If the odds are in Oualid Mouaness’ favour, the Lebanese writer-director’s film The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf, and the Boy could be seen by a grand audience that only a golden man named Oscar can draw.

The 18-minute short, which Mouaness produced through his Tricycle Logic production company, is one of ten finalists for the 89th annual Academy Awards’ Best Live Action Short category. Shot and set in Baskinta, Lebanon, the film centers on two brothers, Imad (Fidel Badran) and Sameh (Jad Badran), who, to the disappointment of their parents (played by Ali Mneimneh and Layal Ghanem), steal the household rifle and go hunting for the jackal who has terrorized their chickens.

While the short may only be Mouaness’ second release as a director, he’s far from new to the industry. For decades now, he has been producing feature films, advertisements, music videos, and live events for top clients around the world. His resume of music videos, in particular, includes the biggest names in pop: Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, among others.

Along with Jimmy Keyrouz’s Nocturne in Black, Mouaness’ short is one of two Lebanese productions in the Oscars’ shortlist, paving the way for Arabaic narratives to reach even more markets abroad. With an incredibly relevant issue at its core, this finely constructed political parable should have no difficulty resonating with audiences.

Ahead of the Oscar nominations announcement, I had a chance to interview Mouaness about transitioning from music video producer to short film director, taking on the challenge of a political story, and bringing Lebanese cinema to a wider audience.


ScreenPicks: On the surface this film tells the story of two boys who use a rifle to protect their animals, but on a deeper level it’s really a parable about the ramifications of using violence to solve problems. What was your inspiration behind this film?

Mouaness: It’s a very contemporary subject. I was in Lebanon last year, and I was feeling uneasy with what was going on around us. We had to carry on with our normal lives, and yet there’s this whole looming threat. There’s this looming war and violence that we’re seeing on the screen every day. I felt that I needed to address this in a very simple way. I just feel like whatever I do with film needs to have a message. How can I create the beautiful life that we have and just put it within the reach of danger? This is what propagated the idea for this film; it’s a sense of unease about the fact that the world can change because of a single, sometimes seemingly innocuous, decision. It’s a political parable that is quite relatable in many parts of the world.

ScreenPicks: In your director’s note, you quote the proverb: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Has this always been a belief you’ve had, or was it something you got to explore as you were making this film?

Mouaness: As a Lebanese person — just to give a background of my life — I grew up in Liberia and Lebanon. Both of these countries have been destroyed by war. I realized over time that most people that fight do so with the belief that they’re fighting for a good reason. Most people in war think they’re doing so for a good reason. But at the end of the day, an act of violence is an act of violence, regardless of who it’s perpetrated for and for what reason it is. Violence only begets violence. There are two sides to every coin.

In the case of this film, it’s a story of a boy; he wants to save his chickens. In his mind, and based on all he’s been fed through television and life, the jackal will eat his chickens. He’s setting out to save them, in attempting to save them, he and his brother make an unscrupulous decision that has bigger ramifications that they didn’t expect or foresee.

ScreenPicks: Storytellers often use ideas or experiences from their own lives for their stories. Since you grew up in Lebanon, did you borrow from your own upbringing?

Mouaness: I did, actually. I’m very proud of the way that I was brought up. The father is very stern in this film. I grew up in a warm household where there was a lot of conversation. 

And with regards to the locale, it’s a locale I’m very familiar with, though I didn’t grow up in. It’s more the way my aunts and uncles lived and my cousins grew up. I’d go and visit them. They were going to good schools, but then have their chickens, cows and sheep. And yet they were very progressive, middle-class, normal families. That’s sort of where all of that came from.

ScreenPicks: If a story about violence or war focuses on a child’s perspective, it’ll naturally be a significant difference than if it were told from an adult’s perspective. Was it a challenge to write a story like this from the eyes of a child?

Mouaness: No, actually. It came so naturally. I somehow could not see this story through any other eyes. It juxtaposes innocence and the loss of innocence, a theme I like to tackle, not only in this film, but in some of the works that I’m developing for the future. The story came to me through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, and somehow it came in the form of a parable.


