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Ely Dagher winner of the short films Palme d’Or for Waves ’98

Exclusive Interview conducted by Marie-Christine Tayah


About the movie, what was your inspiration and motivation?

My inspiration, first and foremost is Beirut, as a city.  I was also interested in working with the city and landscape and visually already it’s so rich and inspiring that it just fills up your imagination.  Also, when I wrote the film, I was starting to travel a lot, outside Beirut, and back and forth.



Where to?

Brussels and London.  I studied in London, then I was working in Brussels, so every time I would go back, I obviously missed it and stuff.  So the film comes from that place.



And then, what motivated you?  You thought about something that was really important to you, but did you think about the public and audience who will watch the movie later on?

Well, most of my projects come not necessarily from a personal place, but they’re always a reaction to something.  So my previous project was when they announced the Holiday Inn, and to me it’s a very important monument of war, so I had a reaction to that.  And here, it was the same, it’s just that it’s a more personal and driven story.  Well of course the audience is always important when you do a project like this, especially when you do a film project, because it’s going to be seen so it’s important how accessible your film is, and how they react to it.



Do you sacrifice things you would like to include in the movie according to the audience?

No, not at all.



How did it end up participating in Cannes?

I worked on the film for two years, it’s been over two years actually, and short films have really short life spans in general.  You don’t show them in cinemas, there are different distribution strategies.  You can’t do much with them so the best thing you can do is to get them to a big film festival, get exposure, which is good for your next project.  If you don’t get to a big festival, it’s hard to get a big audience for your short festival.  That’s why it was important for me to get into a big festival, and Cannes is one of the biggest.  I had that as a goal, and I finished the film, submitted it to Cannes, and then got selected!



What is the message you want to convey through the film?

I don’t have a message specifically, that I want to convey through the film, it’s more a reflection, so the idea is to think about how they relate to the story and how in the Lebanese context they feel about it, and I’m sure these are issues we all struggle with at some point, even if its not living abroad, even if its living in the city, in Beirut, I’m sure we have these kind of problems.  So the point of the film is for others to reflect on these matters.



There is a big mix between fiction and reality in the film.  Where do you stand in your head?

This is actually personal, if you want to talk about style, or what defines me as an artist, I’m often working with real topics, like the Holiday Inn project, then taking stories and reworking them into something else.  I often include a lot of serial elements in my projects, because then I feel like that’s my added value to the topic.  I always come from a real kind of content that’s maybe research based questioning socially driven thing.



About the use of graphics animation in the movie -it’s something we’re less used to in Lebanese movies than in foreign ones,- Do you think it’s risky or are you confident about it?

That’s actually something I thought about, because I’m not from a classic filmmaking school, I studied contemporary art, new media, it was research based, so I’m more from the critical kind of thinking, so saying I was worried about what others would think because it goes out of the box, is for me a positive thing not a negative thing.  If we’re not willing to push the limits of what we’re doing and saying, then what’s the point of me doing a film if I’m not going to bring anything new to it?


About the conceptual element you chose, what does it represent?

It represents the social spheres we live in, in Beirut, with all the chaos that we have going on.  We always seem to have these different social levels, and we need to survive, which is what that represents.  That’s the initial idea behind it, but the narrative or what happens with it is not necessarily directly related to that, since it’s related to the character’s story.



What does the water represent?

The water element, in the film represents a few things actually.  So its connected to the title, which is waves, and the oscillation of things which are repetitive, and there’s no timeline to them.  At the same time, the sea which is a very big breathing space, where you go to have nothing around you.


Do you see an ending to the things happening in Lebanon, which we see in your film, in the news and on TV?

I can’t tell, but I hope so, one day!  I don’t want to be too pessimistic!



Despite the situation of the country, would you be living in Lebanon, or would it motivate you to go seek something else elsewhere?

I’m very attached to my Lebanon and that’s why I struggle with these things and create my films.



Do you have any message for new directors?

It’s difficult because I don’t come from a traditional filmmaker world, but maybe that’s a good thing.  I would say that if you don’t have any experience or knowledge about how the world works, just do it anyways, because you can find your own solutions and it can also work out!

Your motto in life?
Just live every day as it happens!



Close up on Waves ’98





Disillusioned with his life in the suburbs of segregated Beirut, Omar’s discovery lures him into the depths of the city. Immersed into a world that is so close yet so isolated from his reality that he eventually finds himself struggling to keep his attachments, his sense of home.





Waves ’98 is as much a narrative film as it is a personal visual essay dedicated to Dagher’s hometown, Beirut.


The film is an artistic exploration of the director’s current relation with his Lebanon, his home country, projected through the story of a teenager and set in 1998. Since moving abroad to study and work, Ely Dagher has been spending more and more time outside of Lebanon, and his attachment to Beirut started to become more and more complicated. The overall Narrative of the film is heavily based on Ely’s efforts to understand his changing relationship with the city and its life, juxtaposed with the narrative of a teenager’s exciting discovery of this segregated city.



The Director

Ely Dagher was born in Beirut Lebanon in 1985. Graduated with an MA in New media and contemporary Art Studies from Goldmiths College, LONDON (2009), after having completed a BA in 2d/3d animation and a BA in Art Direction/Illustration at the Academie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, LEBANON (2007).