Cannes Film Fest 2019: Labaki–Award-Winning Director and Jury President–Where Does She Go Now?

Oscar nominee Nadine Labaki, this year’s jury president of Cannes Fest’s Un Certain Regard, said today that she is working on a documentary about the making of her last year’s prize-winning Capernaum.

At a Variety-Kering Women in Motion talk , she admitted she wouldn’t turn down the chance to direct a bi-budget Hollywood superhero film.

Commercial Hit in China

Her 2018 Cannes entry has become an unexpected commercial hit in China, where it is currently still third at the box office even after two weeks in theaters and has so far grossed over $44 million.

She said that the film had likely resonated because of its universal themes and the fact that her actors had really lived through the circumstances they re-created onscreen, making it an unusually visceral viewing experience.

She wouldn’t have been able to elicit the same performances if her own life hadn’t at the time so perfectly mirrored the story she was telling. “I don’t think I would have done the same film if I was not at that moment in my life a mother breastfeeding a child exactly the same age,” she said. “It’s good to have a woman’s experience in a film, a woman’s perspective on things.”

So much had happened during production–actors were arrested or deported–that she decided to record it. “During the shooting process, fiction really became reality. The process was so interesting and intense that we’re making a documentary about the whole thing, following the characters and where they are now,” she said.

She thinks it is time to use Capernahum as a vehicle to generate real change on the ground, to see what laws can be altered and how to lobby for change.

“It’s difficult to turn the page and say, now I’m moving on to another project; there’s still a lot to do,” she explained. “Maybe because I come from a place where everything needs to be rethought, I feel it’s a duty, not a choice, to make films that will have an impact on the society that you live in. I see it as a mission.”

She wouldn’t turn down a big Hollywood picture if a major studio made an offer, especially a “Wonder Woman”-style blockbuster: “I’d do it if I had the freedom to turn her into something that every woman in this room would want to be.”  

Serving as the jury president is a surreal Cinderella moment for Labaki. Before her first feature, Caramel, premiered in the Director’s Fortnight in 2007 and her second feature, Where Do We Go Now? played in Un Certain Regard in 2011, she had come to Cannes as a student with her sister and co-writer, walking hours to get to the Palais and waiting in long lines at 5 am for tickets.

“I’m like the festival’s child, in a way. I made my first steps here. I first came here dreaming of just being able to watch a film. Being here seemed like an impossible dream, especially when you’re from Lebanon and there’s no film industry there. I can’t believe I’m now the jury president,” she marveled.