Ten years ago, Lebanese director Karim Kassem thought of an idea that has finally come to fruition in his first feature film that’s making its way to international festivals this year.
Born in Beirut, Kassem works between Lebanon and the United States. Starting with a deep interest in music, Kassem’s passion transitioned to photography and filmmaking during a trip to Indonesia.
He has worked on music videos, films, and commercials, and was featured in several magazines. Since moving to New York in 2012, he has made eight short films and completed work on his first feature film Only The Winds in the fall of 2019.
Inspired by personal experience, Only The Winds takes the viewer on a journey of questioning reality and how we experience the world with our senses.
“Can you make a film within a film?”
The film revolves around a Lebanese filmmaker (Karim) who travels from New York to Beirut to conduct research for a film that he wants to make about blind children in the Lebanese School For The Blind And Deaf.
But before being able to visit the school, Karim must undergo treatment for a condition that had been affecting his eyes. The surgery temporarily blinds him with patches covering his eyes, serving as a prelude to his research.
Once healed, “the filmmaker then begins to visit the blind institute where he will conduct his research and attempts to cast someone to play himself in parallel, which doesn’t go as planned,” reads the film’s synopsis.
“Little does the institute know that Karim has no treatment to pitch but continues to visit the classrooms and attend in order to find his characters,” it adds.
Employing a cast of non-actors, documenting true experiences of the filmmaker, and with the Lebanese Revolution in the backdrop, the feature film tends to feel like an autobiographical film or documentary at times, blurring the line between what is real and what isn’t.
“In films like this, some characters can’t be taken too literally… [a character] can sort of feel like a dream-like character that is a metaphor for something else that is interconnected in that mental process with other people, or other minds,” Kassem told The961.
Lebanese School For The Blind And Deaf
In the world of film where there are few to no actors who are visually impaired, this film stands out. At the center of Only The Winds is charming Lyne, a young blind girl with big dreams of being in a film that will change her reality.
In an informal way, the film sheds needed light on the students in the Lebanese School For The Blind And Deaf as well as portrays the Lebanese institution’s excellent work, raising awareness about visually impaired people in Lebanon.
Speaking to The961, Kassem’s assistant director Nadia Hassan said, “The experience was extremely enriching for me. In its own way, the film challenges society’s perception of the blind and their marginalization, and asks ‘who has more vision?'”
Finally, what ties the movie together is the wind, explains Kassem, which is something that is felt and not seen with both sighted and non-sighted people can relate to.
Only The Winds is world premiering at Visions du Réel 2021 in Switzerland this April and selected for the 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021 where it will screen in June.
This summer Kassem is set to release his second feature film, Octopus, which was inspired by the harrowing Beirut blast and revolves around its aftermath.