"Themes of union, reunion and that idea of finding what is lost is close to my heart."
March 30, 2018 - by Aya Alsayed Ahmad
Caro Ibrahim was born and mostly raised in Egypt, and has been living as a settler on this land (Turtle Island) for the last 15 years. Caro is an independent filmmaker, a keen human explorer and presenter with a passion for documentaries.
Caro is also an Architect and a Photographer. His work is committed to social justice, human rights, equity, anti-violence and anti-oppression. Caro’s “Stolen Dream” was screened at Digi60 Filmmakers' Festival 2012 and at Asinabka Film Festival 2013. “Stolen Dream” is a short documentary that looked at Colleen Cardinal’s life as an indigenous woman who was taken from her family along with her two sisters and adopted by a non-indigenous family during the Sixties-Scoop.
Currently Caro is a Media Manager at Generous Space Ministries while undertaking his Masters degree in Pastoral Studies-Psychotherapy and running his Media Production Company “Just Films”.
Aya Alsayed Ahmad: Lets start by talking about your passion. When did you realize your passion for filmmaking and directing? What specifically do you love about it?
Caro Ibrahim: I was doing volunteer work as a documentary filmmaker as a hobby through my church in Toronto before I moved to Ottawa back from 10 years ago. I was doing weekly broadcasting and services and thats when I realized that I like this industry and I should study it and pursue it as a career as well. I started young. I did that for around four years or so before I decided to actually quit my job as an architect and go to film school.
AAA: As a director, when watching a movie, what aspect of it grabs your attention first? Whether it's the aesthetic aspects as the mise-en-scene, script?
CI: When watching a movie, the first thing that grabs my attention is the cinematography. I appreciate a thoughtful cinematographer that really looks at each thing especially for filmmaking. It is not like photography. In photography, when you take a still, you can stand the whole setting up on still and it looks perfect. However, to achieve that in a film, it takes a lot of imagination and knowing that now you are here, and the camera is moving from here to there. Also, while the camera is moving, the quality is changing in a certain way and each and every single thing of those is perfect. So when I see that on a span of a long take, of a second, it captures my attention for sure.
AAA: What is your favourite project that you have worked on?
CI: Almost all of my work focus on social justice. Thats why I do what I do independently and did not want to go for union or work for union, especially, after I moved to Toronto. I am even interested in work that explores art and architecture. When I was in Ottawa, I did a short documentary, it's called Stolen Dream and that until today it is really close to my heart. It was screened at Digi60, Asinabka Film Festival, even in Toronto and at Guelph Film Festival. It was a long-short documentary. It was about a survivor of the Sixties Scoop and her name is Colleen Cardinal. It is one of my closest projects to my heart. When I filmed it, I filmed it for Digi60 film festival in which I was limited by the time limit. I filmed it with the intention to make a feature, but since I did not have a lot of time I had to cut it. Stolen Dream is still on my mind, because what Colleen Cardinal shared in the interview is really precious and worth being seen and heard.
AAA: I watched two of your films, Stolen Dream and B Longs, and I realized that they both highlight themes of separation and reunion. What fascinates you about documentary and these specific themes?
CI: Documentary itself is telling stories. A lot of times filmmakers say that they are in this business because they want to be the voice of others. As much as that sounds noble, in a way, it is very dismissive because every body has a voice. For me, documentary is all about creating a space where people feel like they are safe, free, and powerful enough to actually voice their stories, concerns, and even oppression and not being edited. A lot of broadcasters, unfortunately, do that and at the end of the day those are not the stories that you see on camera. Especially for documentary filmmaking because no matter what you record, you can tell tons of stories and they will all claim to be true - although they might be not. So, that's why I am passionate about documentary.
The other part of the question, the theme is a huge part for me. Themes of union, reunion and that idea of finding what is lost is close to my heart. As much as I am Canadian, I was also born and raised in Egypt. I experienced the diaspora. The whole feeling of what is far and what is close, are you connected or not, do you belong or no, and what makes you actually belong - that theme is very clear. At the end, you don't really know where is the belonging happening. Did this person ever belong to where she was or not? Who knows.
AAA: When searching your work the film The Cupcake is the one that shows up the most in different websites. It won Parktown Studio's “Best Story Award” in the 2014 Spring Digi60 Filmmakers' Festival. What about that film allowed you to take it beyond Digi60 to a wider audience?
CI: Well to be honest, The Cupcake, if you go to the core, it is about loss. I think that this for me is a big deal. Again, as much as I am happy here I moved here 15 years ago. My life is actually here, I got married last year. I am not going to go to live back home, and it is not like I cannot but that's it. You leave home but home never leaves you. There is always that loss. Loss can be manifested in many ways; it can be just a memory, actual loss of a person that does not exist anymore and you only have the memory, and loss of physical existence of the person who may be overseas in a different country. A lot of my friends left Palestine and left family there and cannot go back. So, physically they cannot go back and ,physically, their grandparents cannot leave from there. So loss is something I reflect on a lot.
