The Big Issue : Edition 579
#VENDORWEEK 25 JAN–7 FEB 2019 31 “They’re part of my family now.” Remarkably true-to-life, Capharnaüm is a social realist film. Using techniques from documentary-making, these films cast ordinary people from the community represented, and shoot in genuine locations, adding a palpable charge of authenticity on screen. “We didn’t feel like we were shooting a film,” says Labaki (an actor herself, she plays Zain’s lawyer). “It was as if we were really observing those characters’ realities. All of them are non-actors, in almost the same situation in real life. You’re the vehicle for them to express themselves and their stories,” she says. In 2015, Labaki was inspired – perhaps “incited” is more accurate – by the devastating image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdî, who was found dead on a Turkish beach. As photos of Alan made global headlines, she wondered, if this child could talk, what would he tell the world? For the next three years, she interviewed some of Beirut’s most vulnerable kids. They were “homeless, beaten up, abused, raped. Kids who’d ended up in jail or detention centres.” Labaki says they were “destroyed”. “Most use very harsh words to describe themselves: I’m a dog. I’m an insect. I’m nothing.” She’d talk to them for a long time before asking if they were happy to be alive. The answer was mostly “no”. “They’d say, ‘I wish I was dead,’” Labaki recalls. “A lot of them had tried to commit suicide. A lot would tell me, ‘Why am I here if nobody’s going to love me?’” Al Rafeea was discovered among these kids. A Syrian refugee who couldn’t read or write, his sorrowful eyes and searing performance speak to years spent on the streets, in limbo. For most people, the heart-breaking weight of these human rights violations doesn’t bear thinking about. “People just don’t want to deal with them,” says Labaki, frustrated. “Those kids pay the highest price for our bad decisions, our governments’ failing systems and wars. Even if it sounds naïve, I feel this responsibility to do something about it. I can’t stay silent anymore because, in a way, I am collaborating in this crime,” she says. Upon premiering at Cannes last May, Capharnaüm received a 15-minute standing ovation and won the Jury Prize. Since then, it’s screened around the world, scoring awards in such diverse cities as São Paulo, St Louis, Sarajevo, Calgary, Ghent, Melbourne and more. Despite cultural differences, audiences have the same reaction, Labaki says: they’re speechless, at least initially. Then they ask, “How can we do something?” Labaki believes the film resonates universally because its concerns are pervasive across the globe. “I’m talking about those belts of misery that surround our cities and societies. Those communities of invisible people who are struggling, who can’t eat when they’re hungry, who are immigrants and refugees. We’re all living the same problem.” For decades, Lebanese activists have worked on this issue. Has Capharnaüm – named for a village near the Sea of Galilee where, it’s said, Jesus performed miracles – helped spur tangible change in Labaki’s home country? “It’s definitely being talked about,” the director says. “I don’t know if it’s being talked about more, or if it’s being talked about enough.” She’ll soon organise screenings for the government and organisations that advocate for children’s rights. “The aim is to trigger discussion, then see how we can make real change on the ground,” she says. “I truly believe a film can change perspectives. I believe in the power of cinema.” by Aimee Knight (@siraimeeknight) » Capharnaüm is in cinemas 7 February. ZAIN LEADS OTHER STREET KIDS. DIRECTOR NADINE LABAKI WITH ZAIN.