It’s a Family Affair as Lina Soualem Presents Docs About Hiam Abbas and Zinedine Soualem at El GounaOctober 23, 2020
Lina Soualem is emerging from the shadow of her famous parents – French actor Zinedine Soualem and Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas, seen recently in HBO’s “Succession” – by making documentaries about them and their families.
Playing in the Feature Documentary Competition at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, “Their Algeria” tells the story of how her paternal grandparents Aïcha and Mabrouk had decided to separate after 62 years. The couple had had an arranged marriage in Algeria before spending most of their time together in the medieval town of Thiers, central France.
This journey allowed the director to make a film about the relationship between France and Algeria, incorporating archive footage from the 1940s and 1950s. Her grandparents left Algeria in the 1950s intending to return when hostilities caused by colonial rule died down.
“I had no idea how my grandparents were involved in that political and historical context,” says Soualem. “I knew the region they were from, but not their social backgrounds or how they came to France.”
It was on a Skype call in 2017 that the director found out that her grandparents were divorcing. It was a shock to the system. Her thoughts then turned to making a film about her grandmother, which expanded to include her grandfather.
“Then I realized that something else was missing – the link between them and me, which is my own dad,” says the first-time feature filmmaker. “So I decided to film him too.”
Her father has an impressive acting résumé, starring in hit movies “La Haine” and “Welcome to the Sticks,” as well as popular television series “Chefs” and “Call My Agent!” “If I wanted help or information about anything, my dad would help in the process,” Soualem says.
“Their Algeria” won the inaugural Docs in Progress Award in Cannes last year, carrying a $10,000 cash prize. Earlier this year, it premiered at Visions du Reel in Nyon, one of the first digital festivals to take place after lockdowns took place around the world.
“Because it was the beginning of lockdown we went virtual,” says Soualem. “After that festival, we waited to show the film at physical screenings; the first one was at Cinémondes in Berck-sur-Mer. The feeling of being able to see it on a big screen and also being able to watch it with an audience and talk to them afterwards was so good.”
She recently attended Rome Film Festival before heading to El Gouna. “For me, the virtual screening was great at the time, because everyone was in lockdown and it was great for me to show the film, but it was a very solitary experience. For me, it’s important to share, even with masks on.”
It will be a busy time for Soualem at the Red Sea-set film festival, as she is also pitching her new project, “Bye Bye Tiberias,” at the CineGouna Platform (CGP), the industry arm of El Gouna Film Festival. The Platform’s two programs are CineGouna SpringBoard – the project development and co-production lab for Arab projects, which awards several grants from a $250,000 cash pool – and CineGouna Bridge, a forum where regional and international industry professionals may connect.
“Bye Bye Tiberias” concentrates on her mother’s side of the family. Thirty years ago, Hiam Abbas left the Palestinian village of Deir Hanna in Galilee, where she grew up with her grandmother Um Ali, her mother Neemat, her father Said, her seven sisters and her two brothers, to pursue her acting dream in France.
Her daughter, with camera in-hand, now questions those bold choices, her chosen exile and the way the women in her family, whom she has left behind, have influenced her. “It’s also based on archival footage that my father filmed in Palestine when I was a child in the 90s,” says Soualem.
“It tries to find where my mother, as a woman, was inspired to take an artistic path. It details the transmission through the women of my family – how my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother each had a path that was a bit different from the norm.”
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