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A conversation with  Nadia Nakhlé, the director of the animation feature in development, Birds Don't Look Back.

Both director and designer Nadia Nakhlé expresses her talent in graphic novels, exhibitions (in France and abroad), combining the theatrical, the illustrative and the cinematic. Her graphic novel Les Oiseaux ne se retournent pas (Delcourt, 2020) tells the story of 12-year-old Amel, who has to leave her place because of the war, and look for a different future.

In its feature film incarnation (produced by Sébastien Onomo, Special Touch Studios), the animation feature project Birds Don't Look Back, Amel loses her family at the border; she now has to rely on Bacem, a musician of oud (oriental lute) and an army deserter. Together they would need to navigate the road to a better life.

The project was selected at the 2021 edition of the CEE Animation Forum training and networking event, where it won the award for Best Feature project, and its poetic approach was duly emphasized. Her pitching also showed a rich with details (and music) 2D/3D animation project, connecting also to the 1982 Lebanese War. Nadia Nakhlé talked to Zippy Frames.

ZF: How are the book and film influenced /inspired by your own experiences?

NN: When I wrote this story, I was moved by a feeling of revolt against the actual situation of refugees but I was also moved by the desire of using poetry and drawing to denounce inhumanity.  My father has escaped the Lebanese war. I want to transmit this memory and the hope of children in exile who are still trying to flee from war. 

ZF: Is the project structured as a script the way your graphic novel is or is meant to deviate? And how will you structure the script?

NN: The graphic novel and the film are complementary forms. About the film's script, my main intention is to follow the subjective viewpoint of Amel, a 12 years old child escaping the war. The story alternates between Amel’s present life, what she has left behind and her imaginary world. The narrative draws parallels between the young girl’s experience and the epic Persian poem Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr, or The Conference of the Birds, by Farid ud-Din Attar.  

Teaser for the graphic novel Les Oiseaux ne se retournent pas:

ZF: How Birds Don't Look Back differ from other refugee stories?

NM: Each project is unique. I consider Birds Don't Look Back as an intimate and universal story, using poetry and a child 's imaginary world to denounce barbarity. It's also the story of a friendship between a former soldier and a child, sealed in a common passion for music.. The starting point of this movie is to convey hope. 

ZF: What do you think the graphic style of the film would be like? Will there be differences in the graphic style between scenes taking place in different countries?

NN: Visually, I imagine the film in black and white, with some accessories in color which represent as many hopeful notes on the child's path. There will be two graphic styles in the film, a first one which represents the bird's kingdom - the imaginary world of the child -  and a second one, more realistic, which depicts Amel's present life. The music is also really important in the film because this film is also the story of a young girl becoming a musician, expressing her passion for life thanks to music. 

Birds Don't Look Back is at the development stage, looking for co-producers and financiers.

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