Naziha Arebi, Libyan director

“The Libya Movie Awards can be beneficial in generating audiences”


Naziha Arebi, Libyan director

Libyan director Naziha Arebi won Best Film at the first edition of the Libya Movie Awards, Libya’s first post-revolution film festival for up-and-coming Libyan filmmakers, with the film Between the Ropes. Euromed Audiovisual met her earlier this month at the event's closing ceremony.


How did you become a filmmaker?

Initially, I studied in the UK because my father left Libya in the 1970s along with many others at the time. I studied theatre and then started writing, then diverged into film. When I came to Libya, documentaries and storytelling seemed like an important vehicle to help people initiate a dialogue. This is how I started in Libya at the end of the revolution, and how I came to documentary, although initially I was interested in making fiction.

And what films have you made until now?

I have made three short documentary films. One was about old women’s contribution to the revolution: secretly and illegally sowing flags, and cooking in the dark during the NATO bombing. I made another film on female candidates in the elections, and also a documentary about boxers using sport as a vehicle for reconciliation. And now I am working on my first feature film.

You just won a Libya Movie Award today for the boxing film. How do you feel?

It’s a big privilege, I feel very grateful. It was nice because it was something that we worked on a while ago and it was the very first time it was shown to an audience. So to see the audience’s reactions was very interesting. And people felt very connected to the emotions of the main protagonist. 

It was good to see the audience’s reaction, because when you are in the editing, you know how you see it but you always wonder how it will come across -- especially since we don’t really have many opportunities to show our films in Libya.

How do you think this first film festival can help you in the future?

It’s not only about how it can help me, but also how it can help the Libyans and generating audiences.

For my part, going to Cannes with my latest project was a big help because it enabled me to pick up meetings, some of which came to fruition. If I hadn’t been able to go to Cannes, I wouldn’t have met all these people. So it was very beneficial, a lot more than I expected -- especially since Cannes can seem quite scary and big, and inaccessible. But I managed to make most of it, which was great.

Also, the Libya Movie Awards can be beneficial for Libyans and Libyan filmmakers in generating audiences -- because people don’t go to the cinema, they don’t watch films, they are not used to creative documentaries or fiction films on Libyan nature. So it’s a start, at least for generating audiences. And hopefully we’ll start having cinemas and changing the content of what people watch.

You spoke of presenting your latest film project to professionals in Cannes. What is this film about?

It’s quite a controversial film. It’s about the formation of Libyans’ first female football team. It uses sport as a vehicle to enter these women’s life. Because people hear a lot about Libya, Gaddafi, the war -- but they don’t know about the ‘normal’ Libyans, especially the women. So through this team, we discover all these different women’s lives and struggles, their fight to dream and to accomplish what is seemingly impossible.

We saw this morning that the Libyan film sector lacks structure. There are virtually no production companies, and limited dialogue with the ministry of culture. How do you feel in this environment?

At the moment, we are at the beginning, so it’s like a new wave. People are interested in cinema, but there is no structure, no industry to support that. So, it's really important that the ministry of culture encourages young filmmakers and helps to set up institutions and cinemas.

But we, Libyan filmmakers, have to help ourselves too. We have to learn to collaborate, to seek out opportunities and not just expect them to come to us. So it’s a two-sided thing. But it’s the beginning, and it’s very exciting. It’s a whole country that people know very little about. It has a big wealth.

You have just started a production company...

We started a production company -- really out of necessity because we had to keep bringing in foreign people for jobs, which doesn’t help with developing local talents. So I started trying to actively seek out other young filmmakers who are ambitious, creative and talented to start working together. So it’s like a cooperative production company. We are still looking for more people to collaborate with, but we are slowly building a group of Libyans who are able to work together inside and outside Libya.

Your father is part of the diaspora. Now that you are in Libya, what is your relationship with the diaspora in Europe or in the rest of the world? Do you have a relationship with other filmmakers or people who can help finance the film, or at least show the film elsewhere?

I have been trying to connect with other filmmakers in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon, who have more of a history in filmmaking because they are obviously more developed and can help us more than here.

But there isn't a huge amount of filmmakers in the diaspora either, so it’s difficult.

I’m very much half-British, half-Libyan. I grew up in England, but I live in Libya and have a lot its customs within me. This mix gives me a different access, one which means I have the best of both worlds: [I have] the opportunity to travel freely -- because as a Libyan woman I would not be able to be a filmmaker and travel freely, especially if I was unmarried -- and as a Libyan I have more access to things than a foreigner would. So I can sit between the two cultures and identities and, whilst some would see this as a disadvantage, I like to work it in my favour and constantly challenge this idea of belonging and identity.

To what extent do you feel that Libyan film professionals would like to cooperate and create some form of association?

People aren’t used to collaborating because under the regime it was very much everybody for themselves, everyone looking after their own back. But it’s slowly breaking down, even though it is going to take time.

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