Interview with Wissam Charaf, Director of Pas de Panique [Don’t Panic]
Wednesday 17 February 2021, by
How did your film come about?
In the beginning, there was the desire to talk about what had happened to Lebanon since October 2019, precisely, a catastrophic economic crisis and the protest movement that ensued. What happened in Lebanon in the space of a year is of such tremendous violence and vulgarity, namely the loss of all the people’s savings due to the regime’s vile kleptocracy, that I wanted to make a film that would do justice to this brutal and vulgar violence. Last year in Clermont-Ferrand where I was one of the national judges, I met Bechara Mouzannar, a Lebanese producer, who wanted to make a series of short films about the “Thawra,” which is what we call the protest movement in Lebanon. I immediately accepted.
The film relies on a duo of actors, the “death coach” and his former “life coach.” How did you work with your actors? What guidelines did you give them?
Said Serhan and Rodrigue Suleiman acted in my feature length film, Tombé du ciel. They are very solid actors, very technical. There’s a mutual trust between us. They know that when they star in one of my films, it’s going to be totally crazy and they really enjoy that. As for me, I know that they will follow me in my delirium no matter what. So, besides having them read the scenario, I didn’t need to tell them much. The night before shooting, we vaguely rehearsed one or two scenes, between costume fittings, to sort of get things going. The only directions I give, and this goes for all my films, revolve around the speed, the tone of certain words. But they immediately grasped the characters and their contradictions: a suicidal man who’s afraid of death and a cunning thief who plays the rescuer to better entrap his victim. The yin and the yang. I find that the two of them summarize the current state of mind in Lebanon.
How did the shooting go despite the constraints due to the current situation?
We found ourselves in a catastrophic scenario. We were supposed to start filming August 6 for 3 days. August 4 the port in Beirut exploded destroying half the city. My back was seriously injured. My apartment was destroyed, and our décor and props went up in smoke. Apocalyptic. So the crew, the actors and I had to start over from scratch as a team and individually: heal our wounds, fractures, traumas, rebuild our houses, then start to think about filming, scout locations, reconstruct décor, submit requests for authorizations. We did the work twice, in fact. The filming was finally able to start early October.
Shooting Pas de panique in today’s difficult context, in Lebanon and in the world, was it a way to resist, to hold on?
It was a way to gain back our dignity as human beings and as artists. The first shot we filmed was of Rodrigue Suleiman at 6 in the morning in his bathrobe running in a street parallel to the destroyed port with a giant erection in front of stunned passers-by. A short session of exorcism. The energy over the three days of shooting was beautiful and everyone wanted to become an actor, sound engineer, producer, assistant once again. Move on from being a victim of the explosion.
What do you think the future holds for short films?
It’s a fantastic format because it allows for a form of expression vastly different from the feature film. We tend to forget this. As digital platforms expand, I hope these will see the interest (surely mercantile, but never mind…) that the cinemas have stupidly lost.
If we were to go back into lockdown, what cultural or artistic delights would you recommend for alleviating our boredom?
Watch the complete works of De Funès, read Georg Trakl, bake a “tatin” apple pie without burning the caramel, sort out your bedroom.