Meet up with Cannes Winner Ely Dagher

When we looked through the list of directors who made it into the cut of 15 short films nominated for the Palme D’Or, one talent in particular stood out to us. His name is Ely Dagher and he isn’t just a director. He’s animator, graphic designer, installation and multi-media artist. He’s one of those creatives that has his hands in everything, and manages to weave them together seamlessly.

In layman’s terms, he’s that kid in art school that everyone secretly resented for being good at everything. It’s not surprise to anyone who knows Ely’s talent that he won the Palme d’Or for Waves98′. It was project whose every aspect he oversaw from start to finish, and in the most creatively involved way possible-old school animation.

And the craziest part of his win? After working on the film for 2 years, he finished it mere days before the Cannes submission deadline and was accepted out of the 4,550 applicants from our of 100 countries. And then he won the Palme. Insane right?

We met Ely at Cannes on a bright sunny day at La Plage du Majestic (literally on the beach), in probably one of our favourite interview spots to date. And the blue skies and glitz of Cannes couldn’t have been a starker contrast to the smoke covered, dilapidating city of Beirut depicted in his surrealist film.

Ely is everything we love at Creative Mapping. He doesn’t confirm to one specific creative label, he’s unique, international, surrealist, edgy, different, niche, uber talented and a creative entrepreneur.

Check out his work, with the Palme to his name, you’ll definitely be hearing big things from him soon.

WAVES'98 Trailer
WAVES'98 Trailer

WAVES'98 Trailer

15' minutes Directed by Ely Dagher

The short film premieres between 13-24 May in Cannes.

Waves ’98 is as much a narrative film as it is a personal visual essay dedicated to Dagher’s hometown, Beirut.
The film is an artistic exploration of the director’s current relation with his Lebanon, his home country, projected through the story of a teenager and set in 1998. Since moving abroad to study and work, Ely Dagher has been spending more and more time outside of Lebanon, and his attachment to Beirut Started to become more and more complicated. The overall Narrative of the film is heavily based on Ely’s efforts to understand his changing relationship with the city and it’s life, juxtaposed with the narrative of a teenager’s exciting discovery of this segregated city.
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“I wanted it to go out to people; for people to see it. What’s the point otherwise? At some point it had a life of its own, it wasn’t my film anymore, it was a film.” Ely Dagher


CM: Did you always know that you wanted to pursue directing? Were you drawn to animation first?
No actually, it was directing. At the same time, I used to draw a lot when I was younger, but then since the film industry is really small and Lebanon, until recently I was very discouraged, so then I went to the advertising for design for illustration, for animation, just kind of find my way back to directing. I thought that was not the right path that I found myself coming back to it because it was the only thing I was really passionate about. It has been filmmaking since the beginning.

CM: What’s the common thread that ties all your work together?
I did a lot of research on Beirut. The city itself inspires me a lot as a landscape, history, and the memory of it because so many things happened there and are still happening. It is very rich in that sense, so I build the film on these ideas of identity and the archive and all those things that take place in the image of the city.

CM: The film was inspired by this divide–you living between Beirut and Brussels–was the film therapeutic?
It was actually. I started working on the film production and during the first year I did not have an ending, because I needed to figure out what my point of view on the thing was, and I only realised that halfway through the film. That’s when the ending came back to some kind of resolution.

CM: Did it help?
It definitely helped. I am at peace now.

CM: Where do you spend most of your time?
It’s almost half half which is a good thing at the beginning because you don’t really feel like you’re home anywhere, which is also why I did the film.

CM: Was everything carefully planned out during production?
When you work with an animation base, you always have to work on editing before you actually start production. You have the basic structure and you have to develop it quite far enough ahead, before you actually start animating and building the scenes.

You have to otherwise it sort of goes in all directions he goes everywhere.

CM: Are you ever interested in doing a live action film?

I also worked on some music videos which are also live-action. I am interested in both.  I wrote this script before actually deciding. Usually people think ‘I’m going to do a feature film or I’m going to do a short film,’ but for me I just wrote the story out of the personal need and then I took it from there. And the story sort of fit better as an animation because of all the surreal elements it had and it just made more sense to go that route.

CM: Is surrealism something that plays and get all your work?

“There are always ways to do your own movie. For low budgets, no producers; just as long as you have a good idea, good content then you can get that message across.” Ely Dagher

CM: Can you tell us more about your installation art?
My latest because entitled Holiday Inn Apologue. And it was basically the holiday hotel in Beirut which is a really big war monument from the 70’s and it was set to be demolished because in Beirut they demolish everything that depicts what has happened in the past, and we still haven’t learned everything from what has happened, and for me it was very important to keep that building as a monument for the history of the war. So I did this installation that was sort of an intervention on that, to show how important it is. I interviewed a lot of fighters who fought during the war at the hotel, and then I built a narrative, which is a fictitious surrealist narrative based on the actual events that happened, and which play with the idea of what is fiction, how do you build an archive if you don’t have the physical remnants of what happened because everything gets distorted with time.

CM: How did you find funding for your film? You had mentioned that it was difficult in the  Lebanon. 
There is very limited funding and Lebanon, that’s the thing. But there are a few organizations that are beginning to fund films, more and more as of recently so I applied for AFAC (Art Films for Arts and Culture) and they had a really good selection that year and are getting bigger. So they allowed me to actually start production on the film. One year I needed some extra funding to finish it, and that was [another] institute that helped me with the post production.

CM: What was the process of getting into cannes like?
I finished the film at the end of February and the deadline was 3 March. I applied maybe three days before just on my own because I produced it myself too so I was in charge of all these things–the festival strategy and all of that–and then a month later I was selected, it was a simple as that.

CM: Was it difficult letting them go from the studio into the public in such a raw way?
Actually no. Maybe that’s weird but but maybe because I always worked so hard on it and so long I felt like it was ready to just go out, and I wanted it to go out to people; for people to see it. What’s the point otherwise? At some point it had a life of its own, it wasn’t my film anymore, it was a film.

CM: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmaker’s?
If they have difficulty finding funding or a producer, then find ways to do it themselves. There are always ways to do your own movie. For low budgets, no producers; just as long as you have a good idea, good content then you can get that message across.