Raya decides to return to Lebanon to attend her father's funeral. Although she has not been back to her village in over ten years, she is surprised that her family seems less than welcoming. Raya stands her ground and defies the status quo, but risks no longer having a place in the family or in their world at all.
Hi Nay thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
It’s been a crazy time for everyone of course. I’ve been in New York for a while now, and it’s been tough being away from my home and family in Beirut, especially after the explosion and all its repercussions.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
It definitely has, in its own strange way. I guess we always underestimate how important it is to slow down and reflect on what’s going on around us. Take it all in. This is how our stories are born. Once we come out of this, the world will be completely different - human and social interactions, political structures, medical knowledge… - and we as storytellers and filmmakers, will be contributing to this. We’re witnessing the world shift historically before our eyes, and no matter how hard this is, it is not something to be taken lightly. It is inspiring in all its aspects.
Of course, that being said, it hasn’t been very easy, but I just kept reminding myself of all of that, journaling everyday. And it has been the perfect time for me to develop my projects and write - something to be thankful for during this time!
What was your experience at Tisch School of the Arts, how much did your time at Tisch prepare you for your filmmaking journey?
I moved to New York in 2017 to enroll in the Graduate Film program at Tisch. And this was truly the most life changing experience and the best decision I had ever made. Before moving to New York, I had my foot in the filmmaking industry in Lebanon, and worked extensively as an Assistant Director, which prepared me and taught me what filmmaking truly is. But I always felt I wanted to tell my own stories, and build my skills further.
And I found that, and much more, within the NYU Grad Film community. The biggest take away from the program is that I learned to truly trust myself and listen to my instinct. It has helped me accept that filmmaking is a process, and an education that never ends, and that’s the beauty in it. My classmates and I were learning from each other and ourselves with every project we make. There’s no magic key or right answers or a set of rules. It is all a process. We do it, we succeed, we fail, we make mistakes, we accept it, we learn, and then we do it again, better the second time.
Tisch was a safe space to undergo all of that, and explore. And it was priceless to be living all of that while surrounded by a group of faculty and students from all over the world, ready to contribute their knowledge and culture and share it with others.
Congratulations on having Frayed Roots selected for this year's Raindance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
Thank you so much! It is such an honor and privilege to be part of this amazing lineup and take part in the Raindance Film Festival this year.
Receiving the news about the Official Selection felt like a breath of fresh air in the middle of all the chaos we’re living. It’s these small moments that keep us going! And I am truly happy and honoured that our story from Lebanon will be featured in one of the biggest festivals in our industry. I am also happy that all the hard work put into the film paid off, especially from our amazing and tireless cast and crew who dedicated a lot of time and effort to help make Frayed Roots come to life!
"It was so overwhelming that I cried when we wrapped because of how happy and fulfilled I felt being surrounded by such beautiful people."
This will be your World Premiere, does this add any additional pressure on you?
It definitely does, but it’s the good kind of pressure! It’s motivation! To keep going, to make the best out of this experience. I am excited to have our story reach such a broad audience.
I am thankful and happy that our World Premiere is taking place at such a great and important festival, a pioneer for independent filmmakers’ voices. And the staff have been incredibly supportive and communicative making this process even smoother.
Can you tell me a little bit about Frayed Roots, how did this film come about?
Frayed Roots was completed as one of our milestone projects at the Grad Film program at NYU, and I took it as an opportunity to explore a story that I had been thinking about for a while. I spent that summer after my first year at NYU between Beirut and my late grandfather’s house in the south of Lebanon - the initial inspiration for the screenplay. Writing the film was a great challenge but it was incredibly rewarding to undergo all the transformations within it to tell our story better - under the supervision of my great mentors and professors. I also got incredibly lucky to work with such an amazing and tireless body of cast and crew, who were passionate about the story and helped make it happen no matter what. I was honestly taken by everyone’s kindness, even people who didn’t know me but knew someone from the crew, ended up supporting us and helping us when needed.
Frayed Roots was the first project that I directed in Beirut after having been away for a while. Most of my colleagues and collaborators are friends that I worked with in Beirut before moving to New York. And they all showed up and gave it their everything, committed to their job and put their heart into it. It was so overwhelming that I cried when we wrapped because of how happy and fulfilled I felt being surrounded by such beautiful people.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
I wrote the screenplay for Frayed Roots in my first summer back home in Lebanon, after having spent a whole year in New York undergoing the Grad Film coursework and building a new life. And when I got back home, I was faced with one of my biggest fears: once you make a decision to leave your hometown, you’re a changed person, and the world around you seems the same but your relation to it is different. And I wondered what had happened to all those who left. We come from a society where immigration is a predisposition, there are more Lebanese in the diaspora than there are in Lebanon. And a question hit me that one summer: can those who leave ever come back home? Will those who stay ever stop dreaming of leaving one day? What becomes of the identity of an expat? When we’re abroad, we’re Lebanese. But when we’re back home in Lebanon, we’re the “foreigners” who left. Somehow that one step will always get us stuck in the middle. The main character, Raya, is a representation of my fear when I left, but she is also a mirror of all the strong women that I have encountered in my life who defied their surroundings and traditions and stood up for themselves, and decided to take matters of their futures into their own hands.
