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Filmmaker Reimagines His Youth in Beirut Through a Surreal Animated Short Film

"Waves '98" is the first time a Lebanese film has been selected to compete in the Cannes Film Festival's Official Selection since 1991.

WAVES'98 Trailer from Beaverandbeaver on Vimeo.

To what degrees do the stories of your home country exist in the very fabric of your being? And how does the nature of memory affect the people we will be come? Next week at the Cannes Film Festival, Waves '98, a film from Lebanese writer/director Ely Dagher, will probe these and other questions in its pursuit of the vaulted 2015 Short Film Palme d’or, to be awarded by President of the Jury, Abderrahmane Sissako, on May 24. Part-narrative film, part-visual essay, the film is "an artistic exploration of the director’s current relation with his Lebanon, his home country, projected through the story of a teenager and set in 1998."


Created in response to Dagher's complicated relationship with Beirut, the city of his birth, following his departure from the city for Brussels, it's "based on Ely’s efforts to understand his changing relationship with the city and it’s life, juxtaposed with the narrative of a teenager’s exciting discovery of this segregated city." For Dagher, the added pressure is that he's the first Lebanese filmmaker to represent his country in the festival's official selection competition since the late Maroun Baghdadi won the jury prize in 1991.

The Creators Project spoke to the 29-year-old filmmaker about the stylistic influences, processes, and preparations that went into making landmark 15-minute film, Waves '98.

First off, can you briefly walk me through the process, from ideation to getting into Cannes, of making Waves ’98

I had been freelancing ever since my first year of college, and besides college projects I hadn’t really taken enough the time to work on my own projects for awhile. I felt that it was about time to take a break from commercial work and do something of my own. When I wrote Waves ’98 I had been living between Beirut and Brussels for two years. But somehow I felt like I was not really living in either, and finding it difficult to deal with the fact that I wasn’t living in Beirut full-time anymore, and that's where the script comes from.

I wrote the script on a sunny afternoon in Berlin while brainstorming my next move after having finished some projects in Beirut. A few months later I was lucky enough to receive a grant, which made it possible to focus on the film instead of commercial work. The development phase took a really long time. I was mainly focusing on content development as I needed to figure out my personal relationship with the city before I could finish pre-production on the film. Two years later and after a lot of trips between Beirut, Brussels and London, the final version of the film was ready just a few days before the Cannes submission deadline. Then it was just a matter of waiting.


You blend multiple animation styles into the film. In the trailer, I see influences from anime, to computer graphics, to even still photography. Can you tell me about how you approached 2D and 3D forms, and what some of your visual influences were? 

Yeah there’s all kinds of different things in the film. I think this is due to my eclectic background. In terms of studies I initially started off in a general art type of Bachelors at ALBA in Lebanon which included photography and all kinds of visual techniques. I specialised in illustration, after which I did a year of animation and then a masters degree in Art and Media at Goldsmiths' College in London. During all this I was doing commercial freelance work, ranging from motion graphics to illustration and even photography. Since my personal projects are generally content-driven I tend to use whatever technique serves that content best and in many cases it’s a mix of things.

Can you tell me about a few of your past works and how they prepared you for Waves '98?

Working for many years before doing my own short was really beneficial because it allowed me to mature and prepare for the film. But the main project that paved the way for Waves ’98 is my college project “Beirut” (2007), a 5-minute animated short film I worked on for about a month and a half. It was also largely about the city. I have always been very interested in working with and on the city, visually and from a human perspective. Beirut is very inspiring.


The film seems to incorporate elements of magical realism. Without giving to much away, can you walk me about some of your narrative inspirations? 

It might incorporate elements of magical realism but the film actually fits more in the realm of surrealism. Most of my work falls into that category. My narrative influences come mainly from art and literature, Jorge Louis Borges, Chris Marker but also David Lynch.

What does it mean to you to represent Lebanon at Cannes? 

With all the negativity going on these days I’m just glad that I can contribute with some positivity.

Do you think this film would have been possible if you had stayed in Beirut? 

Not exactly the same film since it is so tied to the fact that I was not in Beirut full-time anymore. But probably something else along the same lines.

Finally, what's next for you (after Cannes and celebration, of course!)

I have a few projects in mind but nothing concrete yet. We’ll see how they pan out after Cannes.

Waves '98 plays at the Cannes Film Festival from May 13 - 24, 2015. Click here to learn more about the film.


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