The jump to making feature fiction films can be difficult for a company like Laser Films, as they had established themselves as a successful production company that specialises in TV commercials, corporate films and television shows. This hasn’t stopped Lebanese filmmaker Tarek Sikias from producing Nuts – still in post-production. The film is being screened at Cannes today as part of the Film Market, organised by the Fondation Liban Cinema.

Nuts follows the story of two married Lebanese women who fall into the underside of Beirut when they become addicted to gambling. Bored with life and seeking escapism, they traverse Beirut, witnessing the many different facets that are represented in the city and experience a life that is at polar opposites of their daily middle-upper class existence. As producer Tarek explains: “the story happens in Beirut, so you have the capital in the background, but it could have been any other country, although it wouldn’t have had the same taste. In Beirut you have the remains of war, a Middle Eastern mentality and a society that functions like a village.”
For a film set in Beirut about gambling addiction, drugs and sex, Nuts is not trying to preach a message to the audience. Much like the women in the film, Nuts is escapist entertainment, with plenty of jokes and funny scenes that border on a dark comedy. Early audience responses have described it as being a mix of the Coen Brothers and a Tarantino film.

A close-knit team

The idea for the film grew from a short film that Tarek made 15 years ago. He tested several screenwriters to develop the story, but couldn’t find a suitable match for the task. He then turned to his sister, also a filmmaker. “It should have been obvious, explains Tarek, I asked her and she was very excited about the idea and she started writing. She really got it from the get-go. The script was done a year and a half later. She added a lot of layers to the plot. The base of the story was my idea, but she took it to another dimension.”

For a Lebanese film about Lebanese women, produced by a Lebanese production house, and Lebanese actors, the choice of French director Henri Bargès might seem odd. It’s a question that Tarek is often asked, but for him it was the natural choice, based on their previous working relationship which has been going on for the past 20 years. “Sometimes we shot a scene just once and moved to the next one. He doesn’t shoot it five times just to be safe, as he’s confident about what he wants”. He’s also very familiar with Lebanon.” Tarek finds Henri’s familiarity with Lebanon very advantageous, but another added value was his nationality which enabled him to view the country through the eyes of a foreigner.

The shift to the big screen

Aware of the risk he was taking by investing all his time and money in Nuts, Tarek feels content with his decision: “This is our baby, nice and fresh compared to television. We were our own clients for a change.”
Due to a lack of governmental funds in Lebanon, Laser Films took on board a number of partners, private investors and sponsors to finance the film.

The film already has a distributor for Lebanon and the region, but Tarek is hoping to secure sales and distribution for other parts of the world, as well as trying to get the film screened at various festivals around the world.
The jump between producing a commercial and a feature film is a big jump, but the experience hasn’t completely put Tarek off the idea of producing more. “You get so involved in the project during the shoot, that the world stops existing around you. Now my main focus is to finalise it and start working on the launch. It’s too soon to start thinking about another project, but at the same time I already have three other scripts submitted to me by directors and writers.”

by Hugo Goodridge