DIFF MEETS: Myrna Maakaron

Wed Sep 25,2013

Myrna Maakaron has the thoroughly enviable task of being our Cinema for Children programmer, a job that involves her unleashing her inner kid to pick out the animations and dramas that will keep Dubai’s youngsters (and sometimes adults) entertained. We caught up with her in Berlin.

You’ve been looking after the Cinema for Children programme for some years now, haven’t you?

Since the beginning. Actually, I was invited the first year with a film I did, a short documentary called Berlin Beirut. I’m from Lebanon, but I became German and now live in Berlin. Growing up in Lebanon I never had any chance to watch any children’s films except Disney, but being in Germany I was able to watch wonderful children’s films from all over the world. So I talked to the management of DIFF at the time and told them to maybe take bit of their budget and screen one or two children’s films to open up this world to Arab children. At first they didn’t take it so seriously. But the biggest audience in the world is always children. The third year they really took it to heart and talked to me and looked for people to do it. I didn’t really want to do it at first; I was just there to support them. But then they asked me. It’s great now as I don’t even have to chase the films, they all send them to me.

The children’s programme appears to be growing each year

People definitely know about it now and really look forward to it. The thing I sadly didn’t succeed to do was to have more films showing, it’s still five. But this is already good, I should not complain!

Last year the Hindi film Gattu was a huge audience success, with 3,000 children packing the cinema. Was it nice to see such a film go down so well?

Absolutely - I usually favour these films. I do take one or two big studio titles, but I always think the kids are going to see these anyway. Gattu had no chance of going in the cinema, or at least if it did go nobody would see it as it wouldn’t get any proper marketing. So these films are really the kind I try to push for. The children loved it. They could identify with this little boy. They were all very quiet and asked questions. The only accident was that I fell off the stage. My leg was broken about three years ago, but I fell on it and it became blue and red. I went to the hospital and was on crutches for the rest of the festival. It was quite an experience.

Oh dear! Broken legs aside, are there any highlights from DIFF over the years?

It’s really just nice to see the children’s faces on discovering these films, especially when you have the filmmakers there. It’s very special because they meet the people and talk to them. I remember that Brendan Fraser came one time and he was so sweet and went down on his knees so he was at their level and spoke to them. This was quite special. And when you have a child actor, it’s really wonderful. One year we had Vicky The Viking, the first 3D film from Germany. The boy from the film came and the children were very very happy. Last year we had Ernest & Celestine, and the animator drew at least 30 or 40 little bears for the kids. He stayed for over one hour in the theatre.

Now you’re something of an expert on the subject, have you noticed any trends over the years?

Actually, yes. You have years where you only have girls as lead actors, it’s quite interesting. Last year it was mainly boys. Sometimes you have a lot of subjects about divorcing parents and how the kids deal with it and try to bring them back together. There are also these films where children play as adults. It’s sometimes quite difficult, because the filmmakers make films not from the point of view of the child, so create very difficult scenes. Not all children’s films are actually for children. Sometimes they make a film with children in it and call it a children’s film. But it’s not for children, it’s more for adults. You’ve got to read between the lines, and think of the culture as well.

Do you have children yourself?

Yes, a girl aged seven and a boy who’s three and a half. With my daughter, I sit and watch with her and see when she gets bored or doesn’t follow the film. I watch her watching. Masoud [Amralla Ali Ali – DIFF’s Artistic Director] has three children and we usually test films together with our kids.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to this year?

We’re really hoping to have two galas, because the festival is happening over two weekends. I’m really hoping this happens, but haven’t had approval yet.

On top of helping programme DIFF, we understand you’re also putting together your own feature film.

I’m actually working on several projects. There’s a feature film, a love story. I’ve been working on it for several years but I’ve had children and changed producers so it’s taking a bit of time. The documentary I’m working on involves Lebanon and Germany. We’re securing producers so I can’t really say any more. But we are doing it in 3D, as an independent film for the cinema. It could possibly be the first Arab film made in 3D, but I’m not sure, I have to check.

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