How Lebanese director Wassim Geagea's early heartache inspired his debut short film

Geagea's short 'Ome' will screen at two festivals this week

Wassim Geagea was only four when his mother died – and this tragic event is the subject of his first short film.

Ome (My Mother) tackles the themes of bereavement and faith from the perspective of a young boy.

It revolves around a nine-year-old boy who loses his mother and goes to extreme lengths to bring her back from Heaven.

"From as early as four years old, I had a lot of questions in relation to death and where we go after we die," Geagea tells The National. "All the questions that Elias, the main character, asks were questions I asked myself as a child."

Ome had its world premiere at El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt, where it won the Silver Star for Best Short Film. It has had a strong film festival run ever since. It was also named Best Fiction Short at Tampere Film Festival in Finland.

This week, the short will show at two international film festivals – Palm Springs International ShortFest in California and Huesca International Film Festival in Spain, which are taking place remotely due to the coronavirus.

“I would have loved to go to Palm Springs for my film, but I think it’s our luck this year,” Geagea says, who remains thankful the film has been selected to be part of the largest film festival for shorts in the US.

But before the lockdown, Geagea did travel with the film to a few places, including the UAE, where it was screened at the opening of the Original Narrative Film Festival at the American University in Dubai last year.

"There were so many producers from Hollywood and after the screening they came and talked to me about the film, like the producer of The King's Speech, and the writer of Jane The Virgin," he says.

“It made me think that I wish if we, the youth in Lebanon, had that option that exists abroad we would have been able to really excel. We have the talent, but we don’t have an instruction to keep us going.”

Geagea’s film took 18 months to make from start to finish, which was not an easy task for the director, 31. He says funding remains one of the biggest challenges facing filmmakers today. Most of his crew and actors even worked almost without pay on set for nine days, he says.

“Filmmaking seems to be different from say television shows in the Arab world, where you see broadcasters and production companies have a budget for a show, and so many people working on it. You don’t see that kind of instruction in the filmmaking world here yet,” he says.

But despite these challenges, Geagea remains passionate about the work that he does and finds his home country an inspiration for storytelling.

“The reality of the people living here is a hard reality that you almost can’t believe it exists, but that’s what makes it rich for someone passionate about cinema,” he says. “You want to try and tell these stories in some way.”

Geagea hopes that Ome's success will open doors for him to continue filmmaking in the future.