By passionately telling his stories through music, film and animation; often combining all three creative mediums in one project, Waël Kabbani (WK) is seeing his award-winning multimedia companies, Iambic Dream Films and Iambic Dream Inc., gathering global momentum. Producing incisive documentary films, Iambic Dream Films has scored accolades by co-producing award winning and critically acclaimed films: ‘We Are Many’, ‘Life Is Sacred’, ‘Open Bethlehem’, ‘Cultivating Murder’, ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’ and ‘What Walaa Wants’.
A regular at international film festivals, Waël’s most recent project, ‘What Walaa Wants’, directed by Christy Garland, was awarded the Directors Guild of Canada’s Special Jury Prize for Canadian Feature Documentary, as well as four other awards. In December 2018, the Toronto International Film Festival named the film to its annual year-end Canada’s Top Ten list.
MOR Speaks to Waël about his journey into film.
MOR: What inspired you to get into film?
WK: I studied English Literature and fell into film. It started with my passion for songwriting, music, storytelling and words. My first music album ‘Identity Crisis: Aliens, Beduins, and Leos’ was a reflection of my struggles to discover who I was as a boy. The album contains everything from ballads, funk, dance and rock to punk, jazz, lounge, and world music. As a result, I created The Iambic Dream Project, a poetic and musical vision that I had based on storytelling. In the process, I produced my first music video that led me to film. I thought I would go on to make a few more music videos, some short films, and eventually a feature film. I never imagined that my music would lead me to documentaries.
MOR: Talk about your first music video Hero Worship?
WK: The music video was based on my childhood in Saudi. I shared a room with my brother, and I made a deal with him that whenever he was in the room, I would take over the bathroom and stay in there forever listening to music, creating an imaginary world with superheroes in the bathtub. In the video, I combined music, film, and animation.
MOR: What inspires you when choosing to get involved in a documentary?
WK: It’s not enough to be passionate about the topic. I’m passionate about Palestine, but the reason I support films like ‘Open Bethlehem’ is because they move me with their strong human story elements and their message. Even our film about the origins of reggae music delves into a moving human story of someone losing their son, and how that loss inspires the father to do something in memory of his loved one. As a storyteller, I’m drawn to stories that touch the heart and resonate with social impact.
MOR: What role does a co-producer play and what have you learned in producing independent films?
WK: As an executive producer, you can either just invest or donate some money to a film and maybe even try to raise some funds for that film or just lend your name to that project and not do anything else, but I’m more hands on and I enjoy the creative process and supporting my fellow filmmakers, giving feedback when asked, or if I see a serious issue, then I will speak out.
During the creation of ‘We Are Many’, a documentary about the largest protest in history, at one point during production, the film lost its focus and delved into many themes that were not directly related to the film. Fortunately, without me having to say anything, the film was brought back to its essence and it was then that I tripled my investment, because I believed and still believe in its potential for vast social impact. Whether I’m a co-executive producer or a co-producer on a film, my job doesn’t end after the film is completed. I promote the film whenever it’s going to be screened somewhere. Because I believe in these films so much, I want as many people to watch them as possible. Working on these documentaries, I’ve learned so much about social issues I was not familiar with, and I believe that audiences do, too.
Change won’t happen overnight, but one voice and one person can make a difference.
MOR: What draws you to produce Palestinian based films?
WK: Many assume I am Palestinian, and I take it as a compliment, but I’m actually a Syrian/Saudi and have never been to Palestine or Israel because I believe in the boycott movement and refuse to go until Palestine is free. I have always been passionate about supporting social impact-related films. I’ve co-produced three Palestinian themed films so far: ‘Open Bethlehem’, ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’ and ‘What Walaa Wants.’
MOR: Your most recent produced film ‘What Walaa Wants’ is very moving. What challenges were faced when this film was being made?
WK: What’s interesting about this documentary is that the director, Christy Garland, doesn’t speak Arabic, making it difficult to communicate with Walaa, her family, and others in the film. Christy worked with an interpreter and visited the West Bank ten times, often having to trust her instincts by observing the body language and tone of voice of Walaa and others to decide what is important to capture on film.
At the age of 8, Walaa Khaled Fawzy Tanji’s mother was sent to an Israeli prison for aiding a suicide bomber. Initially, when Christy asked Walaa if she could make a film about her, the teenager was reluctant, thinking the filmmaker really wanted to make a documentary about her mother, but Christy was able to convince Walaa that she genuinely wanted to tell her story. The film profiles Walaa, a rebellious teenager, who is pursuing a dream of becoming one of the only female officers with the Palestinian National Security Forces, from the age of 15 to 21. Christy’s approach is brilliant, as she, for lack of a better term, almost becomes a fly on the wall. In other words, you completely forget that she and her camera are there. Her passion and persistence are inspiring.
MOR: What do you hope your audience will feel after watching the documentaries you produced?
WK: No matter what our circumstances are, whether it be living under occupation, campaigning against the construction of an illegal wall, demonstrating for peace, or dealing with personal challenges, we can be resilient and we can achieve our goals and dreams. Many of us live with first world problems and when we see people achieving great things despite their challenging situations, it is so inspiring. When I spoke with Walaa for the first time, I was moved and impressed by her confidence and attitude, especially considering how difficult her life has been and continues to be under occupation.
MOR: What does the future hold for Iambic Dream?
WK: I have lots of plans for Iambic Dream Films and Iambic Dream Inc. Among them, I hope to release at least eight more of our films. Currently in production are ‘Medicine Man: The Stan Brock Story’, a tale of a wildlife TV star who sacrificed both fame and wealth to bring free healthcare to ordinary Americans, ‘Studio 17 – The Lost Reggae Tapes’, a film that reveals the origins of Jamaican recorded music and the birth of reggae, and “Coup 53” which is about how the US government interfered with the democratic elections in Iran in 1953. Others are ‘Our President’, ‘Appy Allan’, ‘Who’s Afraid of Lynne Stewart?’ and films about the very talented Hollie Stephenson and Shirley Clarke. I’m excited about all of them. Last but not least, I plan on releasing a colouring book featuring my superheroes for refugee children, plus my next music album. Creativity is powerful and it continues to shape my ideals to raise consciousness by moving hearts and changing minds.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.