Hashem only female Kuwait filmmaker in international arena

The movie’s official poster

KUWAIT: In an exclusive interview with Kuwait Times, award-winning Kuwaiti director and producer Farrah Al-Hashem said she was surprised to learn her film ‘Breakfast in Beirut’ was banned from the inaugural Kuwait Film Festival held from March 24 to 28, especially after she had been invited to submit her entry for the fest. “I was proud that a film festival was happening here. But I was disappointed when I heard that my movie was banned because of certain scenes that had been requested to be removed by the censorship department of the Ministry of Information,” Hashem explained.

So far, she has received no official notice from the information ministry and was only told by an official there that the film had not been screened. “So I requested a clarification in an official letter from the festival’s management, asking them to send a signed and sealed notice from the Ministry of Information saying that my movie was banned and the reasons for it. But I am still waiting for this letter. When I spoke with the ministry, they said they never even saw the movie. So I am still trying to figure this out,” Hashem told Kuwait Times. Notably, Farrah Al-Hashem is the daughter of controversial columnist and writer Fouad Al-Hashem and niece of outspoken MP Safaa Al-Hashem.

Origins of the film
“My feature film ‘Breakfast in Beirut’ is 72 minutes long and it is a fictional documentary that depicts the lives of 13 people. I tell my story from the point of view of Lebanese people who live outside their country. The film is about the Lebanese environment and life – what it is like to be outside your country; what it is like to live in another place, what is identity and what is home. It talks about finding your home.

The ban
“I was surprised when the censors asked me to cut a lot of scenes. I had problem with the cuts, as when I cut so many scenes from the film, it loses its value and meaning. I thought it is better if we do not screen it at all if we have to cut all the important scenes. I have no problem cutting out foul language, but how many times do we hear cusswords in Western films or songs? I do not think these words affect us as Kuwaitis, because we hear them in all movies on TV and other networks. Still, I did not have a problem with that.

Previous films
“I have made many short movies. I made a short film called ‘7 hours’. It was screened at the European Independent Film Festival in Paris and won four international awards including best screenplay, best performance and best short film. It was also screened in the short film corner at Festival Du Cannes, and won for best acting at the Women Independent Film Festival in Santa Monica, California and Los Angeles in 2013. I have made six other films in New York and Los Angeles, because I lived there and I was discovering life, people and stories related to New Yorkers and people living in Los Angeles. Usually, the artist depicts their own environment when they make a movie.

“I then decided to shoot my first feature film ‘Breakfast in Beirut’, which participated in many festivals and was awarded in Beirut. It even received financial support from the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon and from the Municipality of Treviso in Venice, Italy. This award was turned into a festival that was named after it – ‘Breakfast in Beirut’ – in Venice. It was screened there for three months, and was translated into various languages including English, French and Italian. The film was also nominated as the best film at the Lebanese film festival in Australia as Film of the Year, and it got a special mention from the judging committee at the Alexandria film festival in Egypt in 2015.

Limited budget
“In all its screenings, ‘Breakfast in Beirut’ was always sold out. I was lucky as I did not have a big budget for production, and shot it along with my mother Awatif Al-Zain, general supervisor of the film, who is a writer and journalist, and who helped me with all the preparations. This film is my little baby, and I did the montage, shooting, production, directing, casting, acting and decor, as I did not have a large enough budget to hire a team of people to work with me.

Feeling sorry
“Thousands of articles were published about ‘Breakfast in Beirut’ in many Arab countries and even in the West. One critic in Kuwait wrote that this was the best film he had watched in the last few years. I was very happy with this comment, and I hoped that this film is screened in Kuwait to show how the Kuwaitis see Lebanon. Many Kuwaitis used to spend their summer vacations in Lebanon, and even HH the Amir did so. Many Lebanese people are in Kuwait too, so it is a beautiful exchange among the nations for the past 30 or more years. So I hoped that people see this movie from my view, as I lived in Beirut during my studies and understood the Lebanese community during the war. I’m sure if people watch the movie, they will like it.

“As a Kuwaiti, I thought that they would praise my work as the only female Kuwait filmmaker till now in the international arena. They could have put me in a separate category of the festival, even if it did not suit the other films; even if it was out of competition. Although I have been awarded internationally, it is not the same as being awarded in my home country Kuwait. I’m surprised of the ban here, as in Lebanon, the censorship department told me the movie was perfect and did not find any political or social violations.

“The film has been shown internationally including at the prestigious Lumiere International Film Festival in Rome, the Lebanese film festival in Sydney and the CultFest in Mastre, Italy. It also received critical acclaim including an honorable mention from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and Film of the Year nomination at the Lebanese Film Festival.”

By Nawara Fattahova