"Fiasco" aired as part of the 2013 edition of "Fine Cut." A summary: Noura, a freedom seeking Arab girl on the verge of realizing her American dream with utterly unusual ways, suddenly finds herself on very thin ice when her strongly conservative father arrives in the U.S. for a surprise visit.
Here, we speak with Nadia Hamzeh, the director of "Fiasco," about the value of comedy, working on both sides of the camera, and the universal theme of family.
Your film addresses living under the pressures of family. Is this particular to your own experiences, or do you consider it a universal theme?
Family ties are very strong in the Arab society. Since I come from an Arabic background, I've lived and witnessed pressures of family in all layers of our culture. However, I believe it is a universal theme because at the end of the day, no matter what your background is, the family relationships and the problems are pretty similar everywhere but could have different degrees of intensity depending on the cultural background one belongs to. Sometimes, the extent of similarity of family related pressures in two contrasting cultures surprised even me. For example, during my "Fiasco" festival tour in the U.S., more than once had I an American dad come up to me and tell me along the lines: "You know, what you talk about in your film, we have that here, too [in the U.S.]. I would also be just as upset as your film dad if I found out that my daughter did what your protagonist does."
Not only did you write, direct and produce "Fiasco," but you also play the lead character. What are the challenges of working on both sides of the camera?
To tell you the truth, I really love it and never thought of it as challenging. At least not the fact that I'm on both sides of the camera. It's a lot of work of course. The most important part is to be extremely well prepared from the production and director's prep side. And to have a very good team that you trust. Especially the cinematographer and editor in my case. We prepped and worked hard together in advance so everything would be clear during principal photography. For "Fiasco," I had both a wonderful cinematographer, George Dickson, and editor Felipe Cagno.
The challenges of film production itself where many, just like it always is when making a film. But having the perk of acting in it as well was an added fun factor. So when I was in "director's mode" I worked, and when I switched to "actor's mode" I had fun and played. In fact, it was a double bonus because I'm passionate about both acting and filmmaking, hence it was never boring on set because I'm constantly busy doing something I love without having "waiting time" to kill.
You hail from Syria. How does creating art there compare to the United States? Are there different advantages and challenges?
It's difficult to answer this right now and make such a comparison per se as, very sadly, my country is torn by a raging war for almost two years. However, I can at least say this -- Artists can become even more creative in hardship and there are very inventive art works out there, be it through music, film or other forms of art, despite the terrible circumstances.
What drew you to tell this story as a comedy?
I love comedy a lot and I believe that tough subjects and even taboo themes are better accepted and digested in a comedic form. Where I come from, we used humor a lot to cope with life's daily challenges, and still do. It's not always easy to do that of course, but sometimes it's lifesaving. I know, I sound very serious talking about comedy. But hey, it's the toughest art form to make.
Anyway, there's so much drama in life, that when I make a film, personally I don't want to copy that drama on the big screen. I'd rather try and use humor to create something that both provokes thoughts and entertains my audience. Ideally, I'd like them to have a really good time while watching the film but to go out and think about it too.
The story of "Fiasco" lent itself well for comedy, the main character is enduring a whole lot of dramatic situations. They're not amusing to her but from an outside perspective they seem funny. Some of my own dramatic situations, I really mean situations and not adversities, when I look back at them today I have to laugh. So I like to play with that in film.
Who do you consider some of your greatest artistic inspirations?
Life, music and Charlie Chaplin.
What's next for you?
There is a "Fiasco the feature" cooking and two other feature ideas I am working on. It remains suspenseful which one will see the light of realization first.