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‘This journey has been surreal’: Concordia grad nabs an Oscar nomination

Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood won a top prize at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival
February 3, 2020
Meryam Joobeur: "The film was my way of reconnecting with my roots." | All images courtesy of Meryam Joobeur
Meryam Joobeur: "The film was my way of reconnecting with my roots." | All images courtesy of the artist

Suffice it to say that Meryam Joobeur, BFA 13, is thrilled to be up for Best Live Action Short Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, which will be televised live on Sunday, February 9, at 8 p.m. EST.

The honour marks a culmination for the Tunisian-Canadian director, whose film Brotherhood has already won more than 60 awards in 48 countries, including Best Canadian Short at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

“This journey has been surreal,” says the Montreal-based graduate of Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.

Joobeur recently sat down to talk about her Oscar-nominated film, her career and her time at Concordia.

‘My love for filmmaking was nurtured most at Concordia’

How did your love of filmmaking come about?

Meryam Joobeur: I discovered filmmaking in high school, where I took a video class. I learned to use a camera. I loved the medium, how it is an intersection of storytelling, history and technology. I had to follow my dream, which is why I became a Concordia student in film production. My love for filmmaking was nurtured most at Concordia.

How did you make your film Brotherhood?

MB: The interesting thing about Brotherhood is everything happened in a serendipitous way. The origin of the story is in 2016 I went to Tunisia — my country of origin — to reconnect with my roots.

I did a road trip with another Concordia student, cinematographer Vincent Gonneville, and on the side of a road we discovered two red-headed shepherd boys who ended up being in the film. We wanted to take photos of them because their faces were so unique and striking, but they said no.

But we learned that many men from the area had gone to Syria, so I wrote a script about a son of a family of shepherds who returns home from Syria, and about his relationship with his father. A year and a half later, Vincent and I went back looking for those same two boys and were happy to discover they had a younger brother — I had also actually written that in the script — and I convinced them to act in my film.

Still from Meryam Joobeur's film, Brotherhood. Still from Meryam Joobeur's film, Brotherhood.

How did you react when your film was nominated for an Oscar?

I really wanted the moment to feel special, even if we weren’t nominated. The producer and I invited everybody from the team, my family, aunts and uncles. We were watching the livestream and when Brotherhood was nominated, we all started screaming like crazy! It was a really joyful moment, especially to see the reactions of [my loved ones].

Filmgoers and film critics have loved Brotherhood. How would you describe the journey?

It’s interesting because the film was my way of reconnecting with my roots. I really set no expectations for the film, no goals for festivals. I just wanted to gather people that I love to create this passion project. If anything, I feel that’s the biggest lesson: if it comes from the heart, it will resonate with audiences.

You’re now developing a feature film called Motherhood.

What I can tell you is I want to make a feature film inspired by Brotherhood. I think there is a lot more to explore, and I want to give the subject matter a different perspective in the feature film. I will be working with the same team of actors.

Do you think it was it more difficult to break into the film business as a woman?

That’s an interesting question, but to tell you the truth, I never felt that. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I never saw being a woman as a disadvantage. I think being who I am — being confident — allowed me to connect with amazing collaborators.

I feel very proud that I can represent what is possible, not just for women, but for guys, for African filmmakers, Arab filmmakers.

Who were your role models?

The first filmmaker who introduced me to auteur cinema was Gus Van Sant. As a teenager I had only been exposed to your usual mainstream Hollywood films. His films were the first to show me you could approach filmmaking in a different way. I was blown away by My Own Private Idaho, which led me to become more interested in other forms of filmmaking.

How did your time at Concordia help shape you and your career?

A great benefit I had from studying at Concordia was the students I studied with, because a lot of my collaborators now are from that time. My current community is mostly made up of Concordia grads, and we all help each other and share resources.

Together I felt like we experimented and found our voices. I also want to emphasize filmmaker Korbett Matthews because he was such an amazing and inspiring teacher. He gave me that push I needed to help build confidence in my voice.

Now you’re on the road to the Oscars! Are you excited?

Yeah! But whatever happens, I just want to live the moment and celebrate with my team.

Find out more about Concordia's Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema.


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