee in Marseille and Alexandria Mediterranean Film Festival in Egypt.
I’m now developing the feature film version of this story.
My aim is to have a new draft of the script within the next few months and I’m looking for producers who would like to join me in this adventure and working on bringing this story to life.