Valerie Nehme took care of the film selection at this year’s festival, and she took time out to answer some of our questions.
First of all, tell us a few of words about yourself, your background and your involvement with the LFF.
I was born in Beirut but moved to the South of France when I was 12 with my family because of the war. After my undergrad studies, I moved to Paris and ended up working in cinema and television. I decided to move to Lebanon in 2006, and worked in advertising, journalism and communication. Since 2010, I’ve dropped it all to work on a cultural project. When Sabyl Ghoussoub, the director of the LFF, contacted me to ask if I could take care of the selection of the films for this year’s LFF, I jumped on the opportunity. It was a challenge I relished.
How did you go about selecting the films participating in this year’s festival?
I received about 130 films. I watched every one of them from beginning to end, sometimes even twice, before taking a final decision and consulting with the selection committee. I tried to focus on the story, the acting, the quality of the images and the cinematography. All the films chosen have to have been produced the year before the festival. Memory, exile, internal and external war and conflict are recurrent themes in Lebanese cinema, and this year was no exception.
Are the films all necessarily Lebanese?
All the films selected, both in the competition and out of competition, have to have a link to Lebanon. Next year, there will be a “Films D’Ailleurs” section within the LFF where we will showcase films that fall outside the Lebanese category. We also hope to create prizes for experimental films, original soundtracks and technical awards.
Have you noticed an increase in the number of Lebanese productions/submissions?
There has definitely been an increase in the number of productions, whether it’s features or shorts. But there’s still a huge lack of funding, which is essentially foreign. In most cases, directors self-finance their projects. But financing isn’t everything either. There needs to be some sort of help and training for writing, technical aspects, sound engineering and so on. We have to push young directors to go beyond what they expect of themselves and push the boundaries of convention.
Was there a lot of discussion around how to select films?
Every film we chose was subject to a long discussion. Sometimes there were technical weaknesses, sometimes the subject matter wasn’t treated with enough depth. The heated and constructive discussions around every film are important, and allow us to have a better vision of the work. Originality and an alternative view of the world were the determining factors in choosing a film, whether for a short, a feature, a documentary or an experimental film.
This may be tricky to answer, but do you have a personal favourite among the films being shown?
I personally liked Moussinna by Zalfa Seurant, February 19 by Tamara Stepanyan-Ferrari (that won Best Work of Fiction), Derriere Moi les Oliviers by Pascale Abou Jamra (that won Best Debut) and Une Journee en 59 by Nadim Tabet, whose musical accompaniment by Sharif Sehnaoui, Charbel Haber and Tony Elieh was amazing.