“Afresh… into the wind”
I earned my high school diploma last year. I was 25-year-old at the time. I left my hometown of Qatana in the Damascus countryside in 2013. My parents ran into some trouble on the borders and couldn’t return, so we decided to stick together as a family and move to Lebanon. My dad opened a restaurant, and naturally I had to assist him. I tried to complete my studies, but Lebanon’s education system was completely different from what I was familiar with in Syria, so I thrust myself into the work with my father. After I joined Action for Hope Film School and actually graduating from the program, I was filled with motivation to earn a formal certificate and study at a university. With the Wind was my true start. I’ve come to realize that this field is the only one I ever want to study. No other option felt as viable. Even though art has been a passion of mine since I was in Syria, the society frowns upon the idea of art as a livelihood. Action for Hope and moving to Lebanon emboldened me to take a step that many people in my environment would see as a daring move.
My friend and I used to make these very modest videos. Action for Hope announced a short filmmaking workshop which helped me connect more with my passion for cinema. I knew they had plans to open a film school which is a year-long intensive program. I was eagerly waiting for when they would start accepting application. I was accepted. All my experiences, my interactions with teachers and professionals in the cinema industry, have reinforced my conviction that this is what I want to dedicate my life to. When I got a chance to further familiarize myself with this field, I was even more sure of it.
I graduated in 2017, and ever since I have been able to make a decent living from my degree. I would record and edit some montages on the activities of the Action for Hope. Subsequently, I moved on to film for other institutions. I’ve become completely self-dependent.
I live today between Beirut and the Bekaa. I had two choices, either bolster my passion for cinema though gaining more and more experience – or complete my university education. As fate would have it, my friend Suleiman and I were nominated for a scholarship program to study cinema and audiovisual arts at the Saint Joseph University. It was too good of a chance to pass on. They interviewed us at the start and it seems we’ve left an impression on them. At first, some hurdles were in the way because of my age, but me earning the second-highest mark at the French Language exam secured me a seat, and I started enrolling in classes with the rest of the students.
At the Saint Joseph University, I came across a different approach to cinema. The emphasis was larger on the technical side of things, which was extremely important that all techniques and filming and production equipment to be readily available to us. Yet, I missed the creative aspect that relies on dialogue and discussion, something that was more emphasized at Action for Hope.
At Action for Hope, we used to talk and discuss more: why we love cinema and what our vision was, and the perception of that artform. We used to watch and discuss movies with students and teachers. We were as close as a group of students can get, always talking about the concept of cinema and its presence and impact on society. The teachers always encouraged us to talk. At university, on the other hand, we watch movies to take tests on them later without getting a chance to analyze or discuss what we’ve seen. On the plus side, however, the Saint Joseph University program places a great emphasis on the technical side, and networking with the market. Teachers look at Suleiman and myself differently because our discussions are on another level.
About a year ago, I joined a theatre workshop with director Osama Hallal. We are set to perform a play next July. I wanted to learn acting when I was in Syria. Cinema was a far-fetched option back home. I’ve had this predisposed idea that true art lies in an actor’s craft. When I got the chance to get closer to cinema and its different aspects, which were out of my reach before, I found that I am more of a director than I am actor. When they started accepting application for theatre workshops, I decided that I have to try theatre for myself. I was nervous when lessoned started. I said to myself, “I am a director and completely content with what I get to do. Why did I come here?” with time, I’ve found out that I am actually decent at theatre acting. The theatre experience has had a positive impact on my cinema experience, as it enabled me to look at things from a different perspective. I am trying now to take myself to new spaces through acting, places that are do not necessarily resemble me. This workshop has expanded my horizons.
Author: Ayham Attiah
Story collected and compiled by: Mona Merhi
Date and place: May 19, 2019, Action for Hope School – Bar Elias