Another major inspiration for my script is a photograph of my grandfather’s house in the south of Lebanon. An old house built in the 20s that used to gather the entire family, a house that saw joy and sorrow. A few summers ago, before moving, I took a photograph there, a perfect magic hour shot of the house empty, with the doors closed, and only a tree blooming in the midst of all the concrete walls. Everytime I look at that photograph, I am reminded of how time passes, and how we all change. So many people have come and gone, lived and died, and traveled, and come back, to this house. And this script is my way of remembering these moments, somehow an homage to a place that is so heavy with memories.
"I think we could have done things very differently under different circumstances."
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making Frayed Roots?
Patience and a deep breath go a long way! I learned to trust myself, and stand my ground when needed. I learned that compromises are a must, but as the Director, I must also stick to what I believe is crucial to the story, and make it work.
Frayed Roots has also taught me a lot about my process. Being the sole editor on the film, I had to learn to distance myself from my cuts in order to make better decisions to serve the story. And I was able to see how I was maturing as a filmmaker and storyteller throughout the process.
But I guess the most important lesson that I learned is letting go a little and trusting others to do the job - accepting people’s help and kindness. And that people will provide you with all of that if you respect them. We had a very smooth set and shoot. Yes, we were faced with many hiccups - who doesn’t on movie sets! But the reason we were able to move past them is the great amount of respect and appreciation that was going around between the crew and the cast. It is a lesson that I learned working on set before, but this time it was engraved. A flow of positive energies were derivative to the mutual respect between us, and we tried to enforce that as much as possible.
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?
Oh so much! I am very proud of the work we were able to achieve and so happy to have lived through the experience of making this film - through every stage of it.
But as filmmakers, I guess we’re never satisfied. We always see what we could have done differently and linger on the small issues that we wanted to improve but couldn’t, instead of looking at the bigger picture. Of course, I wish I had more time in pre-production, and I wish we had a bigger budget to achieve the film (every director’s struggle), and I wish I could have had a co-editor to help me take a distance from the film. The list goes on and on. But I realised that what matters for my process is accepting all of that, and making the best out of it. Moving on. I think we could have done things very differently under different circumstances. But we were able to make all of these small obstacles along our way work for us. We learn, and we work accordingly in our next project. The important thing is to keep going and not linger on what was already printed and done. One of my professors always said: filmmaking is the art of problem solving. And that’s what we’re always doing.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Growing up I was fascinated by so many different professions. When asked that dreadful question “what do you want to do when you grow up” I had so many different answers. And I truly wanted to do everything, whether scientific or artistic or business related... Anything. And I discovered that, through filmmaking, all of that is possible. And this is how I originally got into it. But as I kept practicing it, and exposing myself more and more to it, I realized that it’s actually a lifestyle, a never ending quest to find ourselves and attempts to understand the world around us. And this is how my passion for it grew even more. Every project became a self reflection, some sort of therapy and meditation that fed into the curiosity of exploring and understanding my surroundings, a way for me to find answers about topics and ideas that I was reflecting on for a while.
Filmmaking is magical, it’s one of the most fulfilling sensory arts for self expression and communication. It’s a process, an identity, and a conversation.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Absolutely! Filmmakers not only shape the filmmaking industry, but we also have such a great tool in our hands to reach a large number of people. It is an immensely universal art and it has influenced, entertained and educated societies around the world for ages now. We’re currently living through a historical milestone. A world that is mutating everyday.
And we’re facing all the repercussions of our histories that we thought we had moved past. Movies can reach a very wide audience. And we as filmmakers, in my opinion, have the responsibility right now to use this weapon to push for change.
We shouldn’t be scared to tell our own stories. We have so many different tools at our disposal now and filmmaking is a much more accessible art today. We have a duty to make the best out of it. Not be scared of bringing up new topics, of speaking up, of shedding light on what we think needs to be in the spotlight. I think now is a better time than ever to do that.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Be patient. And respect your crew. Everyone who comes your way during the time you’re preparing or shooting a project. People want to help. Let them, trust them, and show them respect. Everyone is important when it comes to a movie set.
But the major thing that sums up the experiences I’ve had in the past few years: listen to yourself, trust your gut feeling when it’s telling you if something’s right or wrong. It’s a feeling that we underestimate and don’t give that much attention to - but it’s the one truth that will always help guide us, especially with our storytelling.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Frayed Roots?
I guess the main thing is that I hope people will watch this film and leave with a question in mind. A different perspective on what it means to be an expat.
Also, this is a movie that is heavily rooted in a conservative environment, but I hope that people can look past this. This is not a movie about a girl against her religion and traditions. It’s about Raya facing her past, looking for her identity. It tells the story of how two women who have lived two completely different lives, are dealing with a common grief, each in their own way.