x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tribute to grandparents nominated for two film awards

The new honours for Mahmoud Kaabour's film mark a bright beginning for developing more world-class Arabic cinema.

ABU DHABI // Mahmoud Kaabour, 31, the Lebanese filmmaker who grew up in Dubai, not only has his late grandfather's name, but his dark eyes.

But the favourite grandson's lasting tribute to his Beiruti ancestry may be his forthcoming documentary, Teta, Alf Marra, nominated for two prizes at this month's Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

As the first documentary produced by a partner of Abu Dhabi's Twofour54 Arabic media content project, the new honours for the film marks a bright beginning for developing more world-class Arabic cinema, said Wayne Borg, the chief operating officer of Twofour54.

"To see the first Arabic documentary feature produced out of Twofour54 receive so many nominations shows just how much progress we've made in only two years," Mr Borg said. "Mahmoud can serve as a role model to young Arabs thinking of entering the media industry, so we wish him every success at the upcoming festivals."

The film is nominated for the Audience Award for Best Documentary, which enters it automatically into the Best Arab Film category.

Mr Kaabour has also been listed in the Best Arab Filmmakers Award category.

Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times), which seeks to capture the oral history of Mr Kaabour's grandparents, is set to have its world premier in Doha between this week and will compete for Best Documentary prize at the Carthage Film Festival that same week.

The joint UAE-Qatar-Lebanon production was a true labour of love, as it involved interviewing his Teta Kaabour, the sharp-witted 83-year-old family matriarch whose once-bustling Beirut household has fallen quiet over the years.

"My grandmother is a feisty octogenarian who lives all by herself, after a long life in a house always full of people," Mr Kaabour said. "All of a sudden, everyone is well settled in life and she's on her own. She been missing my deceased grandfather more intensely, giving us signs she's ready to rejoin him."

Violin improvisations taped privately by the filmmaker's grandfather in the family's flat serve as a score for the film. The thought that his grandparents' stories and way of life would be lost with their passing spurred Mr Kaabour to make the 48-minute documentary, which he said was a tribute to his grandmother's "larger-than-life" character.

In some scenes, Mr Kaabour dons his grandfather's old clothes. "I do the things he used to do," he said. "I play him. I take my grandmother out for walks, I try to fill up the absence that was left 20 years ago."

As for Teta Kaabour's thoughts on the production, Mr Kaabour conceded he has nerves about finally screening the final product for her privately. He said the prospect of hundreds of strangers peering into her life in such an intimate way could take some time for her to process.

"I'm getting on a plane on Sunday to go to Beirut, and we'll show it to her there in her own living room, where we shot the whole thing," he said. "For a person who lives such a small life, with minimal contact to society, she's going to be touched and a little alarmed."

"But I like to think she's going to be touched by her grandchild's testimony about her life for the film. This whole thing was done to commemorate her world once she's gone."

Eva Sayre, the film's executive producer, said the feature was made for about US$150,000 (Dh550,900), with help from the Doha Film Institute and Screen Institute of Beirut. The winning films from the Doha film festival will be announced on October 30.