Interview with Lina al-Abed, the director of “Noor al-Huda”

Syrian young director Lina al-Abed’s camera followed the story of Noor al-Huda, a young girl living with her poor family in an illegal house. A one-kidney father, a brother with cerebral palsy and Noor, a young girl dreaming of completing her studies and living in a house with four walls. A dream that came true after the movie premiere.

How did  the idea of your film come about?

It was a mere coincidence. I was driving around a poor area when I noticed a huge pile of garbage facing the parking entrance. I was so curious to know what’s behind that pile and I was shocked to find a “residential area” stacked in what looks like a hole. The place was so poor that even the color of the sky seemed different!
Noor al-Huda was the first person I met there and she invited me to her house. This was the beginning of a long friendship. However, It was only after she told me that she’s afraid of the rain that I thought about making the film.
Once it starts to rain, Noor and her family run to collect their IDs and school bags, ready to evacuate the place. They fear that an electrical short circuit might occur or that the tin ceiling might collapse over their heads! When I heard this I realized that their story has to be turned into a film.

How did you finance your project?

I waited for two years until I got the funding from Al Arabiya Channel; the funding was a result of my participation in a cinema workshop organized by the channel in 2008.
The condition of funding was that the duration of the movie must not exceed 20 minutes. that’s why I asked them to grant me the freedom of reusing what is shot in a longer version of the movie later.
Once I got the funding, I had to convince Noor’s family to shoot the film. Thanks to my strong friendship with Noor and the fact that the movie will not be screened on local channel, they agreed to participate.
Nevertheless, shooting the movie was not easy because Noor’s neighbors didn’t let me shoot outside Noor’s house as they feared it might get them into trouble. Furthermore, by the time I got the funding, the spontaneous, young and innocent Noor I met two years ago grew up to become a woman and she lost a lot of children’s spontaneity in front of the camera.

“Noor-Al-Huda” was a turning point in the family’s life. After less than a year of the film premiere, the family moved to a house and the sick brother started to receive medical treatment, How did that happen?

I received a call from a Qatari man after one day of the film premiere; he donated 100,000 dollars to the family. Two months later I received a call from a man from the royal court of the UAE, He donated a one year house rent, he bought them furniture and promised to buy them a house soon. The third caller transfers a stipend every month, he had also sent them a physical therapy equipment for Noor’s brother.
Now, I am planning to produce longer version of the film to illustrate the changes that occurred in the family ‘s life after moving into a real house and starting a new life.

In your opinion, Can documentary cinema be a tool of social change?

That varies according to the subjects of the films. Maybe making the film was selfish because making Noor’s story public is in a way or another causing her a scandal for the sake of donations that might not happen. I did not personally expect the reaction that the film achieved.
The conditions under which Noor’s family lived is not what motivated me to direct this movie, such houses do exist in Spain, America and other countries. It was Noor and our personal relationship that motivated me the most. I didn’t want her to drop out of school and get married at the age of 16 and become a mother with 4 children when she is 20.
Noor needed, just like many young people, support to achieve what she wants. I wanted her to get out of her hideaway and face her problems. When she accepted to participate in the movie, I asked her why? She replied: “let everyone know that I live here, I can no longer lie and I will not deny my reality anymore” and then she started to sing.

This interview was published in Point of View, DOX BOX international documentary film festival’s gazette.

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