Patrick Chemali won first prize at the Lebanese Independent Film Festival, which took place on 1erSeptember 2 and 3 at Station Beirut for its 2022 edition. His nine-minute short film, Clotheslined, written, directed and produced by him, won the hearts of the jury. The prize was awarded to him by the renowned actor, member of the jury, Talal Jurdi, who finds himself for the first time, as he attests, on the other side of the table.
Clotheslined is the first film of Patrick Chemali, passionate about theater and cinema. Being far from the field, he worked hard, six years ago, to work on his acting. He took workshops and acted in student films, until he made his way to the stage and the film set in the professional world. Patrick Chemali sees life with humor and humanity at the same time. In his film, a human dimension is reflected in everyday details, details that remain embedded, through the play of colors, shadows, light, sun, black and pastel.
Clotheslined draws lives that pass by with the wind and the candles that we blow out from year to year, applauding the irreversible years… while the shadows grow in the light.
As much as we try to tighten the grips of time, to hold the reins of the game, there remains a second, a single one, which divides the lived experience into a before and an after. A moment T which erases all the broken sentences, the children’s footsteps, the light breezes and the fluff, and the dice of the cast spell.
The clotheslines become a common thread. On this thread, over the course of nine minutes, everyone sees a part of their life pass by. This catharsis is essential and is based on these images or these few voices which carry within them a human or universal dimension. We have all, one day or another, had a special relationship with people who leave… with life or milk rolls, with sudden departures or death. Clotheslined is a story on the roof where everything happens, lives and dies, casually, to live again.
How did you introduce yourself to the festival?
I signed up after seeing the ad, as I do for all festivals. I received an email telling me that the film had been selected.
Did you expect to win the prize?
No way. Since it’s my first film, I actually did it for the exercise and for the characters in the film. I started to get good feedback, initially from the organizers, then from the interviewers, then from the jury and finally from the directors in competition.
Among about forty films screened, the best scenario that I had imagined was that I was going to be awarded a special mention by the jury because the film is far from being classic from the point of view storytelling. When the ceremony started, there were two awards before me. I was sitting sideways and it blocked my view a bit. Normally, we show a small clip of 10 seconds of the winning film. At that time, I was trying to see the screen and the people accompanying me shouted “we won!”. I get up and realize it’s true.
Was it the desire to make a film that took you or the goal of making your idea a reality?
It’s not a project I had in mind. It’s been six years since I’ve been more in the professional field of theater as an actor, my main focus was on my ability to interpret roles. At the same time, I explored the possibility of writing down the ideas that came to me. For this film, it’s an idea that came to me at random. Following the death of my mother last year, I was about to donate her clothes to an NGO. I washed them and hung them on the clotheslines on the balcony. I thought that was the last time those clothes were going to be hung there. Seen from the outside, clotheslines can tell a lot about people’s lives; who lives in the house and even what are the activities of these people, depending on the clothes: for babies, sportswear, beach towels… I realized very quickly that we can tell the story of people’s lives through the hanging laundry. That’s when I came up with the idea of telling people’s lives through linen. I wrote a drama which is not mine, but which could be that of any Lebanese family which lived the war or even the explosion of August 4th.
What about the team choice?
The team was above all my priority since we only see one actress at a time. This is Nadia Tabbara, my teacher of screenwriting- or scriptwriting – who advised me to do the directing myself since that’s my vision. I then chose people not only competent, but with whom the current passes. The dozen student films in which I had acted had allowed me to meet lots of people. So, one thing leading to another, I managed to edit the film.
Was this film also cathartic for you?
At first, that was the goal. The dialogues are scenes that often happened in our house between my father, who died thirteen years ago, and an uncle, who also died. The scene at the beginning represents the neighbor who visited us and said that it was cold at our place. I inlaid these elements of everyday life in the film, since we were a typical family. The same is true of my mother’s clothes. The film was very personal, but at the same time you could identify with the characters.
What do you have left of this film?
What good memories! Friendships and a sense of confidence that it is possible to make films if you believe in it. I have two competing ideas in my head for a new movie, but I’m going to put them on paper first before deciding on one. As an actor, I would also like to give the actors their space to play.