Last Update: Monday, 9 September, 2013 3:01 PM




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Chamoun Issa




Chamoun Issa - DirectorInterviewee: Chamoun Issa
Job Title: Director
Director Credits Include: Bilingual, Ingredients, Boy Boy. Commercials. Virals.
Interview Date: September 2013

Q. Can you tell us a bit about you and your work?
A. I was born in Lebanon during the civil war. When there was fighting outside my parents kept me indoors. To keep me from feeling afraid or being bored they let me watch films. I watched a lot of films because of the war. Hollywood, Bollywood, Turkish and Arabic films. Cinema was a way to escape the world but also a way to understand it since I couldn’t go outside. Even after we fled to peaceful Sweden cinema remained an important part of my life. Here I watched European, Scandinavian, American independent and Arthouse films. As I grew up I realized my experiences had given me a different view on the world and I wanted to share it.

Q. What’s your inspiration for directing? Any important films or events in your life that helped or moved you into this path?
A. Three events stand out. The first was in Beirut. I remember watching ‘Singing in the Rain’ while bombs were raining outside. The film made me happy. In Sweden I remember watching ‘The Shining’ in the refugee camp. The camp was in the middle of nowhere and the snow was several metres high. The film made me terrified. Last but not least when I was 15 I saw Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’. When Mookie throws the garbage can into the Pizzeria it made me angry as it seemed so morally wrong. Then the two conflicting quotes at the end by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King came up and suddenly nothing seemed clear-cut. That film touched me and made me think.

Q. What is the most important job of the director? What do you feel makes a great director?
A. To tell a story well so the viewer is entertained, touched and made to reflect. It’s easier said than done as there are lots of pitfalls: an underdeveloped script, lack of money, disunity over the story, an unprepared director, wrong cast etc. My job is to avoid all these pitfalls in order to tell the story clearly. This means sometimes doing things in a new day. As an example for the project I working on now ‘A Perfect Soldier’ none of the traditional aspect ratios were suitable. We will be shooting in an aspect ratio completely new to film. This is to express the story of the film.

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Q. What has been the most interesting points of your career so far?
A. Working as a short film programmer for the Stockholm International Film Festival was a good point. It allowed me to see loads of films but also to see how the distribution and festival sides of the industry are run. Studying at the National Film & Television School was another interesting point as it was very challenging and therefore prepared you for the industry. Stephen Frears was a tutor at the NFTS. He encouraged my writing and to make films that were more personal. It was because of his encouragement I wrote and directed my graduation film about the Lebanese. The film went on to win two major awards at the acclaimed Munich International Festival of Film Schools. After film school I wrote a feature film for Film4. It was eye opening to see how much re-writing is needed to develop a good script. It’s true what they say: scriptwriting is re-writing. When working on another feature project I was fortunate to be mentored by Roger Michell. It was amazing to sit with him and discuss directing. He is very prepared. This is something I emulate.

Q. Tell us about your latest project A Perfect Soldier – this is your first foray into Science Fiction, why did you choose this project? And what do you hope to achieve?
A. It is a good story. Well written, suspenseful, relevant to a contemporary audience since it is about the conflict between ideology and humanism. It is also in a genre I haven’t worked in before. It was a challenge. I hope to achieve an entertaining, original and though-provoking films.

Q. Who are your inspirations as a director? Do you have any non-director inspirations?
A. Amongst director’s Martin Scorsese is for me the most influential and inspirational. He makes entertaining, original and thought-provoking films. I always return to Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino, Goodfellas, Age of Innocence. Music is a huge inspiration: Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Fairuz, Marvin Gaye, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. For art I look to Mona Hatoum, Sophie Calle, The Atlas Group. For architecture Rem Kolhaas. For fashion, even though I don’t wear it, Maison Martin Margiela. All of these have the same qualities. They are entertaining, original and thought-provoking.

A Perfect Soldier Poster

Q. You come from a very interesting background, part Lebanese, part Syrian and part Swedish. Tell us about that, and also how the current political status of Syria is impacting you?
A. I am Lebanese but my mom is from Syria. She’d send me every summer to her family. I am therefore quite at home there. When I was ten we fled to Sweden. That’s why I have a mixed background. I am horrified by the images and what my family tells me. My two cousins in Aleppo are 24 and 25. They haven’t been outside the flat for two years now since they are afraid they’ll be drafted or killed. Because I know first-hand how horrible a civil war is, how complicated Syria is and because I have family there I am not interested in taking sides or ideologies. I am just interested in a solution that doesn’t make people suffer or die. That is another reason why I was keen on directing ‘A Perfect Soldier’. Though it is science fiction film it is about the clash between ideology and humanity.

Q. What are your top ten films?
A. Martin Scorsese’s 'Casino'
Luchino Visconti’s ‘Rocco And His Brothers’
Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’
Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’
Francois Truffaut’s ‘Jules Et Jim’
Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Le Mépris’
Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’
Ernst Lubitch’s 'Ninotchka'
Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’
Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In The Mood For Love’

A Perfect Soldier Poster

Q. What do you love about directing?
A. Cinema has touched me, made me awe, think, reflect, wonder, made me see new things and provided an escape. By directing I am able to give others the same joy and benefits I was given. I also enjoy working with talented people. Everyone is working towards telling a story well and gives a piece of themselves. It’s a collective experience. For example when we shot the follow up video to our crowdfunding video after a particular tape we all applauded simultaneously. We were all touched by it.

Q. What do you hope the next ten years will bring?
A. I am happiest on set directing. I hope therefore that the next ten years bring a lot of directing. I would also like it to bring new challenges. 'A Perfect Soldier’ is such a challenge. I am currently developing a horror feature and writing a romantic one set against a civil war. The latter has been selected for Edinburgh International Film Festival’s development and mentoring initiative ‘Network’. They and my mentor producer Ivana MacKinnon are helping me develop it. I am excited about all these projects and think they have massive potential.

Thank you Chamoun, it has been really interesting hearing about your take on film, we look forwward to seeing more of your excellent work on the big screen soon.


Chamoun's Contact Details:
Contact: Chamoun Issa
Tel: +44 (0) 7880-640 206
Twitter: @ChamounIssa


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