Making ‘Capernaum’ was a duty: Oscar contender Labaki

The 45-year-old has arguably become Lebanese culture’s most prominent export and she is bent on making good use of her growing celebrity. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2019
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Making ‘Capernaum’ was a duty: Oscar contender Labaki

  • Labaki hopes an Academy Award will not only complete the film’s impressive harvest of distinctions but also boost its impact at home
  • The activist in her wanted to jolt her audience into action and mobilize decision-makers in Lebanon

BEIRUT: For Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki, whose social-realist epic “Capernaum” is an Oscar contender for best foreign film, the toughest battle is only just beginning.
Her heart-wrenching story of poverty and survival in Beirut’s wretched underclass won a 15-minute standing ovation and the Jury Prize in Cannes last year.
A former election candidate in Beirut, Labaki now hopes an Academy Award will not only complete the film’s impressive harvest of distinctions but also boost its impact at home.

“So the conversation is starting now and that was my aim, to create this shock, and to create this debate,” Labaki told AFP in her Beirut office.
The 45-year-old has arguably become Lebanese culture’s most prominent export and she is bent on making good use of her growing celebrity.
“I feel it like a duty, it’s not a choice even, and this is what we’re going to start doing, very, very soon: show the film to the government and organize these round tables with judges and lawyers,” she said.
“Maybe it’s going to have a big influence and maybe it won’t, but we have to try,” Labaki said.
The film has already changed the lives of its cast members, many of whom were experiencing the same struggles as their characters during the gruelling six-month shoot.
“Capernaum” follows the travails of Zain, a malnourished boy who runs away from his family when his 11-year-old sister Sahar is sold into marriage.
He is sheltered by an undocumented African worker named Rahil and ends up looking after her baby boy Yonas when she is arrested and jailed.
The parallels between the film’s script and what happened to the actors in real life are uncanny.
Baby Yonas’s on-screen and real-life mothers were arrested together during filming and both were in jail when the scenes of the two children being left to their own devices in the streets of Beirut were being shot.
In the film, Zain keeps dreaming that he will one day escape his misery and move to Sweden.
The Syrian refugee child who plays Zain’s character was recently resettled by the United Nations in Norway, where he now lives with family in a house overlooking the sea.
“I don’t know why those things kept happening, maybe because the script was inspired by so much reality that it was actually bound to happen,” Labaki said.
Zain is now going to school as are his parents as well as several other of the film’s children.
Capernaum has already achieved new milestones for Lebanese cinema and received glowing endorsements from media mogul Oprah Winfrey and others.
Some critics however argued the film was unsubtle in rubbing the viewer’s nose in social squalor, telling the audience when to smile and when to cry.
But restraint, Labaki retorts, is just not in her culture.
“It’s as if people, especially critics, want all cinemas coming from all parts of the world to look the same way,” she said. “Let each country bring its own identity.”
“It’s really very hurtful to hear words like ‘poverty porn’ or ‘emotional manipulation’,” Labaki said. “Especially when there’s no big make believe in the film, everything that is in the film is a reality.”
The activist in her wanted to jolt her audience into action and mobilize decision-makers in Lebanon, a country where Syrian refugees account for a quarter of the population but where faith in the government is rock-bottom.
“People come to me in tears, people say ‘You changed me forever’, ‘I’m not looking at the child I see under the bridge every day in the same way’, ‘I want to do something about it’, ‘How can we help?’,” Labaki said.
She said an Oscar on February 24 would further increase her chances of making a difference.
“Why do we use the word influencers? A celebrity is an influencer whether they like it or not, so they need to use this influence in the best way possible.”


Sharqiah Season features interactive Van Gogh show at Ithra

A Vincent Van Gogh interactive exhibition opened at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) as part of the 17-day Sharqiah Season in the Eastern Province. (Supplied)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Sharqiah Season features interactive Van Gogh show at Ithra

  • The initiative is lin line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program

DAHRAN: The story of Vincent Van Gogh has been brought to life in an interactive exhibition at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), through mesmerizing images projected on the walls and the voice of Lebanese actor of Jihad Al-Atrash.
Al-Atrash, who is famous for his role in “Grendizer” in the Arabic cartoon channel Spacetoon, narrates the story in Arabic, while Van Gogh’s famous paintings, such as “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers,” fill the walls.
“It’s not only entertainment, it’s also cultural and educational,” said Khalil Itani, project manager of the exhibition, which is part of Sharqiah Season, a 17-day festival that’s taking place in the Eastern Province.
“There will be an English voiceover soon. The 30 minutes and 40 seconds describes the important timelines of Van Gogh, his struggles and achievements, his thoughts. He was an awakened and spiritual person, but he was very sad; no one understood him. Also, the voiceover explains each phase of his life and the most important paintings of his, and explains these paintings and their story, and the techniques and colors.”
Itani told Arab News that many artists have visited the exhibition. “It’s very inspiring too for artists to know how he lived — this is the added value of the Van Gogh exhibition in Ithra.”
Raghad Al-Blowi, a 20-year-old Saudi visitor, said that Van Gogh was one of her most cherished artists, and her favorite painting is “The Starry Night.” Commenting on the Arabic narration, she said: “It makes visitors really get into it in Arabic more. Locals can understand and learn about Van Gogh.”
Colombian visitor Audrey Rincon said that she also enjoyed the exhibit. “It is different from the usual exhibitions, because the paintings are displayed in an interactive and creative way. And he is my favorite painter. I love the colors he used in his paintings, and ‘Sunflowers’ is my favorite painting.”
Sharqiah Season is organized by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage in collaboration with the General Entertainment Authority, General Sports Authority and General Culture Authority. The initiative is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program, which aims to improve the quality of life for Saudis by providing enriching cultural pursuits and shows.
The festival, which began on March 14 and runs until March 30, has seen more than 80 entertainment and sporting events take place across nine different cities.