Interview with Ramzi Bashour, director of The Trees
Friday 12 February 2021, by ,
How much are you aware of the severity of the droughts in Lebanon? Is this what sparked your interest in this subject matter?
A lot of the environmental science concerned in the film derived from discussions with my father who is a soil-chemist and professor of agriculture in Lebanon. Droughts were not specifically what sparked my interest. It was more about sustainable agriculture and climate change on the whole. We don’t only have dry years, we also flood sometimes – but this is because our infrastructure is bad and sadly, instead of harvesting that fresh water we let it run right off into the sea.
Can you tell us a bit more about the religious rituals?
Different families, denominations, towns, do things differently. These specific practices change over time too. When we were shooting the film, locals were telling me, “We don’t do it like this anymore” – referring to mourners congregating inside homes to pay their respects. More frequently, these days, this would take place in the church’s salon. But here, in this film, I was lifting from my personal experiences attending Christian Greek Orthodox wakes as a young adult. Exchanging condolences, sipping coffee, wearing a black tie. These specific customs aren’t necessarily fixed or ubiquitous, but at the same time are all familiar.
And about the shooting location? Is this a village you’re particularly familiar with?
We shot across three different villages near one another. The church, the houses, the graveyard were all in different townships, all of them about 80 minutes outside of Beirut. I chose these places for a variety of reasons but ultimately because its valleys and olive orchards and stone houses resemble my town in Syria.
We’re seeing a lot of Lebanese productions on the festival circuit and on platforms such as Netflix at the moment. As a Lebanese filmmaker have you noticed this growth? Do you work in Lebanon?
Just to clarify, I’m technically not Lebanese, although it’s where I grew up, where a lot of my work takes place, and where I consider home. I don’t have Netflix at the moment, so I haven’t seen a lot of what’s out there. But I have seen that Lebanese films are represented in festivals across the world, year after year. In any case, whatever money has been coming into Lebanon from places like Netflix for recent productions is not close to the kind of stimulus needed.
What do you think the future holds for short films?
I think short films will continue to be executed in film schools and by filmmakers at the beginnings of their careers. I would love to see a world where short films are profitable and more sustainable, programmed on television, screened in theatres outside the festival realm, but I don’t see that happening.
If we were to go back into lockdown, what cultural delights would you recommend to alleviate our boredom?
What I’ve enjoyed, and what’s been good to me when in lockdown has been playing music, writing things, exercising, and taking hot baths (when possible).
The Trees is part of International Competition I12.