ScreenPicks: In addition to being a director and screenwriter, you also have a background in producing commercials, live events and music videos. I was looking at your music videos. It was like a who’s who of musicians. You have David Bowie, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Annie Lennox, Taylor Swift, and Lana Del Rey — just to name a few. I was wondering if your experience in producing music videos has prepared you to produce and direct short films.

Mouaness: Producing music videos is a very different world than the world of directing and storytelling. I’ve had the beautiful privilege of working with directors like Floria Sigismondi, David LaChapelle, Diane Martel, and Robert Hales, where each of them had a very different approach to how they make their music videos. I’ve realized that you can bring depth into all of these works. Those are directors that I believe do bring depth to their work, even in very pop culture situations, such as what Floria did in the David Bowie projects.

I consider myself very lucky in that most of the music video works that I’ve done have some sort of visceral, profound impact on viewers. Of course, at the end of the day, I am the result of a compounding of all the different work that I’ve done, be it in documentaries or music videos. My background is in theatre, and my education focused on writing and directing. I made a choice to produce work until I felt that I was ready enough and had the instinct evolved enough to tell simple stories with a lot of dimension, which is what I’ve done with this short. 

ScreenPicks: I know that you’re currently working on your feature directorial debut, 1982. Is there anything you can tell us about the story, or is it too early?

Mouaness: It’s a bit too early to talk about this. This short film came as a result of wanting to work with kids and very simple stories that have a lot of layers. 1982 follows in that track; it’s also a coming-of-age story. But more details on that to come. Hopefully we’ll be filming that in summer 2017.

ScreenPicks: Of the ten short films in contention for the live action short Oscar, two are productions from Lebanon and five have Arabic lead characters. How would you describe the state of Arabic cinema within the global community?

Mouaness: Arabic cinema is really in a state of transformation right now. I was incredibly delighted to see that there are two films by Lebanese filmmakers — mine and Jimmy’s films — on the short list. I think that speaks volumes about how important it is to relay our stories to the rest of the world, while at the same time, to try to break the stereotypes of what a Lebanese is expected to be. I particularly presented a real Lebanese family in a way that it has not been presented before. It’s a family that can really be anywhere, which is how me and my brothers grew up, with access to everything. 

The Arab world right now is seeing a boom. Lebanon, particularly, is seeing a boom of filmmakers, and there’s a lot of talent there. I’m really proud of that. You do see it in The Rifle because I made it a purpose to work with young, talented men and women. I was impressed by what they gave and how hungry they were to create something beautiful. And they did. I had a great DP. She was 27 when she shot this film. The producer I worked with in Lebanon was incredible. There was a lot of passion behind this. The passion obviously translated to the screen.

ScreenPicks: Not only are you a part of this diverse group of contenders but you have also surpassed over 100 eligible short films to make it to the top ten. What does this achievement mean to you?

Mouaness: A lot. [laughs] It’s a lot, actually. I was incredibly surprised, and incredibly blown away by that. I think it is an honour to be at this stage. It speaks volumes to the story, and to what we’re trying to say. I think it’s just a step closer to where it’s making our stories more visible and bringing Lebanese — and also Arab American — stories to the fore. I think I’m part of a collective in Lebanon that’s trying to create a bridge with the world.


All ten live action short finalists are listed below.

Bon Voyage, Marc Wilkins, director, and Joël Jent, producer (Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduction)

Ennemis Intérieurs, Sélim Azzazi, director (Qualia Films)

Graffiti, Lluís Quílez, director (Participant Media, Euphoria Productions and Ainur Films)

La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten, director (arbel gmbh)

Nocturne in Black, Jimmy Keyrouz, director (Columbia University)

The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf and the Boy, Oualid Mouaness, director (Tricycle Logic)

Silent Nights, Aske Bang, director, and Kim Magnusson, producer (M & M Productions)

Sing (Mindenki), Kristof Deák, director (Meteor Filmstudio)

Timecode, Juanjo Giménez, director (Nadir Films)

The Way of Tea (Les Frémissements du Thé), Marc Fouchard, director, and Matthieu Devillers, producer (Existenz, BlackBox and P904)

The nominees for the 89th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 14, 2017.

(All photos are courtesy of Tricycle Logic.)