Tuesday, August 7, 2012

LFF2012 - Interview Sabah Haider

Fiction (see article underneath COMPETITION Partie 2/4)

What was the motivation for your last short film Abu Rami?

The film was inspired by an experience I had with a taxi driver here in Beirut a few years ago.  We were talking and he said he drives to Syria a lot, every other day, and he told me that if I ever needed a drive to Syria to call him. So I asked him about the reason of his frequent travelling and he replied: “I have a wife there.” So I asked him why he lived here, and he said, “I have a wife here as well.” And I was very perplexed by this — that he had a wife here and a wife there. I’m a practising Muslim, having two wives is not something so common nor looked favourably upon in most Muslim cultures, and certainly not in the cultures that I’m familiar with. It’s not considered as something appreciated.
So when this guy told me his story, I became very concerned about the wife. As a woman, is it possible to accept that your man has been with another? This is impossible! How would a  woman feel if her husband has another wife? Cheating is bad, but another life, another home, other children is completely another betrayal for me. I know that in Islam in theory four wives are permitted however there are conditions for that, which are always ignored by the people who take more than one wife. These conditions must be followed in order for these marriages to be religiously legitimate. Islamically if you take more than one wife, they must be treated 100% equally. You cannot give one wife one dollar more than another, love one more than another, you cannot spend more time with one than qnother. I’m happy that God put those conditions because it proves one thing, that it is impossible. You cannot give two people the exact same thing. To me that is God saying: you cannot make it equal so it is not permitted. If you can go through the full time job to treat three, four wives equally then fine, go for it. But chances are you can’t do it. In addition there is always a favorite; you always have a preference so it becomes much more complex. When I meet men with more than one wife, it is obvious they have a preference; they spend more time with one and ignore the other. There is one relationship which is suffering.
After that encounter with the taxi driver, I thought about it for a long time. How would I deal with it, if I find out that my husband has another wife? Sometimes the wives don’t know, sometimes they do know. The point is, would I accept it? I know I can’t accept it. So I started to develop these characters in my mind: Abu Rami as an average aged taxi driver and his wife as an average Lebanese Muslim woman. I tried to create a sort of average middle class Muslim Lebanese couple, but in terms of how they are living their lives, their characters. We have a very frustrated man and a very frustrated woman. Their frustration is linked to the same thing but is completely differently manifested.
 It is interesting to see how people who watch the film react to the frustrations of the characters and take sides. The audience’s sympathy will be divided and it’s a great and amazing experience to make a film with two strong characters. 

Ultimately I wanted to make this film Mona’s film, not Abu Rami’s film. It is called Abu Rami for a reason the audience will discover when watching the film. But the film is about her.

Do you consider yourself as a feminist?  
I don t like the term, because of the connotations, how it is socially and ideologically constructed.
I believe in equality and I don’t think that is feminism. Feminism means different things for different people. There are some women thinking women are better than men. I don’t believe that’s the case. God made us differently, we have our own functions, emotions and we are quite compatible with each other if we are honest. And that’s the moral of the story.  We cannot be happy with each other unless we are honest with each other. And when I mean honest, I mean also faithful.

The two sole and main characters are elderly people, is there a reason behind?

There is more than one reason why I chose two elderly people. Firstly because of this phenomenon – of a man marrying more than one woman – was more common among older generations. Younger generations have less tolerance; they are less patient. 

Don’t you think there is more cheating nowadays? 
Of course there is more cheating. That’s an issue of honesty. The more freedoms and liberties people have, the more they abuse them. Part of me thinks that living in a society with strict rules would at least deter people from cheating, because you are punished.

The pain of being cheated on never ends. You carry it with you all the time.
Marriage was a vow that was taken seriously. Now it is just a legal thing, it is not a sacred vow anymore. So with polygamy, for a person that believes in this vow of marriage, that vow could ruin that person’s life if you don't later accept to be a second wife.
The second reason is a more superficial and less significant one, we don’t see elderly person in cinema. Especially in short films, which are done mostly by young people. Elderly people are typically seen as extras or props, but we don’t often see their point of view in cinema, and I think it is largely absent on an international level not just in Arab cinema. Old people are extras in films… Let’s have an old person in a rocking chair or sitting in a café or let’s have a child sitting on his grandpa’s knees. But this grandfather has feelings! How does that grandfather feel when he has his grandson sitting on his knees?  We don’t see that. 
I think cinema must be accurate, must be honest about the society it is reflecting. The responsibility of cinema is to accurately and honestly reflect the society it is depicting. Old people are big part of our society and our lives. They warrant a voice in cinema. All types of people have noteworthy perspectives and it’s important to share that.

You already slightly addressed the issue of the responsibility of a filmmaker. How do you feel about yours, which vision do you want to transmit through your films? 

All films have a responsibility. The films that are most appreciated, are the ones that hold a certain maturity in the story being told. It’s important to have fun, but there is a maturity that must be there in order to tell a story.
I’m not a Godard. I cannot say what is and isn’t necessary. But I can say what I feel is necessary and for me cinema is a beautiful way to document, tell, share, and depict stories that cannot otherwise be told or are not otherwise told. Cinema is a wonderfully, universally accessible medium and I respect most of the filmmakers who tell stories that help us grow as people in the society, help us gaining perspectives or understand something new and learn something.
Lebanon is a wonderfully dynamic and rich country of stories and narratives and characters and personalities and histories.
So why do we see so many movies about the Civil War? Khallas yes there was a Civil War and yes it affected everyone and the society - it’s forever part of the memory and should never be forgotten - but there are so many other stories that have to be told and I think it’s nice to move beyond the Civil War and to look for stories everywhere.

The most beautiful place to search for stories is among each other, as humans. Human stories are the ones that transcend audiences. Not everyone can connect with the stories about war, but everyone can connect with emotionally driven stories.
Lebanon has no shortage of people and emotions. It is a wonderful place to find rich stories – just like any other place of the world. But I chose Lebanon, because I live here, because it is my home.

Beirut, August 2012
Interview by Lucile Gasber

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