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Highlights - 10/01/2005


Interview of Danielle Arbid, director of In the Battlefields.


This first feature film won its first prize, the Europa Cinemas - Directors' Fortnight Label in Cannes in 2004

On 29 December, Memento Films released In the Battlefields (Maarek Hob) with 26 copies in France. The first fiction film by director Danielle Arbid, it narrates the life of a young girl in war-torn Beirut in the 1980s. The film won its first prize, the Europa Cinemas Label, at the Directors' Fortnight in Cannes in 2004. The network exhibitors that programme the film will thus receive a bonus by showing the film.
In the Battlefields had a brilliant festival career after Cannes, notably winning the Grand Prize of the Biennale des cinémas arabes organised at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris.
Danielle Arbid responded to our questions.
1 - How does this first feature-length fiction film tie into your work as a filmmaker?
Since 1997, the year I started to write and direct films, I have rarely thought about any evolution in my work at all. I switch between fiction films and "personal" documentaries, short and feature-length films, video and film, in an illogical and chaotic way. There is hidden directing in my documentaries and there are real characters in my fiction films. This absolutely unconscious and frenetic freedom of action is my major force. My secret: I make films the way you play poker. I come from a family of gamblers (as you can see in the film). For me, the most exciting thing in filmmaking is taking risks. You could call it spontaneity, for me it's a liberty, an exhilaration. My first feature-length film is in keeping with this spirit. I work a lot and at a certain moment I let go, savouring the instant and the miracles that can fall from heaven. I was very careful writing the screenplay, I prepared the film for long months just like you're supposed to, and then I started looking out for chance, in the hopes that it would come and turn things upside down again.
2 - What did you want to achieve with the form of In the Battlefields? What do you
think of contemporary cinema? Do you view possible production constraints as a motor behind your work?
Until now I haven't had any constraints as far as finances go. All of my films have been well-financed, and when they were finished they all had excellent receptions. If I use video sometimes, it's not because I lack funds, but because I want to.
I think tomorrow's cinema will be at the crossroads of art, fiction and documentary. The technical side is developing at such a rate today that you can film practically anything with a small camera. And the major festivals are opening up to video productions.
Still, I think that each story has its own mode of treatment. For In the Battlefields I really wanted to film the carnal and flowing bodies of adolescents. I wanted to tell what they feel, things like revolt, violence and troubles related to sex. And it seemed to me that the grain of the film could make these feelings even more palpable.
Since I never studied film at school, I draw my inspiration from everything I see: art, photography, people in the street and of course film. I love Antonioni.
3 - What were audiences' first reactions, and how do you talk with them?
I have shown my film in a lot of cities in France and abroad (from Japan to the United States, via several countries in Europe, especially France). Everywhere people say "it reminds me of my adolescence." The reactions have been very good. I talk to my audiences like I talk to you. I try to be clear, and courageous. In line with my theory of chance I meet some great people and get into all kinds of unique situations. In France, the exhibitors I meet are enthusiastic, and I hope the audiences will back them up.
4 - What have audience reactions been like in Arab countries? What are the prospects for distribution in Lebanon?
I would have liked to present the film at the festivals in Arab countries where it was selected, like Cathage or Cairo, but unfortunately I couldn't free myself up. I was very curious to find out how the film would be received there, since I refuse all moral judgements about my work.
In the Battlefields was shown once in Beirut this summer. People were thrilled. It is very important to talk about yourself in a society where the individual is searching to find a place. I know a lot of Lebanese people, especially young people, identify with the film. I will release it myself in Lebanon next spring.

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Interview by Jean-Baptiste Selliez