DUBAI: Last year, Netflix, the world’s largest streaming service, called on nine of the Arab world’s top filmmakers with one simple request: to make a short film about love. The result is something magnificent – an anthology series called “Love, Life & Everything in Between”, in which stories from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia explore the myriad ways love thrives and struggles, each with a flair all its own.
“Each of us worked separately, so no one knew what the others were doing. Yes, we had the same theme, but it depended on our own interpretation. It was extremely exciting artistically, because you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we didn’t know what to expect from the rest, and we couldn’t wait to find out, “says Lebanese filmmaker Michel Kammoun, whose episode “The Big Red Heart,” follows a man whose life falls apart because of a giant stuffed Valentine’s Day gift.
As light-hearted and easy-to-watch as the films are, the project – a globally broadcast series uniting filmmakers from across the Arab world in a single project – is vitally important to Arab cinema as a whole, showing both the intricacies of each culture while highlighting shared values and sensibilities, which was not lost on the show’s contributors.
“To be perfectly honest, I am honored to be a part of it. The Arab world has long been treated unfairly by the rest of the world, for political reasons and dehumanization of our culture and art. It has given us the chance to unite us in all our different ways,” Hany Abu-Assad, the two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker who co-directed the short “Kazoz” with writer-director Amira Diab, told Arab News. a big step towards the collaboration of the Arab world, because it is in fact united, although politically divided.It was a dream of ours to be part of a series like this.
When they sat down to watch the other films in the series after the project was completed, the filmmakers were pleasantly surprised at how well their works fit together, each displaying a keen sense of humor and wit. self-mockery, tackling many issues in their own way. societies that become obstacles to direct love.
“I was struck by the way they handled the subject with a lot of humor and introspection. There was this similarity they all had: the courage to laugh at our own misery,” says Abu-Assad.
“In Palestine in particular, this is how we deal with our very cruel reality under occupation. We use humor to overcome all of our life issues,” Diab adds.
The misery that each film pokes fun at was often intensely personal for the filmmakers, and the filmmaking process served as a way of coping with Kammoun, who made his film in the aftermath of the horrific 2020 explosion in Beirut that shattered is accompanied by the collapse of the Lebanese economy.
“Beirut was starting to fade, but we all had to survive. Life must go on,” he says. “You had to drag yourself (out of bed) in the morning, because you knew what you were dealing with. I asked myself, ‘How am I going to write something about love?’ I don’t think I could have written anything other than a black comedy. It gave me oxygen, to tell you the truth. It was encouraging. It was anti-depressive to work on this project, and I really used it, personally, as a weapon, to give me hope and a reason to continue.
For Saudi filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh, whose groundbreaking 2016 film “Barakah meet Barakah” was the first Saudi feature film to screen at the Berlin Film Festival, his contribution to the show – “Glitch Love” – was a was an opportunity to explore how the traditional culture of Jeddah interacts with the present. It follows a sound engineer in love with a famous singer who once recorded in his studio.
“Yes, it’s about love, but it explores how this particular neighborhood became the epicenter of the Saudi music scene in the late 60s and 70s. This story of an unremarkable sound engineer helps show the dichotomy between then and the youth of Jeddah today, and how these two different worlds reflect each other – how they exist without co-existing,” says Sabbagh.
“I think dark comedy works with characters that are terrible loners, anti-heroes with gender as a backdrop, and I was drawn to exploring all of that through the theme of love. “, he continues.
Diab – Abu-Assad’s collaborator and, by his own admission, the project’s main creative voice (“I was just sitting there,” he says) – was inspired by how, during the lockdown, he There were two events that continued: Weddings and Funerals.
“It fascinated me, because the world had stopped, except for these two events, led by the same people. They use the same chairs, the same food, the same everything. I kept wondering why the hell this was still happening, with one celebrating the future and the other mourning the past. Really, it’s because we as humans have an existential need to socialize. We want to continue to live together, to socialize together – to dance together in joy and mourn loss, all together. So in my film, a wedding turns into a funeral, and a funeral turns into a wedding,” Diab explains.
While each of the films represents the culture of the filmmaker, they are also a wonderful representation of their creators and a chance to see another, often more playful side of themselves.
“Because it was a short project, we had more freedom to express our craziness – and all the directors expressed some form of their own craziness. In a feature film, you wouldn’t dare to go crazy,” says Abu -Assad “It’s a huge achievement to bring all these talents together and give them freedom without any (direction) other than a theme. It gave us the chance to express ourselves in a crazy way, and on a platform like Netflix that will allow the world to see Arab filmmakers doing things they’ve never seen before.
Now that the risk of the project has paid off into something that is sure to be well received in the region and around the world, Sabbagh hopes it will lead Netflix and others to take more risks with Arab filmmakers – showing more of the many layers that have yet to be discovered deep within the talents of the region.
“I would like to see Netflix take more risks with more original Saudi projects, especially. I want to see period pieces. I’ve seen a reluctance so far, but we need bigger projects in this region Now I think it should start to happen,” Sabbagh says. “We’re more than ready.”