“I think sometimes we turn our heads and close our eyes because it’s too big a problem and we feel helpless.”

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki was one of the big winners from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but she’s got her eye on social change rather than personal success.

Caphernaum is Labaki’s third feature film. It tells the story of 12-year-old Zain, a Beirut boy who sues his parents for bringing him into the world.

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As she tells The National, Labaki’s film aims to bring the world’s attention to children who are born into poverty, with no documents and little hope. Plaudits for Caphernaum really belong to the street children whose stories it tells, she says.

“It’s a win for all the people who are in the film, with their lives, all their sufferings and the problems they’ve been through… Really, everyone in the film is expressing their own situation and for me that’s the most significant victory,” Labaki tells the paper.

“A few days ago these people didn’t exist, literally. Most of them don’t even have papers to prove their existence, so all of a sudden to shed light on them and their situation, everybody’s talking about them and recognising their talents, that’s a huge achievement.”

Here’s a clip from the film:

The eyes of the world are on the Middle East right now, Labaki says, and filmmakers need to advocate for the most vulnerable in society.

“I think when you come from this part of the world you feel a certain responsibility because of where you come from, and you need to express yourself as an artist not just a filmmaker, and art cannot be dissociated from politics,” she tells The National.

“We need art to help us think about all this. So it’s only normal that films from this part of the world are very interested in this sphere. We’re really on the map at the moment.”

“I want it to become more than just a film. I think sometimes we turn our heads and close our eyes because it’s too big a problem and we feel helpless, and I hope this film can be the start of a change to that.”

Caphernaum won the Jury Prize at Cannes, with Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters taking the Palme d’Or and  Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman winning the second place prize.

Labaki’s film received a 15-minute standing ovation on its premier.

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Images: Getty