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Clermont-Ferrand Interviews: Dania Bdeir, director of In White

Monday 20 February 2017, by Abla Kandalaft

Could you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration came from to tell Lara’s story? Are there any autobiographical elements?

The inspiration behind In White is definitely autobiographical. I lost my father in 2009 and it was my first experience of a funeral as a “host” as opposed to a guest. The ritual that took part across 3 days, at a time when my heart was pretty much broken, lingered with me long after the funeral. The visual and auditory experience in the film is in some ways my impressionistic memory of those 3 days. It also deals with the feeling of returning home after living away for a period... The inevitable change one goes through when they leave their comfort zone and the difficulty of having to face their old world and their old self. That feeling is all too familiar to me and my sisters.

There is a sort of haze that permeates certain scenes. Could you explain that specific artistic choice?

I was lucky enough to collaborate with a great team. In terms of the look and general feel of the image, my extremely talented cinematographer and I worked a
lot on establishing a look that would best represent Lara’s inner state throughout the film. In fact, the goal of each department was to tell Lara’s story through their field (sound, production design and wardrobe as well). The choice of the haze was to represent Lara’s feelings of grief and loss of self. The haze is also the endless stream of guests flowing in and out, faces and hands merging and the repetitive nature of the funeral.

What is the significance of the last scene? [Spoiler alert]

In the last scene, Lara catches up with the truest version of herself. She grabs hold of the driver’s seat and operates for the first time on screen. After being denied the one thing she believed would help her through her grief, the one thing that she felt would honour her father’s memory, Lara had to undergo what she finds to be a repetitive unemotional ritual. When she finally walks out to the room wearing proudly what she wanted to wear in the beginning, white, the haze is dissipated and we see Lara clearly in her full glory standing up for who she truly is.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background as a filmmaker?

I’ve always had a love for telling stories. In my undergrad, I didn’t have the courage to pursue a degree in filmmaking and ended up studying graphic design instead. Design was a great base and it taught me a very important way of thinking ​ that I still use until today. The graphic design programme in the American University of Beirut was very much rooted in the environment. It was broad enough that it allowed me to experiment with storytelling through different mediums and to really engage in the world around me: Beirut. However, I wasn’t a designer at heart. When I went to NYC one summer and visited NYU and Columbia’s grad film departments, I immediately fell in love. I moved to NYC soon after my undergrad to pursue an MFA in writing and directing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.In 2013, I shot my first short film in Beirut, KALEIDOSCOPE which got into festivals all around the world. In White was my thesis project that I shot in early 2016. It is a proof of concept for a feature film I’ve written with the same premise. I’ve always felt that there was a lack of representation of Arab stories in the world and that we’re missing from the global conversation. My inspiration as a filmmaker lies in telling untold stories from the Middle East and maybe more particularly, because it is closest to my heart Beirut and its craziness.

Any cinematic coups de cœur in the past year you’d like to tell us about?

Honestly the first that comes to mind is Moonlight. I found Moonlight to be a deeply moving film. I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards and that’s when I know I loved a film. It was such a beautifully told different story and it was extremely emotional. The cinematography and the actors’ performances were really special.

If you’ve already been to the Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this edition?

I’ve never been to Clermont-Ferrand before and I am so excited to be going. Ever since I started film school, I’ve been hearing about Clermont-Ferrand. It has been a dream of mine to show my film there. The idea of sharing my work with audiences all around the world is the part that excites me most. I’m also looking forward to seeing if this film generates interest for a longer version and potentially meeting people who might be interested in working with me on bringing it to life.

Visit the Facebook page for more updates on the film. The trailer is on the website. Contact us directly for any queries about the film or requests for screenings and we’ll forward on to Dania.

Café court / Short Talk - Dania Bdeir from ClermontFd Short Film Festival on Vimeo.

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