Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia


Stronger, sharper, more out-there and certainly more experimental than most of us are used to, Directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia deserve to be known as the renegade kindred spirits of cinema, and continue influence our conceptions of the art form. The pair appeared in Filmmakers Magazine&rsquos list of top 25 independent film directors for having played an extraordinary part in its recent evolution.


Rania Attieh was born in Tripoli, Lebanon and went on to study at City College of New York where she graduated in Media Art Production. On ordinary days, she works as a visiting professor to the NYU Tisch Graduate School of the Arts, teaching film aesthetics. As for co-director Daniel Garcia, this Texan-born philosophy graduate studied at New York University and Tisch Graduate School of the Arts before going into film professionally. Daniel is also a musician, a talent he has used to his advantage since going into film, as he is able to compose the scores to all the his movie. His last album was produced for the Sharjah Art Foundation and was showcased in London&rsquos Victoria and Albert Museum.

Rania and Daniel have conceptualized, wrote and directed many films together under the supervision of Abbas Kiarostami. They work with amateur actors and no film crew but the projects they have conceived have been so imaginative and creative that they fast became festival favorites at such prestigious temples of art as the Forum des Images, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA and The Walker Art Center.


Their 2010 work &ldquoOK, Enough, Goodbye&rdquo, was financed by major institutions such as Cinereach and SANAD. The film whipped-up a media frenzy with positive reviews featured in Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Cahiers du Cinema and Reuters. With this much praise being showered on it, it was little surprise that the film earnt the duo best directors&rsquo awards at the Abu Dhabi Film Fest and nominations at the San Francisco IFF, Torino FF, Buenos Aires BAFICI, Philadelphia and Belfort shows.

The directors have always been heavily linked to the art world and they made their first splash on street art and graffiti projects. Their rebellious works were showcased in galleries around the world from London to New York but then later they made a short film for the Sharjah Art Biennial which had a message as striking as its title: &ldquoShort Scenes from a Long Marriage&rdquo. The piece focused on the tumultuous recent history of Egypt. They worked together with artist Olafur Eliasson on a piece called &ldquoConfetti&rdquo which was lauded by visitors at the Tate.

However their most well received independent art piece so far has been 2014&rsquos &ldquoH.&rdquo which saw the directors come together for an independent low-budget sci-fi project which was full of references to mythology, science fiction and the absurdities of small-town life. The work showed rich, striking visuals and earnt the pair many accolades.


For both directors, but Rania especially, the addition of mythological elements in the film came easily, as during her childhood in Lebanon she spent much time learning about the ancient Greek legends. 

The plot flows parallel with a number of classical myths, focusing on a woman called, perhaps tellingly, Helen. It is split into episodes, and starts with Helen (Robin Bartlett), an older lady playing mother to a toy doll, and her daughter Helen (Rebecca Dayan), pregnant with her first baby. Although both live separately, their lives run in parallel. Aside from writing the screenplay, the duo worked on the camera angles to give the film a feel previously unseen in the genre, full of still and plain shots that give nothing away.

How is it possible to film a sci-fi movie on a shoe string budget? Rania explains: &ldquoIt was about trying to make the biggest possible movie for what we had. But honestly, the money was never really an issue. The issue was the time. That&rsquos what exhausted us. We had to go really fast into production and that was the biggest hurdle for us, more than the actual budget. We did the VFX in Argentina because it was cheaper and the quality was great, so we could get more for our money. We worked with an Argentine co-producer and we went to Buenos Aires to do post-production sound, and the VFX, of course. We worked with a small crew that really believed in the project and who worked super hard. It was an intense production with a lot of elements, and the location was really cold. We were only 12 people behind the camera, so all of us were extending ourselves. In the end we are all really proud of what we were able to do with what we had.&rdquo

In an interview conducted after the first screening, Daniel made an important point about the visuals: &ldquoWe shot on a RED Epic and we had some vintage Cooke lenses, which I think were S2s. We had a set of those, and then for some of the shots, like the one on the tower and the one with the horseman figure that comes out of the forest, we rented a vintage nature photography zoom lens. It was a 200-700mm with the motorized zoom on it, which is really fun. Generally speaking, we knew that for the visuals we wanted a very clean, classic look. This meant using dolly moves, slow pans, slow push-ins. There are a few handheld scenes but they were chosen very specifically for their emotional effect. For the most part we really wanted this elegant, classic look. We wanted to pay homage to the European films of the &rsquo60s and &rsquo70s, which were done in Panavision scope.&rdquo

The film is sort of updated alagory of the original Helen of Troy myth, full of teasing hints at the original epic story, like the appearance in shot of a ruined Hellenic bust, swan eggs, cloud formations, a recurring black horse. The film leaves much of the meaning up to the interpretation of the viewer, and offers something new, urban and exciting for fans of the genre. It premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, before going on to being viewed at the Sundance Film Festival and 65th Berlinale and turned the pair into Independent Film Award winners once again.


As for their earlier masterpiece, the 2007 work &ldquoAlmost Brooklyn&rdquo, nothing further needs to be said. The exciting, visionary duo simply deserve to be followed closely.