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Visions du Réel Lebanese Doc ‘We Are Inside’ Debuts Trailer: ‘It’s About Change in My Father, in Me, in My Country’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Seven years after showcasing “You Make a Better Window Than You Do a Door” at Visions du Réel’s Short Film competition strand, Lebanese-born Farah Kassem is back in Nyon, this time in the main international competition with her doc feature-length debut “We Are Inside.” Variety was granted access to the trailer.

The film was produced by the helmer’s regular collaborator Cynthia Choucair of Lebanon’s Road2Films, in co-production with Qatar’s Al Jazeera Documentary Channel and Denmark’s Good Company Pictures (“Photographer of War,” “Beautiful Something Left Behind”).

The seven-year gap since Kassem started working on “We Are Inside” was a transformative period for her and her native country as she underscored in a statement. “I witnessed, among others things a sense of deterioration and destruction, that will be very difficult to come back from. We’ve witnessed a revolution, the 4th of August Beirut explosion, the on-going massacres in Gaza and the attacks on Lebanon,” said the filmmaker, now established in Brussels.

On a personal level, Kassem lost her beloved father Mustapha, a renowned poet. But his fierce personality and joie de vivre live on through the filmmaker’s 2012 short “My Father Looked Like Abdel Nasser” (in which Mustapha struggles with the loss of his wife) and now “We Are Inside.”

In it, Kassem comes back to Tripoli, Lebanon, after a 15 year-absence, to stay with her father whose health is fast declining. There, as she tries to reconnect with him, she quickly grasps that poetry is the key to his heart and soul. “I understood that poetry was his way to deal with my mother’s loss, to grief his country, and to stay alive,” she tells Variety. In the intimacy of her father’s small flat, the father and daughter exchange gentle arguments, tender and humorous moments, as Kassem swiftly moves, back and forth, on both side of the camera.

Kassem is introduced to the secluded world of her father’s men-only poetry club, which she defiantly decides to join… ”although I hate classic Arab poetry,” she confesses.

“There you had these men – all well over 70, suffering from diabetes, yet eating plenty of sugar, babbling through verses and rhymes, about what beauty is left in this world, while the country was collapsing. I found this fascinating yet absurd, and started to think – this can be a film,” she says.

“Making the film was a perfect way to spend more time with my father, to do something together, and through the process, keep him alive, as long as possible.”

“Ultimately,” Kassem continues, “the film is about time; how to look at it, deconstruct it. My father was getting more fragile, I was changing, and the country was in constant change. The challenge was for me to process this change and turn it into a film.”

As in her earlier work “Cleaning Schaerbeek,” which scooped best short doc at the 2019 Brussels Indie Film Festival, Kassem filmed mostly from the interior of a flat, capturing the outside world from her window. “Here, filming and living in the same location was very challenging,” Kassem confesses. “It was hard to know when to start or stop rolling, and decide how to integrate in my narrative, the footage from my camera always pointed at the window where things were happening all the time.”

With her cinematographer Tebbe Schöningh (whom she met at Visions du Réel in 2017), Kassem used 4:3 framing “to think of an image where the horizon is not so expanded and more vertical to suggest isolation,” and her usual self-imposed rules. “I like to work with limitations. That allows me to build the characters, and understand the language that I want to use,” says the filmmaker, referring to inside/outside, private/public filming concepts.

Besides Schöningh, Kassem’s team consisted of close friends, such as Danish editor Anders S. Jepsen (“We met when I did a workshop at the Danish Film School”), sound designer Joëlle Abou Chabké and producer Choucair.

“Farah and I are true creative partners,” says the producer/director. “She edits all my films and I produce hers. We’ve being doing this since 2009.”

Raising financing was a long and winding road. “People were expecting us to pitch a story about refugees, politics or current affairs, not the portrait of an aging father and his daughter talking poetry, but I knew this film would be special,” Choucair says.

Al Jazeera Documentary Channel was a decisive first partner, joined by Danish co-producer Patricia Drati of Good Company Pictures and numerous funds, including Chicken & Egg Pictures, Sundance Documentary Film Institute, IMS (International Media Support), SFFILM Flies Collective, IDFA Bertha Fund (“I Was Inside” won the IDFA Forum best rough cut pitch in 2020), CNC, Hammana Artist House and dok.incubator.

At press time, world distribution was being negotiated.

The film world premieres on April 17 at Visions du Réel.