Cannes Archive 2017 
Interview

Alone and away from home, a Palestinian man paces the streets of Athens as he contends with his new life in exile.

 

Hi Mahdi, thanks for talking to The New Current, how's everything going?
 

Thanks for asking, it's going. We're just about to finish everything and send the film off to Cannes.

 

Congratulations on having A Drowning Man part of this year's festival, what went through your head when you found out?
 

I was in my local library in Elsinore, in the quiet corner, so I had to contain myself. It was a huge relief to know that the film had found its home. 

 

This is going to be your World Premiere, what does it mean to be showing A Drowning Man at Cannes?

 

It means a great deal personally. I was in the Cannes Cinefondation Residence 4 years ago, but this will be the first time I present any of my work there.
 

Do you still get Any nerves sitting in ahead of the festival?
 

Always. You just never know what that first encounter between your film and its audience is going to be like.

 

Tell me a little bit about A Drowning Man how did the film come to life?

 

With A DROWNING MAN, I wanted to tell a story that captures some small part of the day to day lives of refugees living on the fringes of Europe. It is based on stories I’ve heard from friends, stories I could have been living if my family hadn’t escaped to Europe in the 1980s. As with all of my recent work, the aim is not to make a statement about the rights and wrongs of any given situation but to simply give as intimate and true a picture as I can of things that are familiar to me, hoping audiences will come away having seen things from another perspective.

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"I've learnt to trust the process and trust my fellow filmmakers; each of them knows more than I do about their respective fields, so I see them as teachers."

What was the inspiration behind the film?

I graduated as a fiction director from The National Film School in the UK in 2009, but since then I've only made documentaries, so I wanted to go back to fiction. Working through fiction for the first time in nearly ten years I was conscious of retaining the authenticity and rawness of my documentary work. Our Palestinian cast are all refugees in Greece, many had made the perilous sea crossing from Turkey that we have all become so familiar with. The story is shaped by their own experiences and expressive personalities as much as the ideas I brought to Greece before meeting them.

 

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
 

There's one particular scene in the film, which I don't want to spoil for you, that was emotionally challenging and very delicate, especially for the guy who played the lead.

 

Looking back is there anything you would do differently on this film?
 

Not really, I'm quite satisfied with how it turned out, which was never the case when I was doing fiction in film school. Of course, there's always room for improvement.

 

Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
 

Unconsciously, yes. But I made the conscious decision to become a film director at the age of 17, in my last year of high school.

 

What was the first film you saw that made you think ‘yeah this is for me’?
 

It was during high school when my teacher showed us Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet. Those two films made things Click!

 

How much has your approach to making films changed since your debut?

 

I've learnt to trust the process and trust my fellow filmmakers; each of them knows more than I do about their respective fields, so I see them as teachers. And the main thing is also to let go of control as much as possible, something I learnt from making documentaries. 

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What advice would you offer a fellow filmmaker?
 

Be patient. It takes time to make a film. A lot of time. Try to enjoy the process.

 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your film?

I hope the audience will have empathy for my characters. They're people with dreams and hopes who breathe the same air as you and I. That they are refugees from other cultures is secondary.