Beirut-based director Anna Fahr is hard to pin down, but she has a good excuse: Her short film Transit Game is currently making the rounds on the international film festival circuit. We caught her just before a flight to Sweden for the Malmö Arab Film Festival, but she’ll be back in town later this week for the film’s Middle East premiere at the Beirut Film Festival. You can see Transit Game at 7:30PM on Thursday, October 2 at Planète Abraj Cinemas – take our word and get it in your calendar now.
BB: Where are you originally from?
AF: I was born in the US, raised in Canada but my parents are originally from Iran. So that makes me an Iranian-American-Canadian.
What brought you to Beirut?
I came to Beirut for the first time in 2011. I had just graduated with a Master’s in film and Middle Eastern studies from NYU and was interested in exploring the region in hopes of developing some ideas for film projects. I moved to Lebanon in 2012 and started teaching film at the Lebanese American University, which is how I pay the bills when I’m not making movies!
Transit Game was accepted into the Beirut Film Festival and you just found out that it will be screened as part of the BBC’s new series on Arab Cinema in November. How are you feeling right now?
I’m really excited to be screening my film in several film festivals (including BIFF) in the weeks and months ahead. The BIFF screening is especially exciting given that we shot the film in Lebanon with a largely Lebanese cast and crew. I look forward to seeing people’s reactions to the film and am also excited to see cast and crew members at the screenings, some of whom have not yet seen the film.
How does making a film here compare to making one in New York, for example? I’m especially curious if Lebanon’s comparative lack of organization, in general, works for or against you.
It may come as a surprise, but I honestly didn’t face any major lack of organization when filming in Lebanon. On the contrary, our production was very well organized, thanks to my Line Producer Abla Khoury and her team at Ginger Beirut Productions, and we managed to get through three intensive days of shooting without missing a single shot, which I was extremely happy about. I was lucky to be working with incredibly talented and professional individuals who were committed throughout the entire process and I’m very thankful to them for helping the film become a reality. The Beirut film scene is much smaller than NYC’s film industry and there’s no shortage of talented people who you might run into in various places – at festivals, screenings or even just walking around Hamra. That’s one thing that makes filmmaking in Beirut somewhat advantageous to filmmaking in NYC – it’s easy to connect with really talented, like-minded people here, perhaps even more so than in a big city like New York.
Did you ever imagine, as a film student, that you would be writing and directing a movie about civil war in the Middle East?
Never in a million years! My focus in grad school was on Iran and I did not have much familiarity with the Arab world. However, once I came to Beirut for the first time, my love affair with Lebanon began, so to speak. It also helped that my partner is Lebanese and together we began brainstorming film projects we could work on in the region. At that time, the Syrian war had just started and people were coming to Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. I had visited a Palestinian refugee camp in late 2011 to document a concert by Palestinian hip hop artist Boikutt and after seeing the dire conditions Palestinians were living in, I began to wonder what the fate of the Syrian refugees who were new to Lebanon would be. That’s when the idea for Transit Game began to take shape.
When you’re not in the classroom or shooting, where in Lebanon might we find you?
I tend to spend most of my time in Hamra, where I live. Aside from the fact that I can get around easily on foot (a must for any New Yorker!), there’s a creative energy about the neighborhood that I love and that makes it feel most like home.
Your favorite movie about Lebanon or the region?
I recently saw Omar by Hany Abu-Assad and loved it. It’s a very nuanced and powerful depiction of life inside the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s the kind of film that anyone can relate to, no matter where they’re from, which is why I think it was so successful. I’m a big fan of Iranian cinema and particularly admire the work of Rakhshan Bani-Etemad. Her films often deal with social issues through characters that are relatable – mothers, daughters, brothers. And although she isn’t overtly political, there is a political consciousness in her films that conveys some of the challenges and complexities of life in contemporary Iran.
What can we look forward to from you in the future? Any plans in the works?
I have a few projects in development at the moment, both fiction and documentary. I’m working on an idea for a feature-length film that explores some of the same themes that are addressed in Transit Game such as exile and cultural displacement. It’s still in early stages of development and I’m hoping to begin the writing process once Transit Game finishes its festival run.