After Cannes, I am lying floppy-limbed on my aunt’s sofa in Jeddah. I don’t want to move or think and I am craving all sorts of sugary things that I shouldn’t be eating.
It took me a while to understand what this trip was about. It was many things. First it was Cannes. The festival is a gigantic wonderland for filmmakers, cinema buffs and celebrities. It’s also the pinnacle of prestige and glory. Climbing the red staircase at the red carpet is a big deal, people! And historical things happened on the red carpet this year. Second, it was a tour to represent Saudi Arabia as a newcomer into the cinematic arena, I being one of the filmmakers. Third, it was an attempt to experience the French Riviera in a fully sensual way under a big golden sun by a big blue sea. This didn’t pan out, though, I should say at the outset, because the first two things stole all of my energy and left me somewhat depleted.
There was a Hollywood party in honor of John Travolta and his extensive career. I was invited. I received a lottery ticket to a gala premiere of an Iranian film on the red carpet. I went in full gala attire and had a beehive of paparazzi in my face (apparently you don’t have to be a celebrity to have the paparazzi in your face). There were reporters and journalists from all over the world lining up to speak to us, the filmmakers, who were once obscure to the rest of the world. Most importantly, the government wanted to display Saudi talents to the international film market and we were the faces of the new cinema wave. I was getting considerable exposure.
I will pause here. In film language, imagine the film strip squeaking to a halt. All of this, as exciting and new as it was, brought with it a myriad of struggles. The inner world VS. the outer world. Speaking your truth VS. saying what they want to hear (or not saying anything at all). Self-care and boundaries VS. losing yourself in the program and in how the crowd wants you to be.
Every morning, the regime was: tinted moisturizer, bronze powder, crème blush, eyeliner, mascara, nude lipstick and the business chic outfit of the day. Every morning, there was the debate between meditating in stillness or rushing off to breakfast, the debate between comfortable shoes or heels, the debate between relaxing into the pleasurable feminine or standing on top of the tower of the masculine go-getter. Every morning and evening for a week, I built my façade and walled in my inner world. While that might have been what was needed for that short period of time, it was truly exhausting because I was very aware of preparing myself for some kind of voyuer whether it was a reporter, my peers, producers, government reps, or the paparazzi at the red carpet.
I realized that I am generally slow, like the tide. I follow the ebb and flow of my creativity and have been doing so for the past few years. While this support from the government was wonderful, especially since we've been working mostly in the dark, the pressure to make THE NEXT BIG THING NOW was mounting. I found myself sharing tentative film projects with reporters because they needed to hear something. There it was again, the façade.
“What is your next project?” they asked.
The answer is: I don’t know. I have ideas but I don’t know. I'm having a hard time being who you want me to be right now, which is a film-producing steam engine that never runs out of energy and has all its projects lined up and scheduled for the next five years. Even though I had just completed a film, I found myself giving in to this demand, yielding just a little here and there to the pressure.
My film had a major glitch when it screened. A big chunk of the music was dropped which made the sound experience in the film awkward and clunky (something I'm still investigating). I put my head between my knees in the middle of the screening and cried. When I came out of the screening and people asked me how it went. I had already dried my tears. With a big smile _
“It went great!” Another façade.
As we near the end of this post, I’m looping you back to the John Travolta party, a cinematic trick. I watched this seasoned actor standing on stage with a ruffled tuxedo, thanking everyone for being there to honor his career. His hair had grayed considerably but his voice remained as soft and coaxing as we know it. The face that was once innocent and blooming like a blue-eyed peony was now dusted and hardened with age. After having seen a reel of his life’s work, I watched Mr. Travolta as he thanked his wife and kids for being by his side on his new film Gotti. I drifted off in the middle of this speech. How many facades has this man had to put up in his life? For the media? For Hollywood? For the camera? Has he had to put them up for his family and friends? Has he had to put them up for himself? Because there might have been many layers, many facades, I wanted to know him better. Not because he was John Travolta, per se, but because the truth of this man must have been cloistered within himself where only few eyes could see it, in certain conditions, in certain qualities of silence.
This was a signal for me to return home and find the truth of myself again beneath all the facades I had been busy putting up furiously all week. I missed myself! I missed being barefoot and make-up free. I missed being a tenant in my own creative estate where there are no reporters, or producers, or buyers, or hecklers or voyeurs of any kind.
While I had not seen much of Cannes, I was glad to return home, hoping that the French Riviera would invite me again for a different sort of experience: the pleasure of food and sunlight and joi de vivre. And maybe in my next round of festivals, I can better balance my inner and outer world, apply self-care even in a busy schedule, and learn to walk the tight-rope of truth-telling and remaining graceful when exposed to a crowd.