NRFF Interviews director Reem Samarani
Film Block: X Cinema: LAB 2 Date: 04.03.18 Time: 12.00-1.15 PM
Director: Reem Samarani
Reem Samarani, born in Lebanon in 1994, spent her childhood between the United Arab Emirates and her home city of Beirut. She later went on to study cinematography at the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut where she got the opportunity to write and direct three short films. Along the way, she developed a cinematographic language riddled with symbolism. Her films tend to examine controversial topics and critical issues, such as the ethical and social conflicts of her home country, by means of irony and humour. She recently graduated in 2017 and is currently going to pursue a master’s degree in Paris.
1- Congratulations on being a part of the second edition of New Renaissance Film Festival, Amsterdam? how does it feel to have Les Démantlai screened there?
It feels really good to get recognition for your work and vision. The fact that Les Démantlai is being screened among projects that seem really incredible, as well as being watched by so many people from different backgrounds, is truly an honour.
2- Can you give an outline of the story?
Les Démantlai is the story of a divided dysfunctional family that has 48 hours to make the difficult decision of uniting, in exchange for their inheritance, which is very little time to work out their considerable differences.
3- What was your main inspiration for the film?
Coming from a country that is in a constant discord, I was overwhelmed with the desire to denounce one of its most recurring sources of internal conflict; cultural differences and sectarianism. I always pictured Lebanon as a small family, all its members sharing the same blood, yet divided by religion and politics; forced to live together under the same roof. This thematic is as applicable at the scale of a nation as it is to a much smaller scale of social groups, such as families. For this reason, I decided to anchor the storyline without a specific spatio temporal setting, in order to truly focus on the familial aspect.
Another big source of inspiration for me was the collaboration between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, the succession of his expressive and unique shots rhythmed with the divine compositions of Morricone, not only go hand in hand beautifully, but thrive flawlessly together.
4- Describe your creative process
Even before the writing process began, I knew that the story would revolve around a family that is divided because of their cultural differences. The Demantlai’s seem to live in another dimension, one which seems to be their own illusion. Hence the caricature and amplified aspects of the film, which gave it its Cowboys vs Indians undertones. However, I did not wish to create a “society”, but simply speak of ours; a distortion of reality in its honest and raw portrayal. Which is why, by illustrating the conflicts experienced by sectarian social groups in Lebanon (or other countries) at a smaller scale, that of a family, we are able to single out the absurdities of these controversial subjects.
Regarding choosing the genre of the film, a blend between a Spaghetti Western and dark comedy inevitably came to mind. The mixture of their heavy irony and witty sarcasm was the ideal way to embody and conceptualize this subject. Also, another reasoning behind this choice, is that Cowboys and Native-Americans are, in my eyes, the perfect embodiment of sworn enemies.
During the development of my characters, it became clear that I wanted to keep away from Manichaeism, where the boundaries between the good and the bad evaporate. In “Les Démantlai”, we do not have one clan portrait in a better light than the other. Blinded by hate and desire of inheritance, everyone is as guilty as the other. This choice ultimately made the protagonists seem much more human.
During the writing process, I ventured myself into an in-depth research of its main theme “the far West” which directed me toward the notion of the “Frontier”. It immediately drove me to the decision that would define the movie; the red strip dividing the house. The origin of the word frontier, which came from “front”, a military term which designates the zone of contact with an enemy, referred perfectly to the family structure of the Demantlai’s. The red strip acting as a frontier in its physical form. It’s during the open-ending of the film, that the boundary metamorphosis itself into its abstract form.
With the decision of uniting made, the family buries their weapons, marking an end to the hostilities. Which is why, in the last few scenes, the red band is no longer present. Yet, despite this union, they will unconsciously continue to live separately. The border then becomes blurred, much like with different cultural groups (for instance linguistic borders, etc), but their lack of confidence will push them to remain vigilant, or are they plotting a second cunning plan?
5- How did you finance les Démantlai
“Les Démantlai”, being my graduate project movie, was a self-financed project. However, I must thank The Institute of Scenic, Audiovisual and Cinematographic Studies at USJ for their support, as well as the help from sponsors, which made the process a whole lot easier.
6- What was the most challenging aspect of making it?
Time. As many would probably agree with, is one of our toughest enemies on set. It’s also the most valuable commodity you can have and that’s just with humans, so imagine trying to deal with animals. Their appearance might be small in the film but I had underestimated their liabilities…at the very beginning at least. They tend to wander in and out of frame, they never hit their marks and I’ll leave of the rest of the scenarios up to your imagination. On top of that, having only a few days to film, made the days seem shorter and put us in a constant race with the sun. On the other hand, most of the indoor locations were filmed in a studio so we had a very limited time frame to prepare and to shoot the scenes.
Finally, finding a location arid and deserted from traces of human activity, to film for the final shots in, was a challenge in itself. Lebanon is already a small country but overbuilding has turned it into a concrete jungle, with only very little of nature left untouched, making location hunting unusually difficult.
7- How have audiences responded so far
NRFF Amsterdam is actually the world premiere of “Les Démantlai” so I guess I’ll have to wait and see. Despite having to, I think it got relatively good reviews. It is also going to be screened in other festivals in the coming months.
8- Have you always wanted to be a director? What advice would you give someone
I still waver between directing and scriptwriting since they are such both great means of getting your message across to an audience. In my opinion, the authentic and sincere connection between an artist’s work and its audience is something quite exceptional. In this case: a film’s projection where the public lets himself get carried away in a trance-like state (whether the project suits one’s taste or not)
In terms of giving advice, I would still consider myself as someone who is starting out, but from past experiences, I would say: don’t be scared of your ideas, take the risks and challenge yourself. Also, it’s really about finding a subject that speaks to you.
9- Where can people follow your work or get in touch?
I am currently working on a website for people to watch my work and contact. The trailer will be available on Vimeo very soon along with my other projects.