Monday, August 17, 2009

LFF 2009: Director Close-Up

LFF 2009 selection : "Dans le Sang"

Katia Jarjoura -- radio and magazine journalist, documentary and fiction film-maker -- is a woman of many hats, projects and perspectives. Luckily, we were able to catch up with her somewhere between Montreal and Beirut to talk about "Dans le Sang," her first fiction piece. A few words from Katia:

..né.à Beyrouth (nàB): Congratulations on being selected for screening at this year's Lebanese Film Festival. Why did you submit your film to this particular festival?

Katia Jarjoura (KJ): For different reasons. First, because Pierre Sarraf and Wadih Safieddine, the founders of the festival, were some of the first people I met when I arrived in Beirut 9 years ago, and they both encouraged and helped me out in my work as a filmmaker. I also chose ..né.à Beyrouth, because I like the fact that it's an all-Lebanese film festival. Since I lived in Canada for a long time (my mother is Canadian, my father, Lebanese) it makes me feel part of a big Lebanese family.

B: You are also a journalist, so documentary seems to be a natural genre for you. Has your experience as a journalist given you a unique perspective when making documentaries?

KJ: It's true, I also work part time as a freelance radio and magazine reporter, although less and less today. Journalism allowed me to discover the Middle East in a more up-front way, since as a reported, you have access to certain people or situations that you wouldn't have otherwise, especially in conflict zones like Baghdad, Gaza or Kabul. These various encounters and fascinating stories nurtured my inspiration for documentaries and fiction films.

But here is also the trap: a good story idea isn't enough to make a good film. It's how you develop this idea that makes a difference. My first documentaries are, in a way, "journalistic." They all portray individuals caught in the midst of a political conflict. I also used archival footage, since I do believe that History shapes the present and gives a better understanding of it. Today, though, I'm gradually moving away from journalism and I'm developing more personal projects, which forces me to adopt "un autre regard" - another vision of the world.

B: "Dans le Sang" is your first fiction piece. Why did you decide to move into fiction?

KJ: I've been wanting to do fiction for a long time. In parallel with my work as a reporter, I've always written short fiction stories, or scripts, mostly linked with my experience in war zones. I guess I really decided to make the move when I realized the "limits" of documentary filmmaking. In the Middle East, people are really careful about what they say - and they have the right to be - especially in my field of interests. They are afraid to reveal themselves to the camera.

They know the power and the impact of images, so they hide behind certain words and attitudes and often, things said "off the record" are more meaningful than "on the record." So they end up "controlling" the film. In a way, they become the film directors! This is a constraint you don't have in fiction films. You decide where you want to lead the story. I also wanted to push the limits of certain concepts, like war and kinship. I think there is a certain "absurdity" in my film in the way the father behaves...As much as Lebanon can be surprising and absurd sometimes -- how a conflict can start and stop like this, without anyone being accountable for it, and without anyone learning from it

B: "Dans le Sang" addresses the intersection of war and violence with generational tension and transference. What are the implications of this intersection for family relationships and cycles of violence?

KJ: I used the thematic of "blood" to show that, in certain countries like Lebanon, war can transmit itself through kinship. And it's exactly what we are witnessing today: apart from certain people who have learned from the past and are trying to instigate changes, most Lebanese are the "products" of what their fathers were. They follow the same political parties, they praise the same leaders, they chant the same slogans. This is particularly true in popular areas, where my film takes place.

So how can the country go through a revival if the new generation is walking in the footsteps of their predecessors? One only has to notice what happened in Beirut in May 2008 -- hood militiamen in the streets with RPGs -- or after each political speech and gathering during the legislative elections this year -- shooting in the air and skirmishes -- to conclude that Lebanon hasn't really learned from its civil wars, and that this cycle of violence will not end until the next generations put a brake on it, by refusing to behave in the name of their fathers. Even more: by criticizing their fathers. Is it possible in a region where clans and families are the bulk of society? Maybe not. But in my view, it's the only way.

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