Visual Provocation

When her volatile Middle Eastern husband kidnaps their child, Sarah blindly recruits a prejudiced neighbour to hunt them down. A sense of dread slowly tightens its grip as a little girl’s life hangs in the balance and a new threat rears its head. Baby Mine is in the Thriller screenings at ASFF 2017. Nour Wazzi, Director, expands on the thematic threads of the genre.

ASFF: How does this film in particular differ or relate to your previous works?
I’ve directed a lot of dramas so this was my first foray into thrillers which is much more in line with my feature slate and general taste in movies. I’ve found it much easier to get public money for social-issue driven dramas than genre films. As a Lebanese filmmaker in the UK, I’d say all my shorts sit in the world of the “outsider” in some shape or form – representing diversity in thought-provoking stories that challenge gender, societal or cultural pre-conceptions.

ASFF: How important do you find narrative?
Absolutely crucial. I personally cannot engage in a film unless there is a story/ journey/ conflict/ driving force behind it and a character I am able to empathise with. I don’t mind if the protagonist is unlikeable – if anything I like them to be complex and flawed – but I need to be able to understand their motivation or I just switch off. I just love it when you become so emotionally invested that you only later realise your perception was always hindered by your own biases. There is an audience for art-house / experimental films where not much “happens” but I’m not one of them!

ASFF: How far do you think that short film is a discovery?
For me it’s always been an opportunity to discover and experiment with new ideas and see if they would carry onto a feature. It’s also the best way to discover emerging talent and who you can see building a long-term relationship with. Baby Mine was an opportunity to explore shifts of perspective. It’s effectively told from the mum’s perspective, paralleled with the kidnapping until both strands come together and a new perspective is revealed. Ultimately the fear for the child’s life is what resonates and ties everything together. This exploration massively informed the direction taken in feature version which is now predominantly told from the father’s perspective and offered me the best opportunity to exploit the most drama, tension and mystery.

ASFF: How far do you think that cinema attempts to communicate the human condition?
The films and directors I’m into certainly do, and should do – considering we’re telling stories about people. I’m inspired by Denis Villeneuve’s stories of personal drama that he presents as a reflection of the issues that pervade all of humanity; a fusion of the personal and universal. Whilst his films juggle heavy themes like the nature of violence and the meaning of existence, they never lose sight of their characters. I’m passionate about using cinema (particularly sci-fi) as a lens to question what we know about the world we live in, examine the human condition and what it means to be human.

ASFF: What do you think is essential for a film within this genre, and how does yours reflect this vision?
I personally think thrillers should always try to subvert audience expectation and challenge them in some way. They should leave the audience with questions that resonate, while perpetuating a constant sense of dread – which I tried to reflect in the short. This was very much an exploration of the genre for me and am going a lot further in the feature – placing a lot more emphasis on what to hide from my audience and being more suggestive. I think it’s important to cut away during crucial moments and not allow your audience to see the whole picture. It allows the viewer to voyage into the unknown, just as the characters do, and so be transformed by the quest alongside them.

ASFF: What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’m focusing on finalising the scripts for the feature version of Baby Mine entitled Don’t Tell a Soul (supported by the Doha Film Institute with emerging producer Shirine Best and BAFTA winning screenwriter Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan) as well as my sci-fi/ horror Chimera (with screenwriter Grant Kempster) that I’m also raising finance for and hope to be casting within the next six months. I’ve also been asked to direct a couple of interesting shorts this year so I’m just going with the flow and taking it one step at a time!

ASFF runs 8-12 November. For more information or to book tickets:

1. Still from Baby Mine.