AAA: You’ve also made a music video Lay Down by MC Jazz and it won best music video at the Algonquin College 2nd year TV broadcasting Contest. How is the experience working on a music video different from that of a film?
CI: Well, Jazz is Egyptian and she is a friend of mine. She wanted me to produce a music video for her. Music videos are expensive and I told her I would rather support you if you are willing to be part of a school project and we can get the equipment for free. That was the deal. I was going to do it anyway but I thought it will have more production quality if it's done with more professional equipment and more people working on it. I really appreciate burlesque as a form of art. Unfortunately, people today look at it as a form of stripping, not to say there is anything wrong with that. What I mean is everything is mixed in one pot. I really appreciated the fact that she even portrayed a queer couple in that kind of scene of play in the background. I wanted to shake the pot for school because it was very traditional. I wanted to say "You know what there is nothing wrong with anything and it is what it is, so here you go!" I love Jazz’s art; she is so political. Even in creating this song, she is queer herself, and insisting that the actual background of the song be that beautiful play is a political statement for me.
AAA: Lets talk about Digi60. How would you qualify your experience working with Digi60? Also, how did this experience affect your filmmaking journey?
CI: Well, I have to say the first ever film I made was screened at Digi60 and it won Best Film. Everything started there! I cannot talk about anything I have done or am doing without giving them credit for that. Digi60 helped a lot, even if it was 6-7 years ago. It supported me in many ways; giving a venue, audience, good publicity and supported me. Even when they did the film school. Also, the people of Digi60 are wonderful! Although I left Ottawa almost five years ago, I am still friends with them. They really do listen, this is something I have to say. Whatever happens every year it comes from a lot of listening from the community and, to me, what exactly is needed. Especially after Emily became part of it. She is wonderful. I knew Emily and Derek briefly but definitely got to know them more through Digi60 over the years. The small filmmaker community in Ottawa is one of the best. The community is very close and solid.
AAA: Do you mean Reality Check that won the Best Film?
CI: Yes. It is not my best film but one advice I give to everybody is do things without thinking when you are in school because no one really judges you for it. Just do whatever, explore to the maximum extent you can. You always learn from submitting your work and exploring. That's the best way to learn.
AAA: What one film comes to mind that has an effect on you and potentially even influenced your view on a certain subject?
CI: It has to be Titanic. The effects and camera movements in Titanic is great. If you watch it again, notice the panning and the sweeping shots. They are majestic. This takes us back to the cinematography. I love this film for its camera movements and special effects; especially the beginning shot of the transitioning from the old rex underwater to the actual flashback of the ship. That transition shot is beautiful. Titanic for sure.
Another film that had a big print was Avatar. It was one of the first ones that used the motion spot suits that you wear and that is transformed into special effects. Avatar was the first one that did that. It was definitely down breaking. Still up until today, it is one of the very few films that you watch and you feel the special effects are very realistic- nothing that looks fake in it surprisingly.
If I am going to talk about the plot wise, it has to be an Egyptian film.
AAA: What do you like to have on hand from Craft Services when you're filming?
CI: I am becoming more and more healthy. I would snack on vegetables as lettuce and cucumber.
AAA: Ottawa’s film industry is a small, independent and a constantly improving industry. If you could give one advice that can make it a more appealing city for bigger production projects?
CI: Its a tricky question. Ottawa is not a big city. There are beautiful locations, but it is not that big of a city to hold a big movie. I see Ottawa doing well with more European Films because it has the colours for it. I mean the actual colours on camera. I think its about time to acknowledge that and move towards this market.
Canada in general is doing great. Look at how many Hollywood films were produced in Toronto in the past year. It came back big time last year. Toronto is taking it back. Vancouver stole it from Toronto for many years, but its coming back to Toronto big time.
AAA: What advice do you give to aspiring talents as future filmmakers?
CI: I would say don’t think a lot about the future. Think about now and what makes you proud. A lot of people start by thinking about how can I make a film that can be picked by festivals and seen widely. This is great - you have to be seen and dream big. However, if you focus on that and you’re film does not get picked, which happens a lot, you will be end up sad. At the same time, you did not end up making something that you are proud and convinced of. Do not focus on the destination because who knows where we are going to go. Sometimes, you just film yourself saying something and it becomes a documentary and it makes it big. Think about what you want to do and what you feel passionate talking about and what will make you proud in ten years from now.
AAA: Are there any upcoming projects that you are currently working on?
CI: Well, right now I am very busy doing my masters, running my freelance company and doing a lot of interesting line of work that I never thought I would do. I am working with an architecture company that focuses its projects on older buildings and how to restore parts of buildings and integrate them in the new buildings. I make videos for them through telling the stories of the locations and how it was years ago. I am loving it, I am an architect and at the same time I am telling stories. I am also busy with my part time job as a media manager at Generous Space Ministries.
For future projects, it will be a feature documentary about Egypt. This will require me visiting and spending time there. That is something that is on my mind, but not anytime soon maybe in 3-4 years.