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Q&A with Dwan Kaoukji, director of Canary in a Coal Mine

Monday 12 February 2024, by Mydylarama team

One night, while guarding his aunt’s house in a remote Lebanese village, Anis is forced to pretend he is a burglar to save his life during a break-in. An amusing short with a likeable cast. Very impressive debut short by Lebanese (now) filmmaker Dwan Kaoukji!

Canary in a Coal Mine was in the international competition of the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival 2024.

Where did the idea come to you, given it’s based on a true story?

I came across the idea from a friend of mine who told me a similar story that happened to someone in Iran. It really resonated with me because I felt the story reflected what is actually happening in the country today, both literally (with the rate of thefts in the country) and metaphorically (in the way corruption plays out across every facet of the government), and was compelled to write a script around it! I especially liked how the story shows demonstrates that no matter how hard you try to outsmart a corrupt system, it will always be one step ahead and will ultimately trap you into it. I also felt the story had all the ingredients for a good short film, and an engaging plot that I could work with. So I decided to contextualise it and make it a Lebanese story.

Where did you shoot in Lebanon? Why did you choose that location?

I deliberately tried to avoid locating the story to a specific place in Lebanon, so that Lebanese audiences wouldn’t identify it and assume it was specific to one location. I had a hard time trying to find a remote and isolated village somewhere in the mountains with no visually identifying signs. And after several weeks of scouting, the crew managed to find a tiny village north of Beirut for the exterior shots. And for the interior shorts of the house, I managed to convince my parents to let me shoot in our family flat in Beirut to save money!! I’ll be forever grateful to them for letting me do that, and just hope it never gets robbed!

How did you cast the actors?

I started by casting for the main protagonist - Anis. I was looking for a young man from Beirut of a specific class who could appear both confident and vulnerable at the same time. We cast around 15 actors before we found Josef Akiki who adopted the role really well.

As for the two thieves, I was looking for actors who could be both aggressive and violent, but also a bit comedic and relatable. I kept imaging one of the thieves to be similar in personality to a good friend of mine (Ahmad Ghossein), and managed to convince him to play the role of Rico. I got very lucky when I casted for thief because I managed to get a famous Lebanese actor to be on board. Fadi Abu Samra is extremely experienced and I noticed it intimidated the other two actors, which was perfect for the story and for developing the chemistry between them.

This is your first short film. Congratulations! How did you get into filmmaking? What’s your background?

Thank you!! I’m actually a social scientist by background, but have always been fascinated by cinema and watched a lot of films. I didnt feel brave enough to make a film because I didnt have any training in it. But when I came across this story, it gave me some confidence because I could visualise it really. I decided if I was to give the process a try, I needed to self-fund it, so that I could learn from it and make sure nothing was at stake. Of course now, I’m completely addicted to filmmaking, and cant wait to make my next one!

What would you say were the biggest hurdles?

For me the biggest hurdle was getting government approval to shoot the film. Unfortunately, because of the final scene in the film, we were not able to get government permission to shoot it, so I had to find a way of shooting the scene while staying true to the story. That, and it rained miserably on the final day of shoot and the crew were all soaked for the final scene. Still, it came out beautifully!

Best thing about having been selected at the Clermont-Ferrand FF?

Being at a festival where short films are taken so seriously and really appreciated by audiences!! It’s been an incredible experience! And meeting so many filmmakers from different parts of the world has been an incredibly inspiring experience! This festival is an absolute gem, and I cant wait to be back here again!

Contact us if you want more info about the film or the director!

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