13/03/2012

The Last Friday: interview with director Yahya Al-Abdallah and producer Rula Nasser

The Last Friday: interview with director Yahya Al-Abdallah and producer Rula Nasser

In Jordanian drama The Last Friday, a man’s poker addiction has led him to lose his money, house, wife, and son. Now, as he discovers that he needs urgent surgery that he cannot afford, he finds himself forced to deal with a life he had isolated himself from years ago. Starring Ali Suliman (Paradise Now, Lemon Tree), The Last Friday was scripted and directed by Yahya Al-Abdallah, a Palestinian Jordanian literary critic and filmmaker with several short films in his portfolio. Produced by Rula Nasser, the film won post-production financing at San Sebastian’s Cine in Motion last year, followed by the Special Jury Award and two other prizes at the Dubai Film Festival, before travelling to the Berlinale last month. Euromed Audiovisual traces the origin and the history of the film, which received a grant from the Jordanian Film Commission, one of Euromed Audiovisual’s beneficiaries.

 

Yahya new

Yahya al-Abdallah, director

After three awards in Dubai, The Last Friday was well-received in Berlin. Did the Berlinale experience match your expectations?

The film was screened six times for a very large audience. Direct contact with the audience is such an important moment for a director! The film itself is a medium of exposure, exchange, and dialogue. Since Berlin is one of the most important international showcases, gathering an audience of film lovers and intellectuals, I would say it feels great to see that you are reaching your goal and that the film is being shown to the world.

One of the sessions was in a far-away cinema, and it was snowing a lot that day… I was wondering if people would still show up, given those weather conditions. In the end, we were completely surprised that there was not one empty seat: almost 800 people there and they also stayed for Q&A, which lasted an hour! That was one of the most important moments of my life!

What inspires you the write a story? And how do you write a screenplay?
I usually draft separate scenes and when I feel that they can connect, I begin to build up the dramatic sequence. Usually, clips or stories from the real life inspire me. When I find the connection between all those small stories and images, I develop them into a full mature dramatic plot. I prefer to focus on image as a medium and to tell a story through one shot. It will give audiences the time and space to get familiar with it and to discover its details. I like this style! Many esteemed directors have influenced me on that, but this is mainly related to my childhood. I was living with my father in Saudi Arabia and, because he was somehow a religious man, every time we were paying a visit to his friends, the men sat separately from women. As children are not supposed to disturb the adults, the only thing I could do to kill time was to observe what was happening around me. That’s how I became so detailed-oriented in my scenes.

How did you get Ali Suliman to play the lead role, and how was the experience on set with him?

I had loved his performance in Paradise Now. I sent him my short film entitled SMS, which had been selected for the Rotterdam Film Festival (http://vimeo.com/27062055) and he loved it! After several phone calls and script readings, he finally agreed to get on board.

Ali added a lot to the character Yousef. His inputs and feedback were great, and the work with him was really fun. He was professional, dynamic and a lovely person. His sense of humor accompanied us for the 18-day shoot. He was friendly with everyone on the set and really created a good connection with the crew.

You studied at Paris’ EICAR - International Film School. Any plans to return to France for a film project?

I don’t think so. I love Europe – it is a source of inspiration for my stories and a meeting point for art and history - but I decided long before I arrived to Paris that I would be back home: the Arab World, mainly Palestine and Jordan. That’s where the simple people I love live. And I love to be among them. I want to explore their stories and share with them the moments of my daily life!

 

Rula Nasser

 Rula Nasser, producer

 How did you get involved in the production of The Last Friday?
 I liked the project after first reading it at one of the committees of the Educational Feature Film Program of Jordan’s Royal Film Commission. I was supposed to supervise the project, not to produce it. But there were a lot of complications and in the end I ended up producing it myself along with another producer named Majd Hijjawi. I loved how the screenplay seemed so close to us. It really reflects today’s Jordanian society, as well as the problems  of communication and understanding we all face.

How did you handle the financing for the production of the film?
The Last Friday was supposed to be produced within a relatively low budget offered by the educational film fund, but we later received approval to look for further funding. At the start, I focused on raising money within the local film industry. I managed to get the whole budget for a proper shoot and rough cut that I could show afterwards to investors and partners in order to reach a higher budget for the postproduction.

As for the postproduction, the Dubai Film Market's fund Enjaz was a great push and the San Sebastian prize was a great help for the sound of the film.

You took the film to the Cinema in Motion/San Sebastian Film Festival. How was that experience?
Being selected to San Sebastian was a success for us. I was always telling my colleagues: “It doesn’t matter if we don’t get any prize! The important thing is that being selected allows us to take the project to an international level”. After we received the prize, the film received greater attention from the international media, highlighting the project and its potential. We started to be approached by festivals and sales agents.

After San Sebastian, The Last Friday was shown in Dubai and at the Berlinale. What is the outcome of this higher international visibility?

Winning the three awards at the Dubai International Film Festival was crucial to close the sales deal. The film received more and more attention from festival programmers and even buyers. We sealed a deal with sales agent Pacha pictures, a new French company specialized in Arab cinema. As a result, The Last Friday will tour many festivals. The next stop will be the Fribourg Film Festival, in Switzerland. 

Has The Last Friday been shown in Jordan already? How did Jordan audiences react to it?
We have only organized private screenings so far. The reaction was good, but the audience was mainly composed of intellectuals and artists. The film will get theatrical distribution in the summer and we hope we will have some good feedback. This film genre is still new for Jordanian audiences.

What are your new projects?
I have been quite busy lately, shooting a documentary in Palestine now in post-production. It’s called My Love Awaits Me By The Sea directed by Mais Darwazah. I have also just finished Sammy Checkes’ short Waiting for PoBox and I am preparing Rifiqi Assaf’s feature The Curve, for which shooting will begin in the summer. I also have another three projects in development. 

 

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