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Nadine Labaki and her star, Zain al-Rafeea received a 15-minute standing ovation after her film, CAPERNAUM, screened at the Cannes Film Festival. It would go on to win the Jury Prize there while also opening the eyes of the world to the plight of refugee children living in Labaki’s home country of Lebanon. At a time when the number of refugees world-wide is higher than at any time since the end of World War II, it’s hard to wrap your head around just what these children are forced to deal with on a daily basis. Labaki’s film puts an indelible face on that tragedy with al-Rafeea, who has lived that life, and delivers a stunning performance as a kid thrown out by his family who nonetheless refuses to be subsumed by despair.
Labaki spent four years getting to know the invisible people living without official paperwork, and used the people she met there as actors in her narrative that has the immediacy of documentary, and the emotional truth that mere reportage would be hard pressed to match. When we spoke on November 12, 2018, we talked about her impetus to make the film, and how it is a turning point in a career that has produced such subversively funny films as CARAMEL and WHERE DO WE GO NOW? The full interview will post closer to the film’s opening later this year, but for now, here’s a snippet. In it, as I have done with so many filmmakers these days, I asked Labaki to talk about the intersection of art and politics, and why it matters now more than ever.