Q&A: Zeina Daccache & 12 Angry Lebanese

الأحد 28 شباط 2010

By Rima Saifi and Maha Amro

Zaina Daccache, or “Abu Ali“ as the inmates of Roumeih prison called her, is an energetic lady in her early thirties, a director from lebanon and a licensed drama therapist who is best known for her role in the satire political TV program “Bass Mat Watan.”

Her film “12 Angry Lebanese – the documentary” recently won the Muhr Al Arab Documentary First Prize award and the People’s Choice at the 6th Annual Dubai International Film Festival.

From "12 Angry Lebanese"

Photo courtesy of Zeina Daccache

“12 Angry Lebanese – the documentary” is a heartwarming story about the making of the theatre piece by the same name. It shows the incredible sequence of events, triumphs, failures and revelations that accompanied Daccache’s Drama therapy project in Roumieh – Lebanon’s most notorious penitentiary, which holds 4000 of the fiercest prisoners including murderers, rapists, drug dealers and Jund al Qaeda – and resulted in the making of the play “12 Angry Lebanese”.

Daccache based her play “12 Angry Lebanese“ on Reginald Rose’s “12 Angry Men” , originally a TV-Play that was also interpreted to a movie starring Henry Fonda in the year 1957 about the story of 11 jurors and how a dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court. The theater guys at Roumieh prison, as the prisoners were called in the documentary, played the role of their judges and deliberated and argued the suspect’s motives and past while talking about their own experiences.

Last month, the Royal Film Commission screened the film in Amman and the screening room was over crowded to the extent that another screening was arranged afterwards to accommodate the huge turn out.

Interview with Zeina Daccache

Photo by Maha Amro

We got together with Zeina Daccache after the screening of “12 Angry Lebanese, the Documentary” in Amman and she was kind enough to give us this following interview:

Us: Tell us who is Zeina Daccache in your own words?
Zeina: I am an Actor, Director and Drama therapist.

Us: Can you tell us more about yourself?
Zeina: I would say I am someone who loves to be with people and help them, but I am a very picky person when it comes to my work.

Us:  Did you always know that you wanted to be an actress?
Zeina: At first I wanted to be a Vet. Growing up; I always had a pet at home.

Us: What made you switch to acting and directing?
Zeina: It was first after watching Federico García Lorcas play “Bernarde Alba”. It wasn’t your usual kind of play; it was serious, and insightful. At that moment I just knew I wanted to be part of that world; that kind of theatre.

Afterwards I finished my BA in Scenic and Dramatic Art, Communication Arts from St. Joseph University Beirut, then I did a year at L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier (International Drama School), London. In June 2001 I worked as a Director of the Drama therapy program at Oum El Nour (NGO for the rehabilitation from drug addiction) even though It wasn’t until 2007 that I got my graduate degree in drama therapy from Kansas State University (USA). And in 2009 I got my MA in clinical psychology Haigazian University, Beirut. During that period, I acted and still act in the TV program “Bass Mat watan” , directed and acted in multiple plays, attended and also organized workshops, seminars and trainings for drug addicts and prison inmates.

zeina Daccache

Photo courtesy of Zeina Daccache

Us: Tell us more about your experience working with the drug addicts.
Zeina: I was 23, most of the drug addicts were looking at me, wondering what I am doing here. They were older men with many wounds from the war and life experiments. It was hard at first but with time I was able to get through and earn their respect and trust.

Us: What made you work in drama therapy?
Zeina: I wanted to work with people who went through a lot in their lives and had something to say. I wanted to offer them the instruments to express themselves.

Us: Did you go through therapy yourself?
Zeina: I always tried to discover myself. But I was best able to analyze myself through my one year at L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier where as students our grades  were used to measure the degree of our openness. You need to know what is your anger, fear, happiness are like to know where it all comes from to be able to teach people how to deal with their feelings.

Us: Is there any comparison between your work in rehab centers and Roumieh prison?
Zeina: One can’t compare between both, the drug addicts are in rehab centers to get therapy so I am not the only therapist there. But in prison I was someone who asked the inmates to take part in a  theatre project. Maybe if we told them it was a therapy no one would’ve participated.

Us: Why did you choose Rose’s “12 Angry Men” to base upon your play?
Zeina: “12 angry men” gives the perfect opportunity for the inmates to play the role of their judges and the community who sent them to prison, and also to talk about their experiences.

Us: What was the process and the criteria in which you chose the cast of “12 Angry Lebanese”?
Zeina: We called out for the inmates to join us in our theatre project. 200 inmates came and then we chose 45 for the project. Afterwards we chose the ones who had at least 5 years left in prison, then we did a lot of psychoanalysis tests and our choice was based on the inmates will, desire and commitment.

Us: During this project what were your hardest moments?
Zeina: The most difficult moments were not during the project. It was before the project’s execution, after we got all the funding and all the allowances needed to start , the July War with Jund al Qaeda began. At that moment we didn’t know when or if there will be an actual implementation at the Prison.

Us: How did you manage to maintain the boundaries between you and the theatre guys?
Zeina: It was amazing, the guys called me “Abu Ali” and considered me one of them.

Us: During the project did you manage to remain detached and professional?
Zeina: It is impossible in this kind work to not let it get to you. But I had a great support team, my mentors online and friends.

Us: What were the most difficult decisions you had to take during the project?
Zeina: It took me two weeks to decide to let “Anwar” one of the theatre guys go… It was important for the project.

Us: When did you feel victory?
Zeina: I have never got the feeling of victory in my life, maybe moments of relief or joy, but they were more like micro seconds; with each success the responsibility grows and I start thinking what is next.

Us: Tell us about your moments of joy?
Zeina: It’s in cases like this when I get to tell the theatre guys back home how impressed the audience and the media were by their performance.

Us: In the documentary the theatre guys said that some cried when the first performance in the play was over. Others were disturbed to get a taste of success for the first time. Can you describe your feelings then?
Zeina: I was just numb. I was too tired to feel anything.

Us: How did the theatre guys react when they first saw the documentary?
Zeina: Some of the funny remarks was “why did this guy get more film time than me?”

Us: How did the theatre guys feel when “12 Angry Lebanese, the Documentary” won the Muhr Al Arab Documentary First Prize award and the People’s Choice at the 6th Annual Dubai International Film Festival?

Zeina (smiling): They just said “Only Dubai? What about Cannes and the Oscars.”

Us:  Do you have a 5 year plan?
Zeina: No, I never had one, I just know what I am doing next and something always come along afterwards.

Us: So what are you doing next?
Zeina: We are still continuing with the drama therapy project at Roumieh and we’ll be working on a new play in the next two months.For the time being, we are submitting the documentary to all festivals, and  looking for distributers for it in the Middle East and Worldwide.

Play and Soundtrack from “12 Angry Lebanese” are now available at Virgin Megastores, Amman. All the proceedings will go to the Project “Drama Therapy in Prison- A New Artistic Platform for Catharsis” – LCDT directed by Zeina Daccache.