Interview: The Scene Club's Karim Traidia

The first independent film club in the UAE is now hosting masterclasses for fledgling filmmakers. We speak to the acclaimed Algerian director

The Scene Club entertains hundreds of Dubai film fans every month with its free (for now) monthly screenings of independent movies that are either fresh from the international festival circuit or carefully curated classics that deserve attention. And now it’s going one step further, offering a masterclass for the region’s budding directors. Enlisting Algerian director Karim Traïdia, best known for his Golden Globe-nominated 1998 film The Polish Bride, and a string of Dutch TV series’ such as Moes and Het Imperium for which he shot the pilot, the masterclass aims to inspire and develop the creative film scene here in the UAE.

How did you get involved with The Scene Club?
I met Nayla Al Khaja [The Scene Club founder] at a workshop in Doha, that she had come to with a project for short films. I have something I would like to share and that’s the main reason I wanted to get involved, to share what I know and inspire people to make films and tell their own stories.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to Dubai for the masterclass?
I’m looking forward to meeting the students and those that are curious, and I want to see how it is for them and hear their dreams in terms of making films. If there’s a population of four million then that’s four million stories, and everyone has their own exceptional story to tell.

What do you hope to teach the attendants over the two days?
I’m not going to be able to teach them how to make a complete film in two days, but I’d like to inspire them to explore the ideas they have, and try to teach them the structure and the steps to make a film; like how to analyse a scene and how to write one. How to work with the director of photography, and how to direct actors. This is not something you really learn in film school. And, if there are one or two great ideas then I would like to follow them from a distance, and coach them.

What’s the most difficult thing about directing actors?
Communication is very important. Precision. Don’t talk too much. Preparation is the key to success, especially when you are on set and shooting. This is what I advise everybody: on set, don’t explain too much, just direct very shortly and physically, and precisely. You have to understand an actor. Actors are very fragile so when the actor looks at you, they must have confidence in you. Creating confidence between you and the actor is crucial when you’re directing. You must know his inner rhythm, then you can really work him.

Have you had any particularly difficult or demanding actors?
Ah yes, I remember on my second feature, The Speakers of Truth, I worked with an Algerian actor that I used to admire very much when I was young, Sid Ahmed Agoumi. When I worked with him I was very afraid and I wondered, ‘How can I correct him, and tell him what I’m looking for?’ The first shot we worked on,
I shot it 17 times. Each time, he was sure that it was good and I was sure that it was not. I was very careful with him and I said, ‘Please, can you just do this’, and then suddenly I said to him, ‘Please do exactly what I’m telling you – this one time. Please.’ And I looked at him for about five seconds, right in his eye, and he said, ‘Okay’, and he did it. Afterwards I went over to say that it was good and he said, ‘Shush – from now I’m going to listen to you.’ He told me later that he admired the fact that I didn’t give up. I told him,‘I don’t give up on you. If I give up on you then I betray you. I’m not going to say it’s good when it’s not good just because I have respect for you.’ So I had to break this respect.

When you were learning, who taught you how to direct actors?
I went to the film academy in Amsterdam, and only touched on it in the fourth year. We didn’t really learn, but we got to work with actors. Maybe, for me, my childhood and youth helped me to understand people’s faces and to understand their inner rhythms.

What’s your opinion of the state of UAE films right now?
I was in Abu Dhabi last year and didn’t see a lot films made from here, especially features. There’s a lot of shorts and documentaries, but the level is not yet what it should be. I’ve been in many readings and commissions, and there are wonderful ideas, but often they don’t work them out in the right way. They are in a hurry and they don’t want to take the time. Most of the time, young people want to make American-style films. For me, I think you should use your own local way of storytelling. As Arabs, we have a great way of telling stories – an oral tradition – so we have to try and develop what we have within us, and not try to find out something which is not ours.

For aspiring filmmakers, is this course the first step towards a bigger project?
If they really need me or there’s a very interesting project which is worth extra time and energy, I am prepared to do it, because the follow-up is very important. If there’s no follow-up then it’s like a seed; if you plant it but you don’t water it will never become a flower.
Dhs2,000 (two-day masterclass), Dhs1,800 for Scene Club members, Dhs1,000 for students. April 19-20, 2pm-6pm. For dates and details of upcoming filmmaking masterclasses organised by The Scene Club, visit Dubai Knowledge Village Conference Centre, Block 1, Dubai Knowledge Village (04 391 0051).

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