The idea of “The Light Thief” first came to life in the year 2012 while I was attending the Berlin Film Festival. It was snowing and I was walking back to my hotel after an evening screening. On the way there, some elements of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” started playing in my mind and with it, the characters of Adham (with a Jar) and Soleen began to materialize. It was twelve o’clock at midnight.
By the time I fell asleep at seven o’clock in the morning I had recorded to paper the full outline of “The Light Thief”. So the storyline started from a waking vision and turned into movie reality over the next two years of planning and execution.
I chose the character names purposefully, as Adham – in the Arabic Language – means absolute darkness, and Soleen in the Syriac Language means the Sun.
Once the storyline was fully developed I started to think hard about the choice of both the shooting location and the production team. Although the basic premise of the story was simple, the film would need to capture very delicate and sensitive nuances in order to work effectively as the failure of any single element could easily lead to failure of the entire film.
After looking for cities that would communicate the image I intended for the film and talking to production crews available locally in those locations, I shortlisted two offers that could convey what I want artistically and would work from a budgeting point of view: one from Turkey (Istanbul) and the other from Spain (Madrid). Although the Turkish offer was slightly more competitive, I settled eventually on Madrid as the city and the language (Spanish) appealed to me a bit more. In addition, I found the faces of the actors in Madrid to be a blend of beauty and features that mix the East and West. That in itself is a source of great strength for the film as I wanted it to be a border-less story that took place somewhere on earth in a country with people who resemble us wherever we are. The purpose of my film is to be suitable for every time and place, and be a film where any person, who went through a love affair and suffered from a broken heart, would be able to relate to. And that was exactly what I have found in Madrid which I passionately loved from my first week there.
But there was also a new challenge that faced me, namely the Spanish Language which was to be the language of the film and is of course the language of my Spanish production crew, as I speak only Arabic and English.
Someone asked me: How shall you overcome the language problem?
Of course, I was not worried about the film, as the dialogue was going to be rather short, and I knew I could seek the assistance of a translator to understand the dialogue of my actors in Spanish if needed. The good thing was that after the first day of working with my cast I began to feel peace of mind because I found communication was not going to be an issue. In part this was due because of some similarity of words between Arabic and Spanish and in addition I found the body language easy to read. I could understand most of my crew’s Spanish conversation, and when they would repeat them to me in English in order to get my opinion, they would be surprised that would I interrupt their explanation and give them the answer … in English of course. Eventually they became under the impression that I know Spanish to the extent that one of them told me: “I don’t believe that you don’t speak Spanish!” I consider that challenge as one of the most beautiful challenges that I encountered in my life
I was blessed to work with an excellent, dedicated, highly professional and well reputed filming and production crew. The dedication was demonstrable over several days when we would continue filming well into the late hours at night outdoors in extreme cold temperatures (below zero) without any complaints. A very positive element was the belief and conviction of the work team with the film. Not only did they really like the story of the film but they also wanted to leave a distinct impression with an Arab woman who came with her material in order to shoot a film in their country.
So really the project materialized from a concept into a movie picture by virtue of multiple efforts of people that united and cooperated in a collective and masterful well-done work, in which everyone participated down from the helpers up to the director. The whole experience acquired from working with a very professional crew in a new country and with a language that was foreign to me helped me develop my learning in the business tremendously. I loved Spanish, a language of “Beauty”. I was lucky to work with a magnificent group, who are my partners in building the success story of “The Light Thief”.
Macgregor, my director of Photography impressed me with the grace and finesse of his lens, and its way of movement. We used to sit together for a long time talking about the scenes, and I was quite certain that I am in good hands in terms of the beauty of the picture and the excellence of lighting. It was quite enough that I tell him the timing of the scene, and just like magic, he would prepare the adequate lighting for the location.
We had very long working days as I mentioned earlier. Once I found him taking a nap on his chair after we had worked for about 15 hours. I asked him “Are you very tired? … I am extremely sorry having exhausted you today”. He replied with half-closed eyes: “I’m very tired, but I am also very interested… so you don’t have to be sorry”.
Marta started as the masterful Art Director in the beginning of the project and then after we finished shooting the film she became my key manager in directing the post production activities for the film. From her presence first in the Sets and her care about the most tiny details, Marta was present with me despite the pressure of work that was put on her shoulders with regard to the work entrusted to her. Her focus and activity were always at a peak level of determination and high spirit. She rarely has time to eat and therefore she was as light as feather When Marta moved to become my right hand in post-production operations she did not disappoint. She was very thorough and keen to follow up all remarks. I had no difficulty to explain to her what was needed as she had adopted the film and understood it exactly. Her opinions on various issues were insightful and spot on. I would like to tell her something that she does not know: her presence with me in the first week when we made the acquaintance, was the main key in giving me the confidence of filming in a country whose language I did not master. I hoped that our relation would become more than purely professional and I knew in heart that she would become my friend in life. Today Marta is a very dear close friend and confidant.
My leading actress Maria, playing the character of Soleen in the film, is an intelligent young woman. Maria’s creative talent allowed her to portray very well the complex psychological states which Soleen had to go through. Maria worked with me in filming conditions outside under the rain where the temperature was below zero while she was wearing only a light summer dress. I was worried about her. But she did not complain or show uneasiness. There was a scene where she would be subjected to physical violence and she was actually stricken with some bruises. When I asked about her condition, she would tell me “No problem … the character needs all that, and she wants to make in the best possible manner.” When she finished photographing her scenes with us, she called me and said “I feel very sad. I do not want to get Soleen out of me. I don’t want to forget her.”
Sergio was the main Editor. When I met with Sergio for the first time, I noticed in his eyes matchless intelligence and passion. I had prepared myself to direct him about the details and the sequence of events of my film in the way I wish. But when I heard his explanation of what he has understood from the story of the film, I told him: “I was the writer of that film. But when I became the Director, I killed the writer inside me, and brought out the Director. Now you have to kill both of us: the writer as well as the director and give the best of your creativity”. That he did!
The music composition is a key piece of what makes the Light Thief work so well. My very talented musicians Jorge and Pablo produced a fantastic piece of work. When I first met them, I told them that I passionately like a certain type of school of the film music, a modern one. A few weeks later they presented to me a piece of music as a model to see whether or not we are on the right track and indeed it was much more beautiful than I expected to the extent that when I was in the studio to attend the film with the music I was so engrossed with the music and did not really watch the film while listening to the music so I had to ask them to replay the two together again.