Director Mounia Akl, 32, is paving her way through Arabic cinema while wearing the heart of Lebanon on her sleeve. She has made her debut into the industry with her first feature film Costa Brava, Lebanon which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2021 and was recently showcased in Dubai’s Cinema Akil.
The film portrays a couple (Nadine Labaki and Saleh Bakri) who leave the toxic pollution of their home in Beirut, but come to find that it follows them to the pristine home they built in the mountains. Inspiration for the mountain setting sparked from Akl’s time in nature. “A lot of my childhood memories are set in that landscape, but I also associate a garden and nature with a place to go to when you are escaping. During the war, that was a sort of escape – somehow, the garden and nature became a bubble of denial, and that’s what I wanted to explore with the film.”
Through a Zoom interview, Akl described how the garbage crisis in 2015 in Lebanon was featured in Costa Brava, Lebanon. The movie represented a way that corruption can encroach on the lives of human beings. “I wanted to talk about family. To see how we react to things like that and show how the political context can destroy human beings till they just can’t exist as human beings anymore.”
One of Akl’s most gratifying experiences was working with twins Ceana and Geana Restom, who both play “Rim” in Costa Brava, Lebanon.“I was unwell after the Beirut explosion (on August 4 2020), it was a time when the mental health of the Lebanese people was very fragile,” she says. “People had died, the country was falling apart, and we knew that no one was going to be held accountable, but they made me feel alive and hopeful in a moment where I was not hopeful at all.”
Because of the lack of funds in Lebanon, Akl had to rely on other countries. “Our French producer was submitting every time to our French funds,” she says. “Our Danish producer to the Danish funds, and so on.” The shoot took a total of 36 days with an additional four months for editing, taking five years to actually take off. “I think the worst thing is the weight for finance and other people deciding your destiny. I wish we could just do our thing, but like for everything in life, you need to struggle.”
Akl’s advice to filmmakers:
“It’s a competitive industry – work with people who can teach you something to raise you higher, but also be loyal to those who started with you, because you would’ve been nothing without them. Try to really go for what hurts and write about that, because the things that have hurt you and your strongest aches are what make you different. Ask yourself, what is a story I can tell that no one else can?”
Akl is currently working on two feature films and one TV show.
In 2022, Akl continues to develop new projects between Beirut, Paris and Los Angeles where she was recently a Ted Talks Women’s speaker.