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Hadi Ghandour • Director

"I made this movie to find out who I am"


- Paris-based director Hadi Ghandour discusses his first feature, The Traveller, which has just had its world premiere in the Black Nights First Feature Competition

Hadi Ghandour  • Director
(© BNFF)

Paris-based director of Lebanese descent Hadi Ghandour sat down with Nisimazine to talk about his first feature film, The Traveller [+see also:
film review
interview: Hadi Ghandour
film profile
, which has just had its world premiere in the Black Nights First Feature Competition. 

Nisimazine: The title of the film is The Traveller, and you have travelled quite a lot. Did that inspire you to make a film about this topic?
Hadi Ghandour:
Yes, definitely. Travelling has been part of my life since I was a kid. I had never really felt I belonged in one place, and so the experiences that I had kind of prompted me to make this movie, to find out who I am, through the character of somebody who had never travelled, which is quite the opposite situation.

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Isn’t it paradoxical that the main character is a travel agent, who in theory knows every place in the world, but has never travelled himself?
Exactly. He’s somebody who has always dreamed of travelling but has never really travelled, and then his dream comes true, and he will face all these questions about where he belongs. It is such a profound experience. And these are the questions that I have faced myself quite often, so this paradox is at the root of film.

Travelling is a physical experience – changing places – but it is also psychological, in the sense of being an inner journey. The protagonist travels from one world to another, from Lebanon to Paris. Why Paris? Does it hold a special place for Lebanese people?
Beirut is often called the “Paris of the Middle East”, so the people in Lebanon have always looked at Paris as an idealised version of what a city should be. There have been historic ties between the two countries, and I found it interesting for the character to travel within a kind of inner parallel dimension – from the “Paris of the Middle East” to the “real” Paris, to discover himself and the meaning of embarking on a voyage. And it’s absolutely true: the inner journey uses the device of travel. Any traveller is a traveller in his mind, more so than through the physical act of travelling.

So he discovers a new way of life and discovers himself. On the other hand, you are a person who must have explored his national and cultural identity.
I was born in Jordan, my parents are Lebanese, and I grew up in Belgium, so I am Belgian, European. And I have always been in international schools. I went to college in America, and then I worked there for eight years, so I also feel American. After that, I went to Dubai, London, Cairo... So it is a constant movement. 

Are this film and its characters another journey for you?
It has been an insane experience, just making the film with the crew from all over the world. Right now, in Tallinn, we have 15 people from the film, and they come from New York, Serbia, Lebanon and Paris – it’s quite amazing. 

And how do you feel now, in Tallinn, as the film has its world premiere?
It’s great to be here: the city is amazing, the premiere was sold out, and the audience reacted well. There were people from all over the world, and I think they related to the story.

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