Tolerance: Interview with Sophie Boutros, Movie Director

1-What sparked the idea of Mahbas?

When you dig deep to tell a story, it is generally from a close experience, but not necessarily a personal one. The idea of the proposal in Mahbas came from a funny situation at a proposal of someone Nadia (the co-writer/producer) and I know; it is only at a later stage that it evolved to a proposal between a Lebanese and a Syrian, because we thought this is when this story will have the right conflict and will be worth telling.

2-What is the main theme of the movie? From your life experience can you relate to it? Any particular anecdotes?

I never preferred to talk about the theme and message behind Mahbas, as I always wanted to hear it from the audience. But there is no doubt that Mahbas explores the themes of forgiveness, tolerance, love, prejudice, racism. I come from a family that is tolerant in the wide range of the word; having lived all the atrocities of the Lebanese war, I still believe my family helped me fight against all kinds of labeling, racism or sectarianism that the war could have easily instilled in me. Nevertheless, I saw it all in people around me, so a lot of the situations or dialogues that take place in Mahbas are consciously or subconsciously derived from my own experiences, from people I know, close or far, from a mindset that surrounded me.

3-Do you see the movie reflecting more than one kind of intolerance other than that of people from different nationalities?

What Mahbas carries is not simple intolerance between nationalities as much as the big weight of the war and the scars it left in people’s hearts. Being a strong believer of brotherhood between Lebanon and Syria, and of how united we are in our history, culture and geography, it was a big challenge to explore a story where “tragedies” have to be faced. So yes in the surface, it talks about the Lebanese Syrian love/hate relationship.

But if we dissect more the characters that make the story of Mahbas, each one of them carries a level of intolerance towards the other, wanting the other to change and fit in a certain format to be accepted, and that is a trap we all easily fall in.

4-What were some of the challenges you faced while working on Mahbas?

For me there were two phases: screenwriting and production. The big challenge while writing with my partner on this film Nadia Eliewat, in addition to the creative process, was to write the story of a character whose beliefs don’t fall under mine. Therese the main character had to think, behave and talk in a way that does not represent me at all, but I had to do it to make my point; I was afraid her persona will be attributed to me and to my beliefs, so I think this required a lot of courage from both Nadia and I to overcome the personal for the service of the story.

Of course one other very important challenge, is joggling between my family, my work at AUD and making the film. Now looking back, I strongly believe there is no fairness in dealing with all of this at the same time, quality time with my kids was certainly compromised.

As for the production, the biggest challenge is working well with a limited budget. In productions, time is money. There were some times where we couldn’t even add one shot to my shot list because simply there was no time, the budget couldn’t allow it. So what you see on the screen is everything I had; creatively I was challenged to work with only one choice per scene, no room to explore options.

5-What in your opinion is the most poignant scene in the movie?

I would say the lunch scene, which takes around 19 minutes of the film and was shot over 6 full days. I wanted to make sure the vibrancy and dynamic of a lunch with guests be portrayed in a genuine way with a subtle presence of a camera. Working with 7 people on the table and sometimes 8, was frightening. Silent moments needed to be filled, consistency in dynamics between characters had to be maintained, and this is a scene that is the core of the film, it had to keep on making sense and driving the story forward. I can say we were able to pull if of, I look at it with pride.

For a glimpse of the trailer of Mahbas, please click here.

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