Against the odds: Oualid Mouaness' tender film '1982' finds new life amidst pandemic

While the US-based Lebanese helmer could have given up in these challenging times, Mouaness' perseverance has paid off and '1982' opens this week in cinemas in France and Sweden, after kicking off two weeks ago in Germany to critical acclaim plus being slated for release in South America and some Asian countries in 2022.
Against the odds: Oualid Mouaness' tender film '1982' finds new life amidst pandemic

On November 24, Oualid Mouaness' 1982, featuring Nadine Labaki, opens in French cinemas. The touching coming-of-age film has already won accolades and been featured in the official selection of the Cannes Ecrans Juniors, the prestigious youth sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival featuring a selection of international feature films that are of particular interest to young people.

The film also walked away with two prizes at the recent Castellinaria Festival del cinema giovane in Switzerland -- one of them being the coveted UNICEF prize, which Mouaness admits, "for me is kind of humbling to receive the award because the definition of this award is for the preservation of children's rights, you know, and in this case, this film is about the preservation of children's rights to education, no matter what." Mouaness explains further, "as we know, one of the first things that's compromised in wars is education, dis-education and mis-education and this mis-education creates a vacuum that allows room for violence, which allows room for misunderstanding. So for me this was a very meaningful award -- to have the UNICEF stamp on the film. And this comes on the heels of screening it at the UNESCO international headquarters three weeks ago, in Paris as well."

Oualid Mouaness by Mohammad Seif ©2021

So all these accolades and release dates would be wonderful already if the film was a 2021 release. However, 1982 first premiered in 2019, at the Toronto Int’l film festival, and went on to screen at festivals around the world only to be stopped by the pandemic.  It was Lebanon's entry to the 92nd Oscar race, only to find itself stuck, hampered by both Covid-19 and a misconceived sales strategy or lack thereof.

But Mouaness is no stranger to the business of cinema; with 8 feature length films to his name in producing capacity in addition to a repertoire of music videos for the likes of David Bowie, Lady Gaga and countless more A-list artists, the Liberian born, LA-based Lebanese writer, director and producer refused to settle or give up and instead, he sought a new life for his film by taking world sales into his own hands and seeking distribution in a very tailored and strategic manner.

Would he recommend this model to other filmmakers, I ask Mouaness? "I definitely don't recommend that for directors. I must say, this is really draining," he admits. "I mean it's been really, really tough. And the fact of the matter is I happen to have a very strong voice both as a director and as a producer, which is something rare in an industry intent on separating these roles. That's what enabled me to create this momentum and strategy to make sure that this film resurfaced. Because I made this film to get it to an audience and if someone is in the way of making sure that it gets to an audience, as a producer with my producer brain, I needed to be like -- you know what, no! I needed to change that. I did not accept that as a fate even though I was literally told to accept it as fate if my film didn't go any further.”

1982 tells the story of 11-year old Wissam (played by Mohamad Dalli) who is secretly in love with his schoolmate Joanna (played by Gia Madi). All around them, forces are brewing beyond their control, as this is 1982 Lebanon and there is an invasion by Israeli forces just around the corner. But their childhood games are still going on uninterrupted, in the mountains overlooking Beirut. The film takes place during the arc of one day and Labaki plays the duo's teacher, herself becoming increasingly concerned with the conflict that is clearly coming, due to the presence of soldiers and tanks around the school. Yet the audience is privy to Wissam's POV, what he sees and the courage he tries to muster up to approach his dream girl.

And what a dream movie 1982 turns out to be, once the viewer lets go of all their grownup preconceptions and allows the story, this special insight into a boy's growing pains to take over, wholeheartedly. No wonder the film has won both the FIPRESCI and the NETPAC prizes and all kinds of awards around the world.

After a special screening during the Ajyal Film Festival in Doha, which allowed enhanced sound with audio descriptions of visual elements for special needs audiences, the film opened in Germany this past week. And on November 24th it is opening in French cinemas after some advance screenings in Paris, including one at the Institut du monde arabe.

"Some films are just made for cinema and 1982 is one of them, so we have to give people the opportunity to watch it that way," Mouaness concludes, "we're working on a strategy to try to give the Lebanese people the opportunity to experience it in the Cinemas in Lebanon and other territories. The challenges are there, but no approach is off the table."

All images courtesy of Tricycle Logic, used with permission

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