Sameh received a writing grant for his next feature film.
What is your artistic background?
Born the youngest of nine children to parents who were farmers, I did not grow up going to the movies. In my small village of Iksal, near Nazareth, the theaters had closed long before my life. It was not until 1995, when I went to college, that my film education began. Against all familial and cultural odds, I decided to move to Tel Aviv to pursue a dual degree in Film Studies and English Literature. After graduating, my interest in film grew but I knew I needed to get out of the Middle East to gain a new, larger perspective on life and filmmaking. The following year, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue an MFA in Film Direction from the School of the Arts at Columbia University. My love for cinema and wanting to tell stories using this artistic medium has grown with me through education and then working on different projects. I would say that what ignites this artistic background is the love of telling stories and connecting with what binds us together as human beings.
How do you see your profession today?
Making movies has always been a challenging profession. At his or her core, a filmmaker becomes excited about an idea but then there is a whole process of development, writing and finally making the film, which requires collaboration with others (in order to turn this idea into a movie). This could take years. We cannot make a film alone, and therefore to bring about an idea that could excite others to make it with you is always a big challenge. And I feel that now, with social media and uploading personal videos and stories, this challenge is getting even greater. The audience’s attention span is changing and cinema is changing as a result. And I guess we have to as well.
When you will consider having emerged?
On a professional level I would say that my first short film Be Quietwas the one that opened many doors in the industry. In 2005, the film was selected and won a prize at the Cannes Festival-Cinéfondation selection. The success of the film opened the door to several US and International professional opportunities including the participation in Sundance, Berlin, IFP in New York, and Rotterdam co-production markets. I was also invited to some creative residencies such as Cannes Festival Cinéfondation, Berlinale Talent Campus and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. This is how my career started in fact. On a personal creative level, I feel like each time I make a new movie, I emerge again. Each experience making a film gives me a sense of growth, both on a professional and personal level. With each experience of making a film, a different voice and purpose emerges, that takes me on to the excitement and determination to make another one.
How do you see yourself in five years? In 10 years?
I see myself still making films, not only in the Middle East but maybe in other places as well. I am also open to directing films written by others. It all depends on the story and how I can find my voice in it. Cinema is a universal language and I would like to tell stories that resonate in me as a filmmaker.
This interview was conducted in 2019
Photo credit: Amandine Besacier