Nadine Labaki

A glimpse into the life and career of Nadine Labaki.

Renowned Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has conquered the international stage, becoming the first woman from the Arab world to be nominated for an Oscar for her film ‘Capharnaüm’. From Cannes to the Golden Globes, Labaki’s unique career testifies to her commitment and indelible impact on world cinema. These distinctions have helped the Nadine Labaki name become a major figure in Lebanese and Arab cinema on an international scale.

Nadine Labaki was born on February 18, 1974 in Baabdat, a city in Mount Lebanon Governorate, to a Maronite family. Her father, Antoine Labaki, was a telecommunications engineer, and her mother, Antoinette Labaki, was a home-maker. The first years of her life are marked by the civil war in Lebanon, which began in 1975 and ended in 1990. She decided to spend three years in Montreal to avoid the war in Lebanon, where she obtained Canadian citizenship. 

Her affinity for movies began very early with her family, she and her sister spend many nights watching hundreds of films together. Labaki learned the art of storytelling from her uncle, who was the hakawati (storyteller) of her family. Her grandfather also owned a small theatre in Lebanon, where she discovered her passion for films. In Beirut, she obtained a degree in audiovisual studies at Saint Joseph University.

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Labaki’s career in the film industry began with Studio El Fan, a Lebanese talent show, in 1990. During this talent show, she won a prize for directing various music video productions. She began to gain recognition in 1997 with her first short film,11 Rue Pasteur, which won the Best Short Film Award at the Biennale of Arab Cinema at the Arab World Institute in Paris. Labaki is unique among her fellow Lebanese and Arab Film Makers in that she was not educated or trained abroad.

She worked for the music industry and the publicity between 2000 and 2010 by directing about twenty music video clips for Lebanese celebrities such as Noura Rahal, Nancy Ajram, but also the Star Academy local show. Together with Ajram, Labaki revolutionized the image of Arab women in the Arab music industry, redefining it as feminine, powerful and in control. 

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In 2004, she took part in the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation Residency for the writing and development of Caramel, her first short film, which she filmed two years later. The film was presented at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs in 2007. Caramel tells the story of five ladies that cross paths in a beauty institute, a touching microcosm where several generations meet, talk and confide in each other. Distributed around the world, Caramel became the greatest success of Lebanese cinema abroad. 

The Lebanese film director didn’t stop there. In 2011, she was honoured for Where Do We Go Now?, a film that addresses religious and cultural tensions in a small Lebanese village. She will present the film at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Source: Festival de Cannes

Nadine Labaki’s most recognized film is Capharnaüm, which received widespread acclaim and won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, chaired by Cate Blanchett. Labaki gave an inspiring speech alongside her young actor, Syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea. The film follows the story of a young boy living in poverty in Beirut and highlights issues such as child labour, refugees, and the flaws of a society that denies its humanity. 

Nominated at the Golden Globes and the Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category. Nadine Labaki became the first woman from the Arab world to be nominated in this category at the Oscars. These nominations have helped draw international attention to Labaki’s talent as a director, and more broadly, to Lebanese cinema.

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Selma Chougar is a French independent journalist of Algerian origin who writes for several magazines based in Paris, London, and Dubai. Culture and societal phenomena in the Arab world are her areas of expertise. She contributes to both French and English-language magazines.