interview – Muriel Aboulrouss

We are headed towards a generation consumed by technology and robotization is on its way. Our human evolution is inevitable and change is happening fast. We are aware of the positive and negative impact of such an evolution and we take on the responsibility of preserving raw human stories and emotions through audiovisual arts, a library which will be valuable for generations to come.”

— Muriel Aboulrouss

Muriel Aboulrouss spoke about Project Zyare, the award-winning documentary web series, her work as a director/cinematographer in partnership with Deniz Jabbour, Humanitarian Arts: Home of Cine-Jam, and the Teacher/Mentor Mission.

Q: What is your main role in the film industry: cinematographer, director or mentor, and how would you characterize it?

Muriel Aboulrouss: I have worked as a cinematographer till the age of 40 and then decided to retire from that role and become my own director and my own “designer” in Art as in Life. I shot many commercials, music videos, short films and in the last decade before I retired from the market, I shot 3 narrative feature films and many documentary feature films.

It was a beautiful journey, a great learning curve and as I was moving forward in my passion for cinematography I started removing what no longer made me content and happy about the creative process, I started removing ads and music videos, then at the age of 40 I felt like I was meant for something else. I want to use my talent for a greater purpose, I wanted to practice cinematic arts in a more purified way and this is when “Cine-Jam ” the intuitive filmlab was born in 2012 followed by Zyara the doc series in 2014.

Q: What creative principles guide your work as a cinematographer and director? How do you strive to approach each project?

Muriel Aboulrouss: Intuition is my guide, my emotions are my guide, my inner voice is my guide. I do not roll the camera if I don’t feel a genuine connection to what I see or witness. The beauty of Intuitive creation is the selectiveness in the creative process, it’s the essence we seek and not the quantity of production. Every Zyara is a mirror of who I was or am in the time it was created, every shot is a reflection of my perception of life and others at that specific moment in time. The Intuitive artist should be truthful with every frame and every moment, authenticity is the key that allows you to become a channel of co-creation with life. This is the process i teach within the “intuitive filmlab” a program i have created and still conduct yearly, inviting 9 local audiovisual artists, to reconnect with their intuition through their unique image and sounds. Art is a spiritual journey above all, it is a way to evolve as a person while allowing your journey to mirror the world.

Q: How do you assess the impact of your work on viewers? Are there any specific reactions or feedback that stood out to you?

Muriel Aboulrouss: The feedback and Impact of both the Intuitive filmlab and Zyara have been beyond our expectations on those witnessing it, most importantly the emerging filmmakers who witness the artistic freedom that emanates from it. The impact is ongoing but it is not my concern or target.

Zyara also has become an empowerment & awareness tool for the youth at schools and universities in Lebanon. All our work is made available online for free because we believe that we are here on earth to offer back what we have been given in talent, skills and knowledge. Our humanitarian Arts association “Home of Cine-Jam” is co-founded by Denise Jabbour (creative producer) and myself. As a non profit entity, we seek freedom to create while being fully aware of the greater responsibility that comes with that freedom.

Q: Zyara is a documentary web series that has brought you well-deserved awards. Can you share the history of this project and the ideas you wanted to convey in it?

Muriel Aboulrouss: Zyara was born in 2014 from nothingness, from a period of mourning and from our Lebanese traumas. Denise and I are both born 1974, we have lived in Lebanon our whole lives and went through the civil war and all the little wars that followed and that is an ongoing journey here in the middle east. In 2014 she felt inclined to go ask people about their lives, to reconnect with people as an empath and she invited me to go with her on this journey. I wasn’t interested in shooting interviews so we made an agreement that I film as I feel and she asks the questions as she feels. That mutual liberation resulted in Zyara’s Artistic language and with time, as we continued producing, Zyara’s content got refined into what it is today. After a very successful festival journey & 45 international awards, we have so far created 84 episodes and as we speak today we are finalizing Zyara season 8, which means that in total we have 96 episodes of Zyara.

At the beginning, Denise was curious about people’s lives and i longed for creative freedom but after the first season, things started to come together and little did we know that Zyara was meant to take us on a journey of self discovery through every person we visited (zyara means Visit).

Today we are aware that the purpose of Zyara is to inspire compassion, hope, empowerment and oneness.

Q: The Humane Arts Association Home of Cine-Jam plays an important role in your creative endeavors. Can you tell us about the mission of this association and how it influences your projects?

Muriel Aboulrouss: Home of Cine-Jam, the humanitarian arts association, was born in 2017 long after we started with the Intuitive Filmlab and Zyara, things took shape organically as we were moving forward in unveiling our purpose in Art as in Life. in our website you can read more about what we do but i will summarize it here for the readers: we archive human emotions through audiovisual arts.

“We are headed towards a generation consumed by technology and robotization is on its way. Our human evolution is inevitable and change is happening fast. We are aware of the positive and negative impact of such an evolution and we take on the responsibility of preserving raw human stories and emotions through audiovisual arts, a library which will be valuable for generations to come.”

Q: What have been some of the most memorable awards and recognitions you have received for your work?

Muriel Aboulrouss: All awards and recognitions were overwhelming because they gave us a push to keep going with this self funded initiative, everything we do is self funded and approached like a mission more than anything else, but the latest award we received here in Lebanon was the most meaningful because it was the first time we are acknowledged in our own country we received the “Fireflies of the Arts” award in 2022 by the Beirut Art Film Festival and that truly filled our hearts with joy.

Q: What cinematic works or directors have had the greatest influence on you and your style?

Muriel Aboulrouss: I truly believe that everything transforms in life, we are a manifestation of our ancestors and our art is a continuation, a legacy of all those who created before us. I am not aware of any direct influence but of course I can easily name Tarkovski’s films and philosophy, which was a great inspiration since I discovered him during my years of studies (1992-1997). I discovered the poet in me through the intuitive creative process and I owe that to all the poets of the world, those who opened their hearts and allowed it to be broken so they could bleed art from within.

Q: How do you see filmmaking evolving in the future? Are there any new trends or technologies that are particularly interesting to you?

Muriel Aboulrouss: I don’t want to burden myself with art in general because in many ways what the world calls Art today is not necessarily what I perceive as such. I will only say that from my perspective Authenticity is lacking and those who are truthful are not exposed enough to the world but that will change. I will work on exposing the truth in Art in my country and empower those who have the courage to create what is not applauded.

Technologies are necessary tools but the abuse & dependency on them is weakening the beauty of our uniqueness, sometimes handcrafted films are more powerful and more necessary than any high cost production loaded with technological toys and accessories to entertain the director or the cinematographer. Now let’s talk about the “children of the social media wave”. What is the kind of Art that this generation will generate into the world? How can we be a bridge between the old and the new? How can we remind them of who they are in the midst of this tsunami of audiovisual content online? That is a question I ask myself everyday! That’s why Home of Cine-Jam exists.

Q: Your experience as a teacher and mentor certainly has an impact on young filmmakers. How do you help them find their own cinematic language?

Muriel Aboulrouss: I can’t explain in words how i guide my artists into finding their own audiovisual language but u can explain how i became the teacher that i am today:

“Dreaming of a better world got me through the war, daydreaming got me through school with minimal damage, believing in my dreams got me through university penniless, visualizing my dreams got me to become a cinematographer when only men were allowed next to the camera. The evolution of my dreams got me to create the intuitive film lab; and through it all, it was commitment, passion, discipline, and perseverance that carried me through.

I created this film lab in 2012 when it was still a raw filmmaking workshop that I called Cine-