Hiam Abbass talks about her role on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, and her directorial debut.
Palestinian actress turns director to 'let my emotions talk'
Creaseless red carpets. Bronzed, bottle-enhanced legs. Impossibly white teeth. Dresses costing roughly the same as a small family sedan. George Clooney waving and looking smug. For most, these are the images of the Cannes Film Festival, which opened its 65th edition on Wednesday. But away from the headlines and camera flashes, a small group of celebrated names from the film world are unlikely to be seeing much of the French Riviera's glitz and glamour and, as we speak, are (probably) hiding away together in a darkened screening room.
"Forget about parties and going to bed at four in the morning, you have to be really awake to properly watch a movie," says the Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass, part of the jury for the all-important Main Competition. "It's not like you pay to watch a film and if you fall asleep halfway through you can go and watch it again. This is the game of a juror."
The Nazareth-born Abbass, who has been living in Paris for the past 23 years, is sitting alongside names such as Ewan McGregor, Diane Kruger and Alexander Payne in the jury that will decide who takes home the coveted Palme d'Or, a prize that this year sees competition from some of the world's most accomplished directors. Among the 22 films in the selection are titles from Cannes titans Abbas Kiarostami and Ken Loach, plus favourites David Cronenburg, Walter Salles and Matteo Garrone.
"It's going to be tough," admits Abbass. "There are so many directors who I love in there, whose work I love. It will be interesting to have to make a choice. I have to be humble enough to look at their work and let my emotions really talk."
Thankfully, she won't have to worry about finding her way around, having become something of a Cannes veteran herself. Beginning with the 1996 Palestinian drama Haifa, in which she starred, she has sinceattended the festival for Yousry Nasrallah's 2004 war film The Gate of Sun, 2005's Free Zone, in which she starred alongside Natalie Portman, Amreeka in 2009 (which won the Fipresci prize for the director Cherien Dabis), and last year for The Source.
The next time Abbass strolls along Le Croisette, it could well be to work from behind the camera lens. She recentlyfinished her directorial feature-length debut, Inheritance, a family drama set in Galilee in the summer of 2006, around the time of the Israel and Lebanon war. "It's been a great experience, a big project in my life. Now I would love to show the movie and see the reaction," she says.
Abbass completed the post-production of Inheritance around the same time as she was on tour with a theatre group around France, performing a modern interpretation of Jean Racine's tragedy Phèdre, which she only finished a few days before heading to Cannes.
"I've been really enjoying it," says Abbass, adding that she has committed herself to the project, which will carry on touring until it finishes as a performance in seven languages next year in Marseille, European Capital of Culture for 2013.
But she'll also squeeze in some more acting, with a project due in Morocco with the follow up to Laila Marrakchi's hugely successful 2005 debut Marock.
But flitting back and forth from acting to directing, from one side of the camera to the other, isn't something that troubles her. "I think my balance in life is between both," she says. "I like to abandon myself in characters other directors see me in. As an actress, I never really finished learning."
Unfortunately, juggling these responsibilities, along with her stage work and position on the Cannes jury, hasn't left much room for relaxation.
"We finish in Cannes on May 27, I leave for Tangiers the following morning and I shoot on the same day."