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BLACK NIGHTS 2020 First Feature Competition

Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf • Directors of The Translator

“It's like every government has learned this playbook, a way to delegitimise the peaceful protester”

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- Filmmakers Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf talk to Cineuropa about their debut feature, The Translator, playing in the First Feature Competition at Tallinn Black Nights

Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf • Directors of The Translator
(© Dubai International Film Festival)

Filmmakers Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf reveal how their personal guilt about leaving Syria led to them making The Translator [+see also:
film review
interview: Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf
film profile
]
, now screening in the First Feature Competition at Tallinn Black Nights, and what they’ve discovered about the power of peaceful protest.

Cineuropa: The story of an interpreter making a minor slip-up when talking about the Syrian regime feels so real that it's surprising to learn that this part of the film is fabricated. How did you come up with the idea?
Anas Khalaf:
Well, all of the dates are real for the beginning of the revolution, and the Syrian Olympic team did go to Sydney in 2000, with 14 athletes. There was a translator, a boxer and a regime guy making sure that everything went smoothly because the regime makes sure that every word is the right one. So we really played on that.

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Rana Kazkaz: And then, as we started to tell this story to people, we would hear other reports of similar things that had happened within their families – slips of the tongue, then they would lose their business or they would lose their job, or they would feel threatened in some other way. So it is absolutely based on reality that there would be severe consequences just for that kind of slip of the tongue.

What is the importance of language in your work?
RK: I've often thought about how much language is a part of our life. We have a trilingual home, and we grew up speaking multiple different languages. One of our first films that we made together, Deaf Day, was actually in Arabic sign language. We relied only on cinematic language, and it was very intentional not to have any kind of dialogue. So we are very aware of how language is used in the films that we make because I think we're just confronted with it on a daily basis – these misunderstandings and questions of how to bridge cultures. And what's interesting is that English became an opportunity for [protagonist] Sami; it was an interest of his, but it also became an opportunity. And yet, unfortunately, it also created an obstacle for him later in life. So I would just say that the importance of language was something that was considered very consciously.

Like your main protagonist, Sami, you left Syria; was this your connection with the character?
A
K: For sure, we're trying to make up for this guilt that we feel, and which we share with the main character, with Sami. We share his guilt of having left his family and everyone else behind – this is why he's compelled to go back for his brother.

What is the importance of the peaceful protestor in the film?
RK: What I've come to understand through this film is how threatening the peaceful protester is to any government. And each time I see the way peaceful protests are covered in the news and the way the events unfold, there's like a government playbook. A protest starts to happen, but then there's some looting, and then some damage... Then the story is spun: “Oh, they aren't so peaceful after all; there are some terrorists among them, and they can't be trusted.” It's like every government has learned this playbook, a way to delegitimise the peaceful protester, who's the one saying, “Hey, there's a lot of injustice here.”

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