Omar Al Abdul Razzak • Director of Killing Crabs
“We screenwriters all put a lot of ourselves into the characters”
- The director-producer has picked up the Best Feature Award in the Canarias Cinema section of the Las Palmas Film Festival, adding to the two prizes he scooped in Málaga
Forty-year-old Omar Al Abdul Razzak, of Spanish-Syrian descent, splits his professional life between production duties (at the company Tourmalet Films) and directing, as he has helmed three films to date: the documentary Paradiso, and the fiction titles The Calm Tempest and Killing Crabs [+see also:
interview: Omar Al Abdul Razzak
film profile] (a co-production between the Netherlands and Spain, where it will be released on 26 May). With this movie, he has just scooped the Richard Leacock Award for Best Feature in the Canarias Cinema section of the 22nd Las Palmas de Gran Canaria International Film Festival after having triumphed in the Zonazine section of the most recent Málaga Film Festival, where he pocketed two trophies (see the news). We sat down with him for a chat about the film.
Cineuropa: During the shoot for Killing Crabs, what was producer Omar saying to director Omar? Did they get on okay?
Omar Al Abdul Razzak: During filming, I was working solely as the director while the head of production (Manuel Arango) made decisions on everything. In this case, I would have been a bad producer, as I wanted to film more and more, ramping up the expenditure, such as the scene with the fairground ride, which I insisted on filming despite the fact that the location changed. Plus,the producers made me cut 20 pages out of the screenplay one month before the shoot.I dealt with that, but even though we had seven shooting weeks, we only had enough money for six; so, in order to secure the seventh, we eliminated one week of pre-production, and it didn’t even give us time to do a read-through of the script.
The film is autobiographical, to an extent. Who has more of you in them, the lead boy or girl?
I’m a mixture of both, but I do have more of her in me: something cheeky and rebellious. We screenwriters all reflect ourselves in our characters.
She’s a bit of a tomboy…
That kind of kid, who’s a bit boyish, was very common in the 1990s, and they were cool. I have a female childhood friend, and I put a lot of her into this character: she was the most destructive and problematic one in our gang; she came from a broken family, and later on, she became a goth. I sniffed glue and smoked joints for the first time with her.
Would you say the film is nostalgic?
It wasn’t written with a nostalgic approach, and the audience is not receiving it as such. It’s true that it does have a nostalgic edge to it, but because I turned it on its head and it has this ironic view of certain things that happened in the past, I think that cancels out the nostalgia.
You portray a time before the digital revolution, with children playing freely on the island of Tenerife.
That is nostalgic: I miss the freedom of that era. As a teenager, I would leave my house in the morning, hop on the bus with a mate and come back at night, and nobody would worry – nor would you be keeping an eye on the time. Now, we are slaves to our mobile phones.
In Killing Crabs, there is an anti-tourism message, but at the same time, the storyline sees an American icon such as Michael Jackson being welcomed with open arms, like a god.
The film hinges on continual contradictions: the black man who comes from the USA but who is not black; the real black people who then arrive in significantly poorer conditions… In colonial places, there’s this effect where you identify with the coloniser: you don’t mean to, but in reality, you want to be like him.
What’s more, there’s a famous park full of parrots on Tenerife, whereas these birds do not occur naturally on the island…
Yes, exactly. And at school, when they would send us off to draw the island, we would do so with a parrot in the middle…
The dialogue is believable, funny and entertaining. Was it easy to write?
It was written and rewritten. First of all, we listened to how the non-professional actors said things, and then we tweaked it. It was forbidden to learn the text by heart, but the performers knew where they were starting from and where they had to end up, as it was all marked out. I like that kind of dialogue: I really enjoy writing it. And we plucked many things from real life, like the odd conversation I heard during the location scouting, which some nearby teenagers were engrossed in.
The film suggests more than it actually tells us: the viewer has to use their brain a fair bit.
That’s what a friend of mine said – after watching it, he admitted: “It was demanding, but I enjoyed it.” I really liked hearing that.
Lastly, how did you achieve that harmony between the non-professional and the professional actors?
The one who had to adapt was the professional actress (Sigrid Ojel), who had to learn from the amateurs. And we copied certain things from other environments: we went to the suburbs so she could soak up the people and tone things down.
(Translated from Spanish)
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