Rakan Mayasi is a young Palestinian-Jordanian filmmaker born in a small German village who is currently based in Lebanon.
His deeply cross-cultural background informs the films he has written and directed so far, Sea Sonata and Roubama. He seems to gravitate towards protagonists that belong to the marginalized communities in society such as Palestinians, Kurds or Syrians. I asked him about his identity and how he feels it affects his work.
Which identity have you adopted for yourself?
I have the Jordanian passport, but I’m totally against being called Jordanian because it might dissolve my cause as a Palestinian. I consider myself being a world citizen before anything else. Without flattering myself, I can easily say that I’m a free soul which helps me feel close and connect with everybody, no matter which country they’re from (unless they aim to eliminate me like the Zionists).
I don’t appreciate feeling like a tourist, the outsider with the camera. This is the result of my personal molding, my job where I work with diverse people on every project, and the fact that I didn’t grow up in one specific geographical space makes me absolved of being attached to roots anywhere; even Palestine is an idea in my head. I dream about visiting it or shooting a film there, but I don’t feel responsible to tackle the issue in my work all the time.
You could’ve picked any city in the world to live in, why Beirut?
With the risk of sounding cliché, Beirut is closer to Europe than the rest of our surrounding countries: we have freedoms that can’t be found elsewhere (except maybe in Morocco or Tunisia, but I don’t speak French hence those are out of the question). Being in the Middle East is a blessing in disguise for the artistic scene. The turmoil that exists in the region kindles the flame inside me and pushes me to speak out. Not having intensive cinematographic traffic in Lebanon is good for me since I have a lot to say. I’m in the process of finding my voice. The potential creative themes we can take up have a primitive, basic feel to them: wars, poverty, survival stories, social taboos, political uneasiness etc.
What is it that draws you to marginalized characters?
I’m triggered by people that I find incompatible with modern society, who are not in sync with their time or the space they find themselves in. Refugees in Lebanon or the migrant workers’ class have a wider frame to look at; they believe they can self-improve, as a group or even individually due to the circumstances in which they arrived to Beirut. They are a diaspora, dispersed by force and looking to provide for their families. They have no substantial belongings in this country, therefore everything to gain and nothing to lose.
People like you and me are boring, or not dramatic enough. But marginalized circles drive me cinematically, which can be translated into art. The element of discovery and the cross-cultural experience broaden my own horizons. The sole purpose of being an artist is to become a better human being by making honest art with genuine people.
Do you think your Palestinian origins affected your choices in film language?
I’m sure they did somehow, but my creative process began maturing when I started travelling to attend scriptwriting and directing workshops. I was in South Korea for a month in 2010 at the Asian Film Academy to work under the supervision of the great Abbas Kiarostami and made a film that was included in the Busan International Film Festival program – Asia’s largest festival. We were 24 applicants in total from Asia and I was the only Arab. It made me look at my background from a new angle.
Also, my trip to Berlin in 2011 was an eye opener: the workshop hosted participants from Ramallah, Lebanon, Germany and the UK (whose attendees were of Indian origin). This experience helped me realize why I’m inclined to go down this particular path and the reasons why I’m so drawn to certain subjects and characters. The very idea of cinema is to exchange culture and cultivate civilizations. We all connect on a human level. The ultimate goal is to forget our differences and this is how harmony is born. World peace is a utopic concept; it will never exist as long as people are driven by politics or commerce. But if filmmakers and artists around the world portray their stories, share their thoughts, fears and dreams, only then can we hope to create peace in its purest form.
Rakan is currently writing his first full-length feature film.