‘The System Doesn’t Work Anymore’: Variety International Filmmaker Award Recipient Nadine Labaki Speaks Up on Recent Social Uprisings

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Lauded “Capernaum” director Nadine Labaki was presented with the Variety International Filmmaker Award at the sophomore edition of the Red Sea Film Festival. During an in-depth conversation with Variety’s senior vice president of global content and executive editor Steven Gaydos, the Lebanese filmmaker and actor spoke about her passion for uplifting female voices to the great applause of an audience filled with young aspiring female filmmakers.

“It’s important because the world needs this other vision of the world,” she said of the importance of creating opportunities for women in film. “There are many things that we need to express and we need to talk about deeply. Things that we don’t share with men, things that we feel as women. There’s so much that has been unsaid and what better way to say it than cinema?”

“We learn to censor ourselves so much as women. It’s our shared history, our shared hidden codes, hidden suffering, frustrations and taboos. We have so much to say and we’ve learned how to suppress it because we had to be the perfect image for other people for such a long time,” she reflected, “no matter what culture you come from, in many different countries, women have felt guilty for being women for such a long time. There’s obviously a shift happening and it’s very important that we talk about it. There’s nothing as beautiful to see than what’s happening in Iran right now, women heroes just wanting to shout, to express themselves and who they are.”

Labaki said recent social and political uprisings, such as the one in Iran, fill her with much-needed hope. “Change is coming. It might not come today, it might take time and there might be a high price for many women, but it’s beautiful to see. The system of representation doesn’t work anymore, so it’s interesting to see there is a hunger to change it in many parts of the world.”

“Many uprisings have failed or have been suppressed,” she continued, “but it doesn’t change what we feel inside, it doesn’t change the frustration, the fact we are longing for this change.” Does she ever lose hope? No, she says categorically, emphasising that hope is what keeps her from becoming a cynic who believes “nothing is worth doing.”

“There’s a saying that I love, ‘justice can only be achieved when the people who are not affected are as concerned as the people who are affected by injustice.’ To me, this is what gives me hope, I want to be concerned even when I’m not affected. I want to believe in my potential as a human being, I want to believe in my power and we need to believe in our individual power to really make a change.”

The director is greatly aware of the inspirational potential of stories and claimed the “why” behind an idea is what motivates her to make films. “It’s important to learn what challenges you, what makes you excited. I understood very early on that I love true life, I love honesty. I get bored doing exactly what I wrote on paper. I don’t want to just do what I wrote, I want to push it further, to grab those amazing accidents. It’s not a very structured way of working, it’s organized chaos.”

And naturality is very much at the heart of Labaki’s penchant for working with non-professional actors. “When you are working with non-professional actors, you have to adapt to them, their way of being. With professional actors, it’s the opposite. They can adapt. It’s a beautiful collaboration because you are so connected with what they’ve been through, with who they are. They have to know you chose them exactly because of who they are.”

“It’s a debate, and it’s an interesting debate,” said Labaki of the dichotomy of streaming versus theatrical release. “For me, the cinema ritual is very important, and so is not having those platforms compete with each other. Having this experience in a dark room and feeling other people’s vibes is a collective, beautiful experience. It’s important we fight for it. Obviously, staying home on the couch is much cheaper, which is where we need to do some rethinking, how much it costs.”

Still, Labaki sees the potential and the opportunities of streaming. “I think there’s a way of [both avenues] complementing one another and not competing against each other. Both are essential. I love not having to make that choice, not having to feel like I am selling my soul to the devil for not putting my film on the big screen. I believe people have to be able to live with both experiences.”

The filmmaker hasn’t taken the director’s seat since 2019’s Oscar-nominated “Capernaum,” focusing on acting instead. When asked about returning to directing, she said: “There is so much to say. I think we’re very lucky to be witnessing this part of history, to be witnessing this shift. It’s impossible to sum it up, that’s maybe why I am not writing my next film yet.”

‘The System Doesn’t Work Anymore’: Variety International Filmmaker Award Recipient Nadine Labaki Speaks Up on Recent Social Uprisings

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