In UAE theatres now, Very Big Shot is the breakout Lebanese hit narcotic smuggling movie which rose to prominence the only way it could, says director Mir-Jean Bou Chayaa, through the festival circuit. Having gone to Toronto and London and picked up Best Picture from a Francis Ford Coppola headed jury at Marrakech, Very Big Shot has benefitted from the traction these events produce to the extent the movie now has a pan-Middle East cinematic release and shall be opening in France and Germany in the coming months.
"We come from a country where it is very difficult to do films," Mir-Jean told us during Very Big Shot's Dubai premiere last week. "Me and my brothers are the producers. We are young. I am 26. We found funding independently. When you're passionate about it you do everything."
Mir-Jean credits government red tape and a lack of reliable financial resources for the relatively small filmic output Lebanon experiences. The censorship discussions on Very Big Shot for example continuously held up production as it deals with the contentious issues of cross Syrian-Lebanon smuggling, drugs, the conservative media and politics.
In the movie brothers Ziad and Joe run a small but profitable drug-dealing business out of their takeout pizzeria in the northern working class suburbs of Beirut. With their youngest sibling Jad about to be released from prison, Ziad and Joe plan to go straight by using their coke-peddling profits to open a restaurant. However, Ziad's supplier convinces the brothers to take on one last job: smuggling a million-dollar shipment to Syria. It is the method they use to try and get the drugs out and the subsequent environment they find themselves in where the gritty crime drama gains dark comedic momentum.
"I wrote the film with the lead actor Alain," said Mir-Jean. "We based the plot on a true story of an Italian film production that came to Beirut. It turns out they were smuggling drugs in their film canisters because they are never searched.
"So the three brothers, when they have to smuggle, decide to declare they are making a movie. The fictional film idea gets bigger and bigger and attracts media attention. They have to fake being producers and actors and that takes them to another place."
Very Big Shot has been the number one film in Lebanon and continues to perform well. Benefitting from a Doha Film Institute grant, Mir-Jean says the future of Arab cinema will emanate from the GCC.
"What the Emirati state in Dubai or Abu Dhabi and what happens at the Doha Institute is a very good example of what should happen elsewhere. They are creating chances for young talent and shows them respect. Young people like us have a lot to say. We want to be heard here in the UAE and in other Arab countries."
Mir-Jean encourages everyone over 18 to take a chance on Very Big Shot, to support Arab cinema and perhaps come away with an altered perspective.
"It's an enjoyable film and it's very true. It reveals the power of image or how society is becoming influenced by the power of the image."
Five minutes with lead actor Alain Saadeh
Playing oldest brother Ziad, Alain tells us how he got into character and how his two real brothers reacted to the movie.
"I was working on being as truthful as I could. I didn't begin from judging. I lived the life of this character. I lived in the same neighbourhood. It's method acting. I did lots of physical work and studied how he moves."
"I have met people who resemble my character. Even people in my family resemble this character. Not with drugs but they are willing to do anything to achieve their goals."
"I loved the relationship with my brothers in the movie. I worked on the bond. I am from a family of three brothers, so I projected how I feel about them."
"My brothers in true life are proud of me and they both really see what you're trying to say with the movie. They see that you are doing a good job. They don't judge that I play a drug dealer"
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