Short film Waves '98 has brought the young director Ely Dagher the Golden Palm at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, marking it the first such victory for a Lebanese filmmaker in the shorts category. In 1991 the Lebanese Maroun Baghdadi won jury award for his film Out of Life, while Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? was the first film that made it to Cannes official selection in 2011.
Inspired by a personal story, Waves '98 exudes a discreet atmosphere, interweaving various animation techniques in a fairly realistic ornament of the Lebanese capital.
In the 15 minute long animated film, the director explores a relationship with his country, through the eyes of a disappointed look of a teenager living in a suburb of Beirut while juxtaposing the country he remembers in the 1990s and the one he finds today.
Ahram talked to Dagher shortly before the Cannes awards announcement.
Ahram: Where and how was the idea of this film born?
Ely Dagher (ED): For many years now, I felt I wanted to rediscover my country, especially my hometown Beirut. It was particularly since my departure to Brussels, that I felt I had to recapture my relationship with Beirut. My mind was fixed on the 1990s, the post-civil war period when people had hope. You will notice reference to those days in the film's title, Waves '98. I was moved by the juxtaposition between the 1990s and the life of today represented by depression, passivity that spans across the country and generations.
Ahram: How long did it take you to make the film?
ED: It took me two years and it is quite long for a short film. But since I did not have a big budget, I had to work on most of the animation myself. Put in mind that I do not have much experience in the world of cinema production. I received support from Lebanon and Qatar stepped in with funds for post-production; I also self-funded a lot of elements. It was an adventure.
Ahram:It is an animated film yet it also contains photos and real footage. Has this mixture of sources and techniques helped you tackle the film's subject more freely?
ED: Mixing animation and documentary added a deeper and indirect aspect to the film. Given that the film is based on ideas, beliefs and personal experiences, I wanted to avoid imaginary components. Had I been using a 3D technology only, this would have created a sci-fi effect. Besides, for the characters, I tried to make them more or less symbolic, people who would actually represent residents of the city and a certain generation. The mixture between the techniques and tools allowed me to present my ideas in a more abstract way. They are simply mediums I use in my work.
Ahram: Who took the initiative to submit your film to Cannes?
ED: Since I am the director and the producer of this film, I was in charge of everything. Cannes is one of the most important platforms where movies can be launched so I decided to try with this festival before addressing events specialising in animated films. Also I hoped to change the way that people usually perceive animated films. When my film was selected to participate in Cannes, I felt I won, because for me, the selection itself was a great honour.
Ahram: Will your next project be an animation as well?
ED: Not necessarily. I took years to write the script for Waves '98; it is a quite personal story. I blended animation with videos from Lebanon, a style that I found most suitable for this unreal story. However, my next project might be quite different, something that would rely on different tools. I will start thinking about choice of artistic styles, once I finish the script. Let's hope it will happen quite soon.
WAVES'98 Trailer from Beaverandbeaver on Vimeo.
This interview was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French.