Film2Future Alumni, Joel Al Hassanieh on Her Love for TV and Following Her Passion

"I thought that the actors were real people just living their lives inside our TV. And when the TV was off, I would peek my head through and try to spot them." —Joel Al Hassanie

Film2Future Student Ambassador Joel Al Hassanieh attended our 2020 program, writing and directing the short film Rasha, about a mother who struggles to find a way out of a domestic violence situation for her and her daughter after the cops refuse to help. Rasha won our annual Gala award for “Best Directing.”

Joel is currently working with Ronna Kress Casting through our Production Company Challenge initiative and is on her way to achieving her dreams. We can’t wait to see where her journey leads her.

The following words by Joel about growing up in Lebanon and getting inspired by the people “living inside the television” to pursue a career in entertainment are from a speech she gave at our 2020 Gala and Student Film Premiere.

Joel’s 2020 Gala Speech:

For the first half of my life I lived in a little dot on the map in the Middle East called Lebanon. Ever since I could remember, my family and I used to gather around our living room at night, the only source of light coming from our small old TV. We would watch Turkish soap operas and roast chestnuts over a small fireplace in the middle of the room. We’re a pretty talkative and loud family, but when the TV was on, no one said a word, we just watched in silence.

I was never allowed to stay up too long, but every night when my mom would tell me to go to sleep, I would pretend that I was hungry or sick or something so I could watch TV. Even at a young age, something always drew me to the stories that I watched. They created a whole other world that I could visit. But being a kid, I didn’t know that there were people actually in charge of making them. I thought that they were just there. At some point, I even thought that the actors were real people just living their lives inside our TV. And when the TV was off, I would peek my head through and try to spot them.

But as I grew up and I learned more about film, my family and I moved to Liberia, a country in West Africa. We had to pause our nightly tradition of watching TV because over there, cable was more of an idea than a service. In fact, wifi and TV was bad that we had to settle for a pet monkey to keep us entertained. I think his name was George or something. I don’t remember.

But even then, without TV, I always felt so lonely. And even when we went back to Lebanon, I never thought that I could create films because the film industry in a third world country is small and underfunded to say the least.

However, when we finally immigrated to the United States, I realized that I could find my chance. I took a film class in high school, but I knew that I wanted to do this for the long run. And for years, I didn’t know what to do or where to start and film school wasn’t really an ideal option for me because of how expensive it is. So just when my hopes were going up, they started to swoop back down.

But then a couple of my friends told me about a program called Film2Future, so I decided to research it and apply. And I’ve got to tell you, Film2Future has absolutely changed my life. I got to meet so many amazing people who work in the industry and got to hear their inspiring stories. Like the origin stories of Elgin James and Joseph Raymond Lucero along with so many others. And it was so inspiring to hear Hamilton’s Thomas Kail and Christopher Jackson talk about how they made it to Broadway and to hear all the panelists share their experiences with us. This made me realize that I do have a place in the industry and my dreams are just waiting for me to work my way up towards them.

I got to learn from the best of the best. And within one week I was able to pitch, write and direct my first short film ever in the middle of a pandemic. And of course there were some challenges due to COVID-19 like time constraints and the actors not being able to stand too close to each other, but my team and I didn’t let that stop us and we found a way around it. There was even a scene where we didn’t want to show that the actors were wearing face masks, so we only framed their legs in the shot and it turned out looking pretty cool.

I learned that the more obstacles there were, the more fun it was because I had to think more creatively. We all did. And thanks to my whole crew and our awesome supervisors, we were able to make it happen. It was such a great experience being on set and in the editing room and getting to know what it’s like working with a whole team on making a simple idea come to life.

Film2Future is genuinely one of the best organizations I’ve ever discovered. They nurture student filmmakers like me, who might not have an easy way into the industry. And they teach us all about it and give us all the necessary tools to get started. Film2Future has gone so far as to help me get my first paid internship as soon as I completed the program.

Before it, I thought that my dreams were unrealistic being a Middle Eastern woman and on top of that, not knowing anyone who worked in the industry. But now, thanks to Film2Future, I know that as long as I keep working hard, anything is achievable. And I now know for a fact that storytelling is my dream career and I’m going to keep on working hard to make my dream a reality and to make that little girl in Lebanon peeking through her TV, proud.

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