Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Remi Itani

Drought

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A real estate agent begins to close the gap between her private experiences in a series of empty apartments and the very different life she leads in public.

Hi Remi thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?

Hey, thank you for having me. This whole episode of my life feels like one big blur, but I’m managing.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

It feels more like it reconfirmed my main sources of inspiration and allowed me to explore new possibilities in how I approach my work.

Your latest short film Drought is part of TIFF Short Cuts, how does it feel to have your film a part of such an amazing lineup of short films?

I was extremely happy, especially when I got to share that information with the rest of the crew, that to me is always extremely rewarding, especially with the kind of film Drought is. There is always a burden I believe directors carry through the process of applying to festivals. The support of this film came from individual initiative and belief in me as a director especially because it was self funded. Being selected to TIFF is a great platform to showcase my work and the work of the people who believed in it. I’m also looking forward to the great future opportunities and possibilities that will come out of this experience which I believe is going to be extremely helpful in supporting my coming feature film.

You won the 2016 Prix du Jury prize at Teuton International Film Festival as a filmmaker, what has it meant to get such recognition for your work?

I received this prize while I was still at film school. The film was part of my term exercise to build a set and shoot a film. So I decided to build a set of an apartment in Beirut and I wrote a film about the strangeness of knowing that someone close to you will die soon and the sense of inertia that follows because of how helpless one feels. That film was so personal to me, many at my film school related to it, and some read it as the main character didn’t care about her dying relative. This experience has taught me a lot about not to associate myself that closely to my work. A film has its own world, and its many interpretations. When I won the award at Teuton, I was very surprised and touched by the Jury’s decision.

Can you tell me a little bit about Drought, what was the inspiration behind this film?

My interest in films has mainly centred around women. It was never a decision but more of an organic process. Every time I’m thinking of the next project, I feel close to female characters within the context of a Beiruti society. Being a woman and Lebanese, I feel I have a lot to explore on feminist films that are relatable to the historical and geographical context of Lebanon.

The main inspiration behind Drought was my older sister who last year, she anticipated the catastrophic economical crisis that Lebanon is going through at the moment. She was looking for houses to buy in order to invest her savings in it. I went with her from one house to the other, the old architecture homes with rusted pipes and the newly built buildings that have no identity and felt soulless. This was my first stepping stone in deciding about the narrative of a real estate agent middle aged woman, her relationship with these spaces that mimic her transactional relationships with the men around her, in a patriarchal society that doesn’t allow for genuine and honest connections between men and women.

"My main fascination with film is in its ability to utilise the artifice to explore the infinite possibilities of truth."

What was the most challenging part of making this film for you?

I think the hardest thing for every filmmaker who is at the beginning of the road and making films, is to be able to communicate the film idea while at an early stage. I believe if you can explain your film with words, and communicate it vividly, then the question here is why use the medium of film in the first place, when words can do the job. But at the same time, you need to convince the people around you and especially actors, about why your film is worth making. I find this process extremely uncomfortable. But I know and I’m aware it’s part of the process.

Once a film is complete are you able to let it live its own life or are you always thinking 'I could/should have done this differently?

Done it differently no, but building on the experience for my future projects, definitely.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I guess as a child I felt the world was too big and intimidating for me. This small TV box that I sat in front for hours, provided me with solace. My main fascination with film is in its ability to utilise the artifice to explore the infinite possibilities of truth.

You studied at The London Film School how did this experiences shape your development as a filmmaker?

My time at the London Film School was incredibly invaluable. This is where I found for the first time a feeling of kinship and companionship in relation to the act of making films and how to make them. It was through meeting this small group of great filmmakers, with whom I work with still, that I gained the courage to find my identity as a filmmaker and specifically as a director. The relationships that I built in those years will inform the rest of my career both professionally and creatively.

How much has your style and the approach to your films changed since you started out?

Looking back at my early work, I feel I became more interested in exploring moments between plot points, punctuating silences through the scarce dialogue scenes rather than focusing on the narrative plot of the film. This style of work allows me to build the possibilities for a self reflective state that will be juxtaposed with the tense atmospheres, to explore the internal realities of the characters. In other words, I moved from a more naturalistic to a more stylized aesthetic.

Is there any advice you would offer anyone about to start film school?

 

Film school isn’t for everyone. Many great filmmakers didn’t go to film school and many who went dropped out. I was lucky to meet the people I met, and I wouldn’t think I would have continued have I not met this group of filmmakers. That’s why I’m not the best person to give advice.

"I feel I can create new possibilities for the film by filming scenes that aren’t scripted."

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making Drought?

The process of filming Drought was very important to me. It was a very pleasant and smooth shoot. Now that the film is done and I’m starting my new project, I believe I will build on the experience on Drought, to be able to allow more room for improvisation and exploration outside the script. I feel I can create new possibilities for the film by filming scenes that aren’t scripted.

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

I hope people will find solace in this film. To live a short intimate experience about the mystery of our existence and isolation. I believe sharing this film with a wide audience is a first step to normalising women’s natural relationships with their own sexuality in Lebanon.

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