Lebanese film producer Sabine Sidawi was in this year’s Cannes Film Festival for her latest co-production with Robert Guédiguian, Une Histoire de Fou (Don’t Tell Me The Boy Was Mad), which was featured in the Special Screening of the Offical Selection.

In 2007, Sabine founded the Beirut-based production house, Orjouane Productions, which serves as one of the most active film hubs in Lebanon today. She has line produced, co-produced and produced more than 25 fiction and documentary films, including: May In The Summer by Cherien Dabis, Beirut Hotel by Danielle Arbid, Carlos by Olivier Assayas, We Were Communists by Maher Abi Samra and Everyday Is A Holiday by Dima El-Horr.

We spoke to Sabine to learn more about her latest film.

Tell us more about Une Histoire de Fou (Don’t Tell Me The Boy Was Mad).

Don’t Tell Me The Boy Was Mad is a film directed by Robert Guédiguian, and produced by Agat Films & Cie / Ex Nihilo. The producer, Marc Bordure is a friend of a friend that I work with, and that is how I first heard of the film. When I read the script, I loved it, because my grandma is Armenian. So I said “let’s do it.” I went to Paris, met Robert, and we instantly clicked.
The film is set in the late 70s, early 80s, and it talks about the Armenian Resistance Movement. Like one of my past production’s, Carlos, the plot of this film includes a lot of real-life facts. The locations we visited for filming were actually once Armenian Army Resistance.

What challenges did you face during production?

We were supposed to shoot in the Bekaa Valley, in the northeast of Lebanon. Two or three days before the shoot, there were issues on the Lebanese border with the army. They came parachuting down on our set, and everything turned upside down. That happened on a Monday night. The first day of shooting was supposed to happen on the following Thursday. So on Tuesday morning, I took the director, his assistant, and the DOP on a hunt for other shooting locations. We found one in Laqlouq, a village an a mountain in northern Lebanon. We ended up shooting three times as long as planned in the Bekaa.
I’m proud of how fast we reacted to the situation. At the time, I was crazy – I didn’t know if we’d be able to shoot at all. Now, I look back on it with humor. Robert also appreciated our quick adaptability to the circumstances – the whole crew participated. Everyone did their best without the slightest complaint.

Could you tell us a little bit about your other projects, and how it’s important for you to be in a festival like Cannes?

Now, I have several projects that are in post-production: 3000 Nights, by Mai Masri; A Maid for Each, a feature documentary by Maher Abi Samra; and we have several projects in development. We hope to have some nice films coming up next year from Orjouane – we’re working hard on it. Being present in Cannes is mostly to meet people, sales agents, producers. It’s great PR. Unfortunately, you don’t get to see any movies though, because the entire time you are here meeting people. This is why it’s important to have the Lebanese presence here, to have it more active. People will remember producers. They’ll say “we can do it in Lebanon,” if they see us here.

You were the line producer of Olivier Assayas’ “Carlos”. We know that the shooting in Lebanon was supposed to be three days, and it ended up lasting six weeks. Can you tell us why?

When we were preparing Carlos, Olivier had the idea of only shooting in Lebanon for three days. He wanted to shoot the scene about the assassination of the French Ambassador that happened in the 80s, and the assassination of two French diplomats. So he sent me the script, I read it, and because they were historical facts, I tried to find the real places.
Olivier came to Beirut for three days to do some scouting. We finished looking at the locations in one day, so I decided to take him on a tour for the remainder of his trip. It was me, Olivier, and his production manager and set designer. The three of us drove all over Lebanon – the Bekaa, the north, the south – it was mostly toursim. I showed him how the film would look. Every place we arrived, I said, “This is how the scene would look here.”
Later, he decided that they would extend their shoot to five weeks. He had in mind to go and shoot in Sudan. While we were in Beirut, I was working with him to do the papers for the cast and crew to go and work in Sudan. But we quickly discovered that the situation in Sudan wasn’t stable, so Olivier told me, “You have 5 days to come up with a location that looks like Sudan.” We had a crew running everywhere to scout a location. We went to the Sudani embassy and brought everyone that looked the part.
Olivier found a beach in Chekka that looked like the Elephant Beach in Sudan, and we ended up shooting for 6 and a half weeks.