As most debut films, Hide Your Smiling Faces
, which is screening among the Emerging Directors section at the Panorama of the European Film, is heavily inspired by the director's own childhood.
US filmmaker Daniel Patrick Carbone told the audience upon the Cairo screening of his film on Monday 2 December, that it had been shot in the director's New Jersey hometown and, even more personally, in his own and his friend's childhood homes.
Hide your Smiling Faces captures a grim summer in the childhood of two brothers, where death could be seen lurking in the corners of the seemingly calm environment among the greenery.
The film opens with a long shot of a snake eating another animal, setting the film's entire mood; very quiet, slow but nonetheless eerie. The story is told through a set of individual, yet connected, moments and mainly revolves around the children’s psychological state.
"I didn't want to tell the story through a plot. I preferred telling it in series of moments, the way memory is recalled," the director said. "I wanted to focus on the way the boys are learning how to deal with emotions and how at that age there is a lot of misplaced anger."
The title of the film also relates to that theme. With Hide Your Smiling Faces, the director sought to reflect on children's lack of awareness of how to deal with emotions and how to physically respond to them.
"People expect you to act in a certain way as a child, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it," the filmmaker said recalling his own childhood when a grandparent died. At that time, and although he was saddened by the loss, he did not know exactly how to respond or act.
In one scene, one of the young actors smiled – quite accidentally – when all others were crying about a child’s death. This scene fit perfectly with the concept and was therefore kept in the film. "A serendipitous surprise," as the filmmaker described it.
Working with young actors, he had to go with the flow and allow improvisation to take place "within boundaries," allowing children to respond freely for an even more believable outcome.
Apart from the main protagonist, all young actors have no previous acting experience but were instead selected according to their similarities to the characters they portray.
"The auditions were like long conversations," the filmmaker said, explaining that he wanted to know the actors as people, to learn about their feelings and life experiences.
As the film is mood-based, pale colour palettes, minimal music and camera movements were all conscious decisions by the director. The judicious usage of these features brought tension to the scenes when required and the director set a reflective mood by opting for long shots. Some of his heroes, he pointed out, were bold enough to hold a shot for an extended period and let the audience really take it in.
For the Cairene audience, accustomed to urban sounds, outdoor sound effects seemed emphasised in the film. However, the filmmaker – who was raised in an environment surrounded by nature – explained that nature is actually very loud. "The sound effects captured the natural sounds. They were just heightened," he told the audience.
The talk concluded with a discussion around production difficulties. The independent film was financed through a campaign on the Kickstarter website, and the rest through the filmmaker’s own bank account. "I had some money saved and I felt that making a film was the best investment," he said.
Despite the large film industry in the US, first-time directors – especially if their product is presented in an unconditional way – always face production difficulties. Now that is has managed to overcome financial challenges, however, the film will find its way to cinemas in the US and the UK, as well as some European countries.
The financial aspect of a production quite naturally led to the question of whether cinema is art or business. The filmmaker believes that even as a business, a platform for artistic films should still be made available. "These are the types of films that made me want to make my own," he concluded.
The film was nominated for Best Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca International Film Festival and participated in the official selection at the Berlinale Generation.
Thursday 5 December, 10.30 am Galaxy Cinema, 67 Abdel-Aziz Al-Seoud St, Al-Manial
Complete programme of Panorama of the European Film.