The “risky adventure” of casting a refugee star in Golden Globe-nominated “Capernaum”


Lebanese director Nadine Labaki brings her Golden Globe-nominated film “Capernaum,” which is in the running for best foreign language film, to “Salon Talks.” The scripted, fictional film, which won the grand jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is a direct commentary on how the Syrian refugee crisis is affecting its youngest victims: children.

“This is what a film actually does, it humanizes the problem. You’re putting a face on the problem,” Labaki told SalonTV’s Dean Obeidallah on “Salon Talks.” “It’s more powerful than any political discourse or any speech a politician can make.”

“Capernaum,” out in theaters now, follows a 12-year-old Lebanese boy, Zain, who lives on the streets and is suing his parents for neglect. He takes them to court for the “crime” of giving him life. Labaki came up with the idea in reaction to seeing images of refugees fleeing war. She wanted to understand what went on in the heads of the children she saw. “If this child could talk, what would he say? What would he tell the world?” she explained.

Labaki continued, “We are dragging them like puppets in our conflicts, our wars, our stupid decisions, our failing systems.” Labaki chose to cast non-actors in the film whose real lives mirror the scenarios in “Capernaum.” The character Zain in real life, for example, is a Syrian national who lived in Lebanon for six years before his family relocated to Norway.

Shooting with actors who were dealing with the real experiences of refugee life was a “big risk,” Labakai said. “We knew it was a risky adventure.” But, the rewards of capturing authenticity on-screen were immense for the director. “It’s not a film you’re shooting; you’re capturing reality all the time. It gives you this faith that you’re doing something bigger than you,” she said.

Watch the episode above to hear more about the unique filming process for “Capernaum” and for Labaki’s commentary on the state of female directors in Hollywood.


SalonTV host Dean Obeidallah is also the host of the daily national SiriusXM radio program, "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on the network's progressive political channel. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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