By David Llewellyn
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15th September 2018

IRIS PRIZE – THREE CENTIMETRES

The Iris Blogger talks to filmmaker Lara Zeidan about her Iris Prize shortlisted film.

Canadian-Lebanese filmmaker Lara Zeidan is a graduate of the London Film School, and earlier this year her graduating film, Three Centimetres, premiered at the Berlinale, where it won the prestigious Teddy Award for Best Short Film. The film is set entirely in one of the carriages of the ferris wheel at Beirut’s famous Luna Park, in Lara’s native Lebanon.

IRIS BLOGGER: Which came first, the Ferris wheel setting or the subject matter?

LARA ZEIDAN: It’s the subject matter that came first. In fact, it all started with an intimate conversation, where a friend told me that she found a way to experience sexuality without compromising her virginity. This involved a strict “three centimetres” rule – no more, no less!

Being quite shy and reserved at the time, my only answer was “okay”. However, the absurdity of the idea paired with its necessity stuck in my head and inspired me to write this script. In a way, although very different, Suzie and Manal share this similarity: they both want to be themselves and follow their desires while still fitting into their society.

The Ferris wheel came as the setting for my four characters’ conversation!

IB: How important was it for you to set the film in Lebanon? You made the film while you were at the London Film School – do you think you could have told the same story but set on, say, the London Eye?

LZ: As the story relates to growing up in a Lebanese society, it seemed like the natural choice for me to film it back home. Besides wanting to set it against a Beirut backdrop, the Ferris wheel constituted an open and public but private and enclosed space at the same time. It encapsulated the characters in an odd situation: they are free, floating in the air, but they’re stuck to face a harsh reality that they can’t accept nor escape from.

I couldn’t think of a better wheel to convey this feeling than the oldest, semi abandoned fun park of Beirut. It wasn’t hard to convince my collaborators from the London Film School to make the trip to Beirut and film it there!

IB: How difficult was it to film in such a confined space? Four cast members and you – that must have been very intimate!

LZ: Actually, I wasn’t in the booth – it was just the cinematographer Piero Cioffi with the four cast members. The producer John Giordano was with Piero for the opening sequence, having to make a quick exit as the girls got on! I was a few booths away with the sound recordist and focus puller, watching on a tiny monitor and listening to each take.

It definitely wasn’t simple to film in such a tight space – making a wrong movement meant bumping the camera into an actress’ nose! With that setup, a lot relied on careful planning and our ability to adapt to each ride. And then, we just had to trust each other.

IB: I think I spotted one insanely clever cut early in the film, but the rest seems to have been done in one take. Is that the case, and if so, how many takes did it… er… take?

LZ: The whole film is actually done in a single take – and that would be take number 15!

Certainly, along with the cinematographer and editor, we had planned for some safety nets and cutting points in case we needed to switch between takes. But in the end, I am glad we didn’t have to resort to our backup plans. There were nice moments in other takes that we thought of having, but each take had its own energy and the whole worked much better as it was shot!

IB: This is the first film from Lebanon that we’ve seen on the Iris Prize shortlist. The country has a reputation for being relatively liberal compared to some of its neighbours, but last year’s Beirut Pride had to be cancelled at short notice. Is it getting easier to be LGBT+ there? 

LZ: First of all, it’s a great honour to have a film set in Lebanon as part of the shortlist for the Iris Prize!

On a large scale, Lebanon is a country with so much contrast and different mentalities, it’s quite hard to say at what point we are now! It is true that the Beirut Pride event was suspended in 2018, but the 2019 edition is currently being planned.

In my circle, I’ve always felt that stigma comes from considering homosexuality an alien concept. Very often, I would notice that people who made very homophobic comments would reconsider their perspective once a close friend or family member came out to them. My personal belief is that with time, it becomes easier to be LGBT+. That’s why I think that coming out in Lebanon can be very difficult, but also very powerful!

Three Centimetres will be shown as part of Shorts Programme 1 – With Friends Like These. 

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