Nadine Labaki on cinema as a form of activism

Netherlands: It always depends on the theme itself, or what I’m trying to do. In my last movie Capernaum, I drew on the themes of suffering. Instinctively, I didn’t think it was right for someone to become this pain. Even if it is fiction, there has to be a balance between fiction and documentary. I think it has so much more of an impact on you as a human being when you watch, identify, and empathize with someone else’s struggle when you know it’s coming from a real place. Then it’s not just another movie.

AK: And yet, you use humor to tackle serious social problems, why?

NL: Sometimes things get so absurd that the only thing you can do is laugh about it. Sometimes this is part of the healing process.

AK: By coming to your Oscar nomination, as the first Arab woman to be nominated, you have broken a societal ceiling. How did it go and what advice would you give to others who are trying to find their way?

Netherlands: It’s always a surprise to me to see the headlines say “First Arab Woman to be Nominated for an Oscar!” I didn’t know that was how it would be seen. I only started to realize this when I started reading the articles and headlines. I feel proud. I feel like it gives hope, especially to women on our side of the world. But for me, I never really felt like a female filmmaker. I’m just a filmmaker. It’s hard to make a movie anyway. It is as difficult for a man as it is for a woman, especially in our part of the world.

AK: It’s a very fair conversation, and it doesn’t always have to be gender-based. I wondered about your childhood. I read that you grew up in a war-stricken part of Lebanon. In the films you make today, you touch on topics about the experiences of immigrants, Arab women and what their life is like. Do the experiences you grew up around inform the stories you project on screen today?

Netherlands: Yes absolutely. For me, watching a movie at this time in my life was the highlight of my day. When you grow up in a war-torn country, you spend most of your time living in shelters. You are faced with the idea of ​​death all the time. You worry about your loved ones, you see death very intimately. Moreover, as a child, I did not lead a normal life. You couldn’t go outside to play or even go to school. Sometimes we would spend months not going to school. So for me watching movies was the highlight of my day. It was the moment for me to escape my own reality through the films. It was then that I understood that if you want to create these worlds different from your own reality, you have to become a filmmaker.

AK: You are a multi-hyphenator – you lead, act, produce, and there is activism in what you do too. How does it all fit together for you?

NL: For me, this is all part of the process of creating and being complete as a human being and as a woman. I see these channels as being able to express myself in all of these different ways. It’s a part of a … I can’t do it differently. It’s like taking part of me or asking me to shut off part of me. I actually wish I could sing and play music too.

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