In the sixth installment of short interviews spotlighting emerging filmmakers in the current series New Directors/New Films, indieWIRE received remarks from “Falling From Earth” director Chadi Zenneddine, about his film that details four lonely people in 1958 Beirut. The films is screening in ND/NF, co-hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art through April 6 in New York.
“Falling From Earth“
A true cinema poet, Chadi Zeneddine’s poignantly surrealist debut film pays tribute to four lonely people trying to survive their own private wars in Beirut. These seamlessly woven chapters each reflect their own particular time and place. In 1958, a solitary little girl exchanges her world of toys and make-believe for a camera that captures the harsher reality outside. In 1975, a security official grieving over the loss of a loved one finds solace in the graffiti he reads and scrawls in a men’s room. In 1982, a woman dances and weeps, waiting in vain for a missing lover. And in the present, Joussef has a magical encounter. “Falling From Earth” is a moving elegy for a lost homeland from a director whose talent and sensitivity imbue every frame. (Description provided by the Film Society of Lincoln Center).
Responses by Chadi Zenneddine, director of “Falling From Earth”
What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
I was born and raised in Gabon, Africa, from Lebanese parents with French as my mother-tongue….I am referring to all of that because this is where it started not filmmaking at first but writing stories of an absolute rich, imaginary and surreal surroundings as I used to create plays and musicals for the neighborhood’s kids. Then, my older brother, a “wannabe” actor, joined to live with us after his graduation and he used to make me dream and I was unintentionally his “filmmaker” as I recorded all his crazy dramatic moments. I used to watch plenty of films in a row and I felt that this is it…I want to make films. And there the real dream began…
What was the inspiration for this film?
The project started with the internal fear and heaviness that I had felt due to post-war trauma after I returned to Beirut. It was in no way the physical war that had affected me: I had not lived it. But I could not ignore how mute and destroyed most of us are, despite the effort we put in denying and defying it all through our survival instincts…. but I also could not ignore that I was falling deep in love with the undying city. Some time later, when ‘another’ war broke out, I did remember the SOUND of it… It was haunting me everywhere I went, just like it does to the main character of the film: it has become our shadow and greatest enemy. We are born with a “scar” but we can’t remove it, we have to learn to live with it… It’s an internal experience and I wanted to deal with the memory of the “city”.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
As I mentioned before, in order to achieve this “voyage” along with my mute characters, I opted to approach it through a surrealistic vision and poetic sentiments; because what’s happening to you is so real that it becomes so abstract to explain in only everyday words… Magritte was an influence in my writing, and as you may notice it’s not a “narrative” feature but a collected moments of living not under the bombs but after them…Through different chapters that somehow represent several key dates in the perpetual conflict(s), I watch my characters lost and voiceless turning around in circles, still searching or waiting for a ‘no way’ out… indeed a ‘no way’ out, for they are not fallen angels, they are simple humans “falling from earth” and craving to stay in Beirut, where angels are re-born…
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making and completing the film?
I started shooting the film 3 years ago with a crew of mostly first-timers. The film was interrupted several times and so I would continue shooting every six months for a couple of days; the financial strain was burdening…. and I was falling apart at times. Even on a personal level, I was growing up, being affected by new ideas, concepts, feelings… And another big challenge was to make the actors sustainable all through, knowing that some “continuous” scenes have a 2 year span ! As I am also the youngest Lebanese to have done his film from scratch, now I am proud from what fresh graduate students tell me about what they want to do because many people thought that I won’t make it to the end…but now I am touring all over with the film and have two projects in the pipeline so all can be when you are passionate and hard-worker in what you do.
What are your goals for the New Directors/New Films?
This is the festival that was on top of my list…and for many reasons: first it is a non-competitive one so it’s all about cinema and sharing great moments; second, it’s in New York, where all the cultural events keep booming all year around, and finally it’s a great opportunity to meet interesting people and my fellow “emerging” filmmakers and in hopes to meet them many times all through our cinematic life .