BEIRUT: Filmmaker and founder of Cinephilia Productions Darine Hotait has recently created a lab called the Cinephilia Intensive Screenwriting Lab For Shorts, which sets out to help writers and filmmakers come up with a script. Having toured through the Middle East and Los Angeles, the CISL For Shorts is now in Beirut for a second time. Hotait talks to The Daily Star about the project.
Q: Why did you decide to found this lab for shorts?
A: It was never a planned venture, honestly. It all started in a very intuitive right-brained way. I did the first lab in a workshop format, and it was completely different than what ... the CISL for Shorts [is now].
From that experience, I established a very good understanding of what is missing, why it’s missing and what is needed. Those three elements turned the lab into an intentional scheme.
What’s missing is the understanding of the importance of screenwriting from the filmmakers’ side and the lack of educational resources that highlight screenwriting as a real craft.
[As for] why it’s missing, filmmakers need to understand that the director is not necessarily a good screenwriter, and the other way around. [Also] film schools need to emphasize ... screenwriting, because without a solid screenplay you can never have a good film. Yes, it will look great but [it] can’t nurture the audience’s need for a story.
Q: So what is needed? What are the project’s objectives?
A: I thought that what might be needed could be something like the CISL For Shorts, something that focuses on the screenplay as a foundation for any film and that helps filmmakers to turn this screenplay into a film.
Cinephilia Productions is always hunting for original and daring material to produce ... The main objective is to discover new voices in screenwriting from the region and to produce films that tell daring stories that cannot be told without solid advisory and financial support.
In 2014 we are launching a lab for feature films and this October we are launching a directing lab.
Q: Are there any specific criteria or themes that help you decide who will participate?
A: There are the formal criteria (eligibility guidelines) and the creative ones. Formal criteria to participate: [the filmmakers and writers] must be over 18; ... originally from [the] Middle East, Africa, South East Asia [or other eligible country]; must be willing to write a story about – or set in – one of the eligible countries; and must agree to the screenplay rights terms – if the screenplay is [given an] award.
[As for the] creative criteria, if they don’t have an idea and want to start writing during the lab, [they should show] their interest in the lab.
Q: In what ways do you help the filmmakers who are writing their shorts?
A: The lab is designed in a way that helps filmmakers start from a simple one-line idea, leading them to a fully developed screenplay draft. It is far away from theory and lecture and very much a hands-on practice. They get to write and that’s what’s important.
Most of the time, if not all the time, screenwriters have difficulties initiating their writing journey ... The lab is very much a ‘trust your intuition’ method, rather than ‘don’t break the rules.’
[It] is followed by two months of consultation period, where screenplays start forming a mature shape before submissions open for the award.
Q: Who chooses which short will get the best screenplay award?
A: At the moment, as the founder of the CISL For Shorts and the lab speaker, I choose which screenplay qualifies and deserves to be the winner of the Best Screenplay Award.
Starting [in] 2014 there will be a qualified committee in [each] region ... who will take the responsibility of reviewing all the submissions and shortlisting three out of 12. Then I make the final decision [on] which one of the three is the winner.
Q: The Lab has toured in the MENA region. What do you expect from your visit to Beirut? What type of program is scheduled here?
A: Based on the applications so far, I think some really interesting screenplays are waiting to be written. The applications have shown how much Lebanese writers and filmmakers are eager to be part of a productive and creative environment, which is not available for them at all times.
I am expecting a very productive lab with a prolific group of people who will definitely [advance] the progress of Lebanese cinema.
The Beirut CISL For Shorts lab is taking place at Dawawine in Gemmayzeh from Sept. 20 to Sept. 26. For lab schedules and more information, please visit www.cinephiliaproductions.com.