Tuesday 15 October 2019

Female Lebanese film-maker makes history with Oscar nod

Nadine Labaki has been nominated for the best foreign language film for Capernaum.

Nadine Labaki (Ian West/PA)
Nadine Labaki (Ian West/PA)

By Laura Harding, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

The first female film-maker from an Arab country to be nominated for an Oscar has said she hopes the honour will be a “magnifying glass” on her film about a child in a Beirut slum.

Nadine Labaki, whose film Capernaum was nominated for a Bafta and will compete for the best foreign language film Oscar, has said she hopes the attention will make some of the issues raised in the movie real for viewers.

She told the Press Association: “Cinema humanises a problem. Sometimes you hear about a problem in a news report or you read an article and you think it’s far, because you don’t see it on a day-to-day basis and you’re not close to the problem.

“Cinema can actually put a face on this struggle. It can be the face of a child, of a woman, of a mother, it’s a human being who is suffering and struggling and you understand that and it changes you forever.”

Of her Oscar nomination, she said: “It is a magnifying glass, it is really shedding the light and making their voices resonate much, much louder and making the invisible visible.

“This is why I think it’s so important for this film to have those platforms and to be nominated, and to even win, if we have the chance, because it will definitely make it resonate larger and bigger.”

Nadine Labaki attending the Oscar nominee tea in London (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The film tells the story of a 12-year-old boy Zain, whose parents are incapable of taking care of him, and who runs away from home.

He is played by Zain Al Rafeea, a Syrian refugee who had never acted before.

Labaki said: “The highlight of my day (of the Oscar nominations) was, as soon as I heard the news, I call my actor and he picks up the phone, on WhatsApp video, and he’s actually sitting in his classroom with his classmates and his teacher, and they had opened up a laptop and they had received the news at the same time.

“It was a huge thing for me, knowing that at that point he was in the classroom with his friends and not on the streets fighting with guns and knives and stuff.

“He is at school in Norway. He’s been resettled in Norway with all his family and it’s been going great.”

Discussing making history as a female film-maker, she said: “I have never really felt any victory because of the fact I am a woman.

“It has been very difficult for Lebanese cinema, cinema has been non-existent, almost, for the past years. Because it’s a war there is no film industry and no institutions to help, so film-makers struggle so much to make their film.

“I’ve never felt doubt from anyone that I won’t get there because I’m a woman.

“It was a very tough year and I agree that it is unfair that there are not more women, but in Lebanon because we are creating the film industry from scratch now, it’s not like it’s been a man’s world and women are trying now to prove themselves in it, it’s like we are building it together now.

“You don’t have to overthrow an old system, it’s like a white page.”

Capernaum is released in UK cinemas on February 22.

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