Interview: Mahdi Fleifel, director of 3 Logical Exits

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GSFF speaks to Mahdi Fleifel about his film 3 Logical Exits. The film reunites us with Reda, a Palestinian stranded in the Ain el-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon and the protagonist of two of Fleifel’s previous films. The film is a sociological meditation on the different “exits” that young Palestinians choose, in order to cope with life in the refugee camps.

First of all I just wanted to say thank you for this film, it’s beautifully shot and tells of important stories that need to be shown. Obviously the subject matter is one that is very difficult, and I wanted to ask you about the emotional impact of filming. I think about this in my own work a lot – how certain topics can be triggering and how to protect my own mental health while doing the necessary work of engaging with hard topics. How was the filming process for you and what things did you need to consider for yourself as a director, but also as a human being faced with the challenges of representing these stories accurately while maintaining your own feelings and concerns?

I have been filming in the camp for more than a decade and Reda is someone I know very closely. To me it never feels like I’m an outsider coming in to document a strange world. It’s my own world, and although I don’t live there, I’m from there and I belong there. It makes me feel completely integrated to document what I see, even if most of the things I witness make me feel hopeless. The fact that I am able to record it so closely, gives me a sense of hope. In a strange way it gives me strength. To me, my films are very personal, and they’re the attempt to hold on to the forgotten, and mark what shouldn’t be erased from collective memory.

You used the same protagonist in 3 Logical Exits within your films XENOS and A Man Returned.  How did you build and maintain that relationship with Reda through his journey?  He seems very comfortable with you and so many of the shots feel quite intimate due to the filming style, in some ways you forget the camera is on him when he’s talking to you, as he speaks so naturally.

I have known Reda since he was ten years old, he is my grandfather’s neighbour and I have documented his life for the past 20 years.

Lastly, can you talk a little bit about the format of storytelling that you took within 3 Logical Exits. At parts, Reda is narrating, but you also have a narration role as well as the woman who speaks in conversation with you, can you talk about the choices that you made for telling the story?

I wanted to continue playing with the form I had in my two previous shorts, XENOS and I Signed the Petition, where I use phone calls as a narration. Here it was important to have Reda’s story placed in a broader context relating to the Palestinian youth in the camps today. When I had filmed Reda in the summer of 2019, I had just read my friend Marie Kortam’s report – she’s a sociologist and her focus has been on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. I wanted to shed light on her ideas and observations about these ‘logical exits’. To me the form of 3 Logical Exits was a sort of fragmented audio-visual journal of my experience in Ain El-Helhweh last summer. I wanted to stay true to that, and keep it as raw and intense as I experienced it.

Interview by Natasha Ruwona. 3 Logical Exits screens in Bill Douglas Award 6: After We Left.