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Director Meryam Joobeur’s Who do I Belong To premieres at Berlinale

In first feature film, the Mel Hoppenheim grad builds on themes first explored in Oscar-nominated short, Brotherhood
May 2, 2024
By Richard Burnett, BA 88

Portrait of an individual with dark hair pulled back, wearing a black top and mustard yellow scarf, looking intently at the camera against a textured stone background. “Finding the essence of who you are is a life journey we all go through,” says filmmaker Meryam Joobeur.

Filmmaker Meryam Joobeur, BFA 13, is thrilled that her debut feature, Who Do I Belong To, premiered at the 74th Berlinale film festival in late February, ahead of the much-anticipated film’s 2024 release.

“This has been a massive journey,” says the Montreal-based Tunisian-Canadian director. “As filmmakers will tell you, there’s always this moment of transition. I went to the Berlinale in 2016 in their talent program for young emerging filmmakers, and now it’s pretty surreal to return with my first feature film in competition. It’s a huge honour and I’m still processing the emotions.”

Written and directed by Joobeur, Who Do I Belong To is a French, Canadian and Tunisian co-production whose original working title was Motherhood. The drama was inspired by Brotherhood, Joobeur’s Oscar-nominated 2018 short, which screened at more than 150 festivals and won 75 international prizes, including Best Canadian Short at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

When Who Do I Belong To went into development, Joobeur won the $10,000 Sundance Institute / NHK Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, then won a 30,000-euro post-production grant in the Atlas Workshops program at the Marrakech International Film Festival in November 2023.

“The film builds on themes director Joobeur explored in Brotherhood, once again tracking family tensions when a young ISIS combatant returns to his Tunisian home,” reported Variety. “With her feature debut, Joobeur (now explores) the story through a lens of maternal guilt, incorporating touches of magical realism and psychological horror for good measure.”

Joobeur says she changed the film’s title during editing because she realized its core question is, ‘Who does my life belong to?’

“The central characters grapple with this question and the title Who Do I Belong To captures the greater scope of the film,” she explains. “It’s a universal question. How do we relate to the world, to expectations from society and family, and to labels that are placed on us? Finding the essence of who you are is a life journey we all go through.”

‘Everything around us is a story’

Joobeur believes in the power of storytelling and says she hopes her films capture the beauty, complexity and universal nature of the human condition. 

“As I reflected on this more, I realized everything around us is a story,” Joobeur says. “The story you tell yourself [about yourself] can outline the way your life will proceed. So the transformative power of storytelling is when you start telling yourself a different narrative. And in the case of the films I make — specifically this film — it gives a complex and nuanced vision of family, one that happens to be Muslim.”

An alumna of TIFF’s Filmmaker Lab, Med Film Factory, Rawi Screenwriters Lab, Berlinale Talents Labs and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, Joobeur says her studies at Concordia’s renowned Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema also helped shape her career.

“It was an amazing time!” Joobeur says. “I collaborated with so many incredibly talented students at Concordia, including Vincent Gonneville, who is the cinematographer on this film.”

Joobeur points out that her parents also supported her film career from the very beginning. “I could not have done my first independent low-budget feature without them,” Joobeur says. “They attended the Oscars when I was nominated, and the Berlinale for the premiere of Who Do I Belong To. This is also meaningful for them, and that makes me very happy.”

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