“Touyour Ayloul” (“Birds of September”), Sarah Francis’ first feature film, was screened at the Marché du Film on Wednesday, May 21st 2014.
We interviewed the new upcoming documentary filmmaker about her directorial debut, a story about roaming the streets of Beirut in a glass truck. This road movie-esque documentary relates to all the wandering and soul-searching individuals living in the city, trying to make sense of the chaos, seeing Beirut through a looking glass.

How would you describe your career path up until now?

After finishing my studies in film production, I worked as a freelancer for production companies or on independent projects. But I don’t consider my film as a result of this path. It was something that came in parallel, from scratch, because it was based on a different approach. My professional life gave me experience on practical things but the real process that led to the film was more of an interior one, based on a personal journey or observations. And to make it come to life was a whole new challenge to me.

What inspires you?

Films, books and paintings affect who I am, but I don’t think my creative process is triggered by them. There are so many interesting works and my heart beats for different things, as small as they may be such as a single scene, a mood or an image that I often forget. More importantly, my inspiration comes from observing life: mine and others’.
The next phase of how to express it on screen becomes an organic task; I ask myself questions, and try to answer them. Sometimes the answer is an emotion expressed in a painting, sometimes searching for the answer needs to unfold with time in a film and in a specific language I have to find each time. So maybe I kind of function the other way around.

What led you to “Birds of September”?

The reason I made this film was a claustrophobic feeling I had towards Beirut. I have always lived here and yet I always felt like I was not always fully part of things. There was always this ambiguity of being part of it but not in it. Also being overwhelmed by its chaos. At the time of the film, I had the need to take some distance, a private space where I would be unreachable and I would be able to observe things without all the over stimulation.
This truck was the perfect concretization of what I needed. The glass allowed me to filter the sounds and to observe people, then to meet them one by one, one person at a time, their words and their body separately. In Beirut, things interconnect visually yet shapes are undefined, it is hard to see where each thing starts and ends, so looking at Beirut through the glass imposed a framing to the chaos, a structure to it, and allowed for private encounters, even brief. I wanted to dismantle all the elements of the city as much as possible, maybe to counteract the feeling of being absorbed by it.

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Tell us more about the creative process.

The characters are roaming in Beirut. But it is actually my own journey in the city. The wandering and the searching for something, not knowing what it is exactly, other than trying to understand who lives around me. All my encounters were random. They were people who happened to be around me or that I talked to on the street, in a shop, on a pavement, and the ones I already knew happened to be around me at the time. I often didn’t have any idea who they were. I didn’t choose them based on gender, age, social class, or communities.
I didn’t want to think in terms of ‘categories.’ I wanted the whole process to be random because, to me, each one of us is in a state. It was not up the characters to have extraordinary stories to tell me and the audience but it was up to me to be receptive to their state, whoever they were. So I kept in the final edit all the people I had spoken to. I like to see the film as a part of a string or line that has started before the film, and that continues after it with endless encounters, thoughts and questions. It’s an endless journey, and the film is a part of it on screen.

What do you think of your film?

I think it’s hard to give an opinion at this stage about my own film; it is too fresh to see it in a different way. All I know is that I have tried to be be faithful to the experiment I wanted to do, to the people I filmed, and to the concept I had in mind. I think the search, the process, and the approach were authentic. In this sense , it think it is coherent, whether it makes a good film or not.

By Roubina Arslanian