mark abouzeid
Mark Abouzeid started his career in high finance in Southeast Asian markets, and after a brief stint in the monetary sector he turned to the video industry. He has as of now spent the past 15 years of his life working in visual journalism and storytelling. In 2016 he screened “Finding My Lebanon” in Cannes, which explored his Lebanese heritage. He is currently developing this short documentary into a feature-length film.

You recently screened “Finding My Lebanon” at Cannes. Could you tell us a bit about the film and your screening experience in Cannes?

The film is about the discovery of my heritage through the stories of my grandfather, my father and then my own arrival to Lebanon. “Finding My Lebanon” is a prequel to my feature film, “Growing Cedars in Air”, which is essentially about current Lebanese culture told through the stories of dozens of interesting people I’ve met.
I found a culture that was nothing like I expected, or rather was everything I hoped for, a culture that contradicted what we are led to believe by the media. I decided to share it with the world through this feature film. We pitched the synopsis to Cannes and it got accepted into the Short Film Corner.
We were lucky to be in touch with the Lebanese Pavilion, as well as the Italian Pavilion and recently we got the support of the World Lebanese Cultural Union’s youth group. They sent Miss Lebanon Emigrant as their representative to the premiere. The incredible Moroccan-Lebanese woman attended the premiere in one of her dresses and all the press went wild. This had us thinking that we were important people. (Laughs)

This was your first time shooting in Lebanon. Was it a positive experience? Did you gain anything from it?

I’ve always directed documentaries with a grab-the-camera-and-run attitude, and a minimal crew. I believe this genre lends itself to getting spontaneous truth from people while giving them the freedom to be themselves, which was exactly what “Finding My Lebanon” needed.
The only setback was the shooting permits; I wouldn’t say it’s difficult in Lebanon as much as it’s unclear. You’re unsure of what you need and where to get it from, which adds some layers of complication. I don’t mind the bureaucracy. My base is in Italy, where the bureaucracy is also a nightmare. For example when we filmed at the port in Byblos, we had all the permissions from the military, but the police stopped us once we got there because we also should’ve gotten the local sheriff’s approval, which we thankfully did at the last minute.

Could you tell us about your crew?

I had previously worked with my director of photography, Samuele Alfani; he has a particular cinematic approach that I needed for this project. My producer Leena Saidi is Lebanese and we couldn’t have done this film without her. We also had Elias Moubarak, who was really a second DOP, although we called him an assistant director. He’s a filmmaker in Lebanon, and I met him during a trip here, before I even knew I was going to make the film… in fact, the short film was more his idea than mine. He also brought Rony Abi Phram on board, who was the sound engineer on set and our primary editor in the post-production phase. We continued working together despite the distance: We mirrored hard drives; systems and we kept sending Premiere files back and forth. We put the whole film together from two different continents.

How did you find the experience of filming in Lebanon compared to filming in Europe?

I don’t really like the European model of filming, it’s too formalised. It’s what you’d expect from Hollywood or any hierarchical situation. I don’t like to be a dictator as a director, it’s not my style, but in Europe, you have to be one, since that is what people expect and they won’t move a muscle unless you tell them to. Unlike Lebanon where the structure exists but the crew is able to transcend that as they feel part of a team and make the project their own. I found that filmmaking in Lebanon is a two-way dialogue.