The Lebanese filmmaker with a story worth telling.
Raised in Lebanon during the Civil War, Sophie Boutros’ childhood was far from normal. Now, the talented director is channeling her experiences into something that matters; telling the story of a relationship with all of its complications.
1.Please introduce yourself to our readers:
I am a Lebanese filmmaker. I worked on directing music videos for A-list Arab singers for almost 10 years – Julia Boutros, Nancy Ajram, Rashid El Majed, Abdelmajeed Abdallah, Nawal Kuweityeh, etc. Mahbas (Solitaire) is the first feature film that I co-wrote and directed.
2.Tell us about your education:
I graduated from the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) in Lebanon with a Bachelor degree in Directing for TV and Film.
3.Please tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Lebanon. Until the age of 17, Lebanon was in a state of war. My childhood was nothing like normal. My family is very engaged patriotically, we used to follow up on all the news – horrible news mainly – and my parents did not hide from us the atrocities that were taking place back then. The positive side of it all is that my sister Julia and brother Ziad engaged at a very early age in music, starting with Ghabet Shams el Haq when they were 17, 18 and I was 11. Our house, since then, hosted poets, journalists and intellectuals so I had the chance to listen to them and sometimes engage in conversations with them, regardless of my young age.
4.How did you get inclined to study film and direction?
My sister and I fell in love with films in our early years; we had a shop next to our house that rented VHS tapes of movies. Our highlight of the weekend was to watch 3 or 4 films and, until now, my upmost joy is when I am heading to a cinema. Of course back then, doing studies in film was not something to be considered, because the field itself didn’t exist. Being a very good student in scientific matters, I was expected to study Medicine. I tried for a few months but ended up moving to a creative field that was more in touch with who I am and who I like to be. Back then it was a very new field of study.
5.What genre of films and actors were you drawn to?
I enjoyed various kinds of films but the ones that left their mark on me were mostly dramatic. Of course, I loved the big American actors because we had access to their films more than Europeans, but now I am more drawn to European cinema; I relate more to it being in touch with reality.
6.How long have you been making films and videos?
I directed music videos for 10 years, but Mahbas is my first film. I started working on it in the beginning of 2013.
7.How did you make the jump from directing music videos to feature films?
Directing music videos was the only way to get close to storytelling. The budgets were there, the production companies were there, so I took advantage of telling certain stories or conveying certain emotions through my videos. Most of them were not just a sequence of beauty shots. Making a film was the ultimate goal and only when all the elements were found, did I decide to take that leap – along with my partner, co-writer and producer, Nadia Eliewat.
8.How did you come up with the idea for MAHBAS?
We wanted to talk about a subject that matters; something that’s worth telling. The Lebanese-Syrian relationship with all the baggage that it carries is, in our opinion, worth shedding light on. It is a complicated love-hate relationship and complications in films are needed and wanted.
9.When you started writing, was the story clear in your head or did it evolve over many drafts?
Of course the main line of the story, being the proposal between a Syrian and a Lebanese, was there from the start. What changed from the first to the final draft of the script was the flow of the story, the structure, the dimensions of the characters and their actions; and also the sub-plots that were created to reach, at the end, a well-rounded, believable, identifiable story.
10.How did you go about casting the lead role?
Julia Kassar, ‘Thérèse’ was the one and only actress that came to my mind for the role. We approached her when we were still at the first draft and were delighted to have her from day one, and to know that she believed in the potential the story carries. Julia is one of the most respected, serious, professional actresses in Lebanon. I don’t think an actress who doesn’t have these great qualities could have carried Mahbas the way Julia did.
11.Which was the most difficult character to cast?
Maybe the most ‘dangerous’ character in Mahbas is ‘Solange’, the neighbour and friend, played by the amazing Betty Taoutel. Solange is a pushed character, who goes beyond reason in reacting to events. We didn’t want to fall in the trap of exaggeration, and Betty, like me, had the same care for the role and succeeded in not exceeding the border line of the situation comedy. People love her.
12.How difficult was it to finance your first movie?
I was lucky to have people who wanted to support me in my first movie. Three Lebanese investors came on board and made my dream possible. Also our main partner and co-producer, ART, thanks to a dear friend and supporter, Antoine Khalifeh. Also, Damas Jewelry believed in our story and contributed to the budget and by designing an engagement ring especially for Mahbas.
13.How were you able to juggle it all and continue your current full-time job as a manager of student affairs at the American University in Dubai?
I am also a mother of two boys, Jad 10 and Ziad, now 6. It was not easy at all and I am sure my family suffered a bit due to my continuous absences. Being a mother, the guilt feeling does not leave you so it was definitely a hard task. My husband was very supportive, AUD as well, because the administration believed in the value of what both Nadia and I are doing. It all ended without any serious damage on anyone!
14.When do story ideas usually hit you?
There is no special time for that, plus I did not have the luxury to choose a time of the day where I am more creative. We wrote whenever time permitted. We had to write in order to meet the deadlines we set for ourselves. Sometimes we would spend a day without even writing half a scene, but that happens to anyone who is keen to write.
15.Please describe the things you do on a typical day.
I rarely have time to do anything outside kids, full-time job where I teach writing and production, and all work related to Mahbas. I force myself to do some exercise but I am not consistent. I always feel I can do more in everything, but it turns out there are limitations, which I don’t like. I travel a lot, mainly with my sister Julia. I read but not enough.
16.On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
In most of my days things are going well! First comes spending some quality time with the kids, it really makes a difference to me. Also, hearing great feedback about the release of Mahbas which is happening a lot lately and I am very thankful for it.
17.What’s next for you?
I am starting soon to work on a new script – a theme that I have had in mind for some time now – but it’s still too early to talk about.
18.Your message for our readers in Kuwait?
First of all thank you for having read my long interview and I hope Mahbas speaks to you; I am eagerly waiting to know the feedback after our Kuwaiti release.
19.Finally, your message for us at CP magazine:
Thank you for supporting my film, it is something filmmakers are in big need for, especially that it is our dream to widen the release of the film and have it reach bigger and more varied audiences. Thank you for helping us and for highlighting our work.