19 October, 2021

The Humanitarian Collective

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NARRATIVE: My Upbringing and My Plans for the Film Industry

My name is Seyf Naman and I am a student at the International School of Geneva, locally known by students, friends and family as Campus Des Nations. Originally, I am from the Middle East. My father is from Kuwait, a small Gulf nation, and my mother is from Lebanon, but was born in London and lived her entire life in Europe. Despite being from the Middle East, my family and I never lived there. I was born in Paris in 2002, and moved to Switzerland when I was six. After spending 12 years in Geneva, I can proudly say that it is my hometown. 

Growing up, my parents gave my younger sister Lulwa and I a mixture of both European and Middle Eastern cultures. I had the privilege of visiting many towns and cities in Europe, including Athens, Barcelona and London. I also visited family in the Middle East, including my mother’s family in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, in addition to visiting my father’s family in Kuwait. In spite of these visits, there are times that I feel as if I am separated from my Middle Eastern background. 

One reason for this is the fact that I am a Christian in the largely Muslim-dominated Middle East, on top of never having learned Arabic. In 2011, I was diagnosed with ADD, which made it difficult for me to learn new languages. My parents prioritized English, considering that it is one of the most-used languages in the world. 

However, the final and perhaps the most significant reason is that I never lived in the Middle East. 

In recent years, the Middle East has unfortunately been under several hardships including the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, the major tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the long-standing conflict between the Arab world and Israel. And now most prominently, the civil unrest that has continuously plagued Lebanon, with the Lebanese people rebelling against corruption within the government. The Middle East is not per say the most peaceful place on earth. Whilst it is an absolute gem in my eyes and I love the history and culture, it is not a place where I see myself living. 

Living in Switzerland for nearly my entire life, I feel that I am a valued member of the International School of Geneva, contributing to social and cultural events as well as to academic life. I am lucky to be a part of  both the Swiss culture and the International one. Geneva is unique in that it is home to students from all around the world, due to their parent’s occupations with the several international organizations, including the United Nations, WIPO, WHO, ILO, and embassies of over 100 countries. My closest friends come from a diverse array of nations including England, Italy, India, and Spain. This enables me to learn more about the world that we live in. 

One of my close friends, who is from London, taught me more about what it is like to live in England. Whilst I grew up visiting London and staying in hotels in High Street Kensington, he grew up living in Essex, a small region in the Northeastern part of London near the small town of Chelmsford. Learning about life in other nations from him and my other friends has made me particularly thankful to be in the environment that I am in. 

In addition to learning much about the world from my friends at school, I am happy to have family members who have grown up in Switzerland their entire lives, and have all studied and worked in Geneva to this day. 

Another aspect of living in Geneva that I truly appreciate is that it has enabled me to learn more about the profession I want to pursue in the future: filmmaking. Ever since I was young, I had always been fascinated by many Hollywood movies. Some that stuck with me throughout my childhood include Airplane!, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Elf, Down Periscope, and Home Alone. I also admired films like the Iron Giant and the Mission Impossible trilogy, due to their incredible cinematic style. 

I first embraced filmmaking when I starred in a short movie, in which I got to direct some scenes. In the spring and summer of 2018, I created my first short film: The Assassination. The movie was about assassinating a ruthless dictator planning to unleash nuclear bombs across the entire world, in which special agents from the French government were sent to kill him. The film was created originally for a major film festival which was cancelled; the movie was never publicly viewed. In the aftermath of the situation, I thought that filmmaking was not right for me. However, that changed when I began work on my second film. I decided that I couldn’t let a hurdle prevent me from pursuing my passions. 

I wanted to make movies for a living. 

Being an Arab in the film industry has set me aside from other filmmakers, since the Middle East is not particularly known for it’s cinema (except in Egypt). The common stereotypes I’ve come to know are more about Middle Easterners being doctors or major oil tycoons, while nationalities I feel are more commonly known for filmmaking are Americans, Brits, Italians, French, and Indians. However, there are several other nationalities that are somewhat lesser known for filmmaking, but still with incredible cinematic productions such as South Africans, Nigerians, and Swedes. 

One of my ambitions for the future is to further diversify the film industry and promote more international films. I have even thought about creating a movement to help the Middle East rebuild – not from foreign aid but through cinema. I have become inspired to do this as a result of several ongoing problems in the Middle East- all of which can be portrayed through cinema. I hope for this to be my positive contribution to the region. However, this motivation to make a change through my passions did not occur suddenly. 

The figure that most inspires me is Roberto Rosselini. Rosselini was a major Italian film director from Rome. During the second world war, Rosselini did his best to stick to filmmaking, and in the last of the Nazi occupation of Rome, he created Rome, Open City, also known as La Citta Aperta. In this film,  Rosselini gives the idea of Italy breaking free of over twenty years of facist rule, and highlights the injustices of the Nazi occupation. This prompted Italian Neo-realism, a movement which inspired not only freedom, but the idea of independent filmmaking. This is a concept which is still used to this day, and has inspired countless directors and filmmakers including the great Martin Scorsese. 

Yet, I owe this awareness to my film teacher at the international school, who allowed me to further learn about the movement and the great film. 

In the future, I aim to be a great hollywood director and screenwriter. In the coming months, I will be applying to film schools in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and I am currently working on my next film which will be released in July 2021. Unfortunately, I will soon have to say goodbye to my hometown so that I can go on and see the world, and achieve my dreams of Middle Eastern inclusion in the film industry

In 70 years from now, I hope to look back on life and reflect on the great amount of work that I have created. My message to my other fellow filmmakers around the world is to simply keep making films. There are times when filmmakers can feel upset about employment in the film industry, with the great competition and tough job market. However, we have the skills to highlight the biggest problems facing the globe, and the ability to portray and spread awareness of the problems in our own home countries. I am thankful for the times that I have had in my hometown, and I will always be grateful for the things that it has taught me about myself.

I will be sure to have Geneva in my heart as I aim for my dreams.

The article above is an opinion piece reflecting the opinion of the writer but does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Humanitarian Collective, its Editorial Board, opinion editors, constituents, or sponsors.

My name is Seyf Naman and I am currently 18 years old and living in Geneva, Switzerland, a small town which borders France. In September, I will be entering my senior year at the international school of Geneva. Some of my interests included filmmaking, basketball, and theatre, and I plan to go off to film school in the near future.