By Mark Morellini
Sophie Boutros directed television programs for six years in Lebanon and Dubai after receiving a Bachelor in Directing. Mahbas which is also known as Solitaire, is her debut feature film which received much accolade at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2016. A critical and commercial success throughout the Middle East and the North African region, Mahbas is a delightful crowd-pleaser which should also prove to be a roaring success at this year’s Arabic Film Festival.
Sophie speaks candidly about her film….
IS IT CHALLENGING FOR WOMEN IN ARABIC COUNTRIES TO BE FILM DIRECTORS?
I do not believe we can generalise when we talk about the women status in the Arab countries. The space a woman is given differs between one country and another. In my country it is not an exception for a woman to be a filmmaker, also many women occupy several positions in a film crew actually; like in Mahbas most of my key crew were females. Plus I don’t look at myself as a weak or weakened human being, therefore my challenges were the same as they would have been for a male, simply to do a good job.
IS THERE A GENERAL ANTAGONISM/DISLIKE BETWEEN THE LEBANESE AND SYRIANS?
On this front, as well it would be inaccurate to generalise. There are many marriages and friendships between the two countries, but the fact is that when racism or prejudice hits, it hits hard. It carries with it the ugliness of the past Lebanese war. Some people choose to always look at their resemblance as two neighbouring countries but some cannot forget or overcome the negativity.
WAS THIS STORY CONCEIVED FROM ACTUAL HAPPENINGS IN ARABIC SOCIETY?
The story was not necessarily created based on a true one that I or Nadia, the co-writer and producer, had lived or witnessed. But the theme itself came from our observations of both societies and of this love/hate relationship that exists between them. For example, many Lebanese who hate Syrians can, ironically, easily watch Syrian dubbed Turkish series all day!
THIS FILM EXPRESSES TO ME THAT REGARDLESS OF OUR NATIONALITY, OR WHATEVER OUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS WE ARE COMMUNITIES THAT SHARE THE SAME HUMAN FRAILTIES; PEOPLE ALL HAVE PREJUDICES; MOTHERS MAY SCHEME AND DECEIVE FOR THEIR CHILDREN; HUSBANDS MAY CHEAT ON THEIR WIVES….IS THIS THE UNDERLYING THEME?
Since the film’s release, I did my best not to tell people what they are supposed to think once they watch Mahbas; in the story and screenplay, we tried our best not to convey direct messages nor preaching, and I would like also here to leave it up to the audience to come up with their own understanding and feeling after they watch Mahbas. But all I can say is that the film definitely carries a positive human message through a story full of racism, intolerance and prejudice. We tried to be bold enough to self-criticise, to look the problem in the eye, something our societies are not really used to doing.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOUR FILM MAY AID IN CHANGING WESTERN AUDIENCES PERCEPTIONS OF ARABIC PEOPLE AND THEIR LIFESTYLES?
There have been long years of wrong propaganda about Arab societies. For the west, it is the “Middle-East”, one entity, one colour, one nation, which in reality is far from being true. Unlike what a lot of people still think, we do not have old souks full of dust and we do not ride camels or even donkeys. I would be more than happy if my film contributes to giving a more genuine image about my society, my people and about our culture.