Noor Gherzaddine is a very new name in the world of film making. Her directorial debut ARE YOU GLAD I AM HERE now a days is making a buzz in the film festival circuits around the world. Being a Lebanese American, she grabbed the opportunity to make her debut feature in her country of ancestors, Lebanon. I had a quick chat with her in which she opens up about her artistic inspirations, challenges of making a film for the first time and her future plans. NOOR GHERZADDINE Talks Of Her Debut Feature, Lebanon And Future Plans
Noor Gharzeddine: Thank you so much.
Noor Gherzaddine: As a child I was deeply passionate about acting and creative writing. In elementary school I used to write little plays and force my sister to act them out with me, and I would stay up from lunch and recess to work on my fantasy novels. My greatest dream was to be an actress, but as time went on I found myself itching to direct and be more behind the scenes, so I started doing things like lighting, stage managing, assistant directing etc. No one in my family is involved in the film industry, and it took me a while to realise that all the strengths and passions I had aligned with that particular art form. I pursued acting through high school but became a film major in college. Both my mother and her mother are amazing visual artists and although I definitely cannot paint or draw or sculpt I’ve grown up inspired by their journeys as artists. NOOR GHERZADDINE Talks Of Her Debut Feature, Lebanon
Noor Gherzaddine: Samuel Anderson, our screenwriter, and I developed the story of Are You Glad I’m Here together. We’ve known each other since college and knew we wanted to make a film together, specifically in Lebanon, where my family is from and where he’d studied Arabic. So, I always knew that whatever script he wrote would become my first feature and I think that championing the film together allowed us to make it happen on our own terms. I love this script because there’s something in it for everyone- it’s always hard for me to assign the film just one genre or style, and I think that’s what’s so entertaining about it.
Noor Gherzaddine: Yes, Maia Khoury was our amazing production designer, and art director Assad Khoueiry also played a role in decorating the apartments. I came with a lot of visual references for Nadine’s apartment, which is where we spend basically the whole first half of the film- and where she as a character spends most of her days. I wanted it to be dense, colorful, and match interestingly with the characters clothing- as you said, it’s all very aesthetic. We wanted to kind of overwhelm the eye at this location, so that once we move to the natural, spacious country side later in the story it feels like a breath of fresh air or a break / release from the beginning of the film. NOOR GHERZADDINE Talks Of Her Debut Feature, Lebanon
Noor Gherzaddine: I do. Film has the ability to represent reality with very little distortion and the people we see on screen become so real to us; we can’t help but feel empathy. And now with the increased diversity in our film and television content we’re given the chance to enter the lives of, and care about, people we might never have otherwise thought about. NOOR GHERZADDINE Talks Of Her Debut Feature, Lebanon
Noor Gherzaddine: Most of our cast is Lebanese, and we held auditions in Lebanon for about a month, so I got to meet tons of amazing Lebanese actors, one of which was Marwa Khalil. We hadn’t known her beforehand although she’s well known in the region, but her audition really struck me and even though I’ve watched the film a thousand times I still love watching her on screen to this day. Tess and I had worked together on a previous project, in 2014, and I had a really great experience with her, but at the time of our auditions I didn’t know if we could afford to bring someone over from America, or if she was available etc. She was always in the back of my mind as we tried to find an American actress local to Beirut so we eventually just found a way to make it all work! She’d never been to Lebanon before so her real life experience mirrored that of her on screen character and I think that was interesting for her as an actress. The two women also collaborated really well together.
Noor Gherzaddine: I was lucky to have great film professors and I’m sure that factored into my confidence as I began this project. But I don’t think you’re ever actively thinking of just one influence as you make decisions in your own work- you’re more of a culmination of your influences and experiences. Even if you don’t go to film school or have a mentor in your field, there’s so much to learn from just experiencing life in an open way; being curious and understanding of different things / people and making sure to write down all your thoughts etc. Finding filmmakers who are a little ahead of me in the process and asking them a million questions has also been a helpful form of mentor ship for me as a first-time filmmaker.
Noor Gherzaddine: Definitely. I didn’t know anyone in the Lebanese film industry when I arrived to make the film, and basically everyone on set knew each other- so I was the outsider! A couple of our actors didn’t speak that much English so I directed some scenes in my broken Arabic with the help of our amazing tri-lingual AD. Making a feature at 24 is already such a challenging experience and being out of my comfort zone added a nice layer of adrenaline! But now I know this great group of filmmakers in Lebanon and would love to make another film there with them. NOOR GHERZADDINE Talks Of Her Debut Feature, Lebanon
Noor Gherzaddine: All sorts! I have an idea for a very surreal David Lynch inspired Fight Club/ Eyes Wide Shut feeling film that takes place in New York, as well as a mockumentary I want to film in Lebanon. I’m also developing a scripted TV sitcom and writing a low budget feature inspired by some of my own feelings/ experiences (with a touch of magical realism) and perhaps that could turn into my next directing endeavor. I’d also love to work on more short-term projects, like music videos, as it’s always very inspiring to be on set and collaborate with new people! Now I just need to find the time and money to do it all.
Noor Gherzaddine: Don’t overthink your first project or else you’ll never do it! Sometimes you might want to showcase all your talents/ styles/ thoughts and it can become overwhelming. Pick a location, a character, an event, and make a minimal, yet well executed film, and that will open the door to greater opportunities. Also know that film is a collaborative art, and you need to find people to work with! Form a mini film collective where you can act in and produce your friends film and then they can do the same for you. Learn about the film business even if you just want to be a director – they only teach you about half the process in school! Take a filmmaker or producer out for coffee and have them talk to you about the whole process (festivals, sales, marketing, distribution etc.) Lastly, know that there will be periods of time when no one else cares whether or not you’re making movies; no one is going to give you permission to do it or beg you to do it, you have to do it anyway.
Noor Gherzaddine: You are welcome, and thank you for your prayers. I appreciate it a lot.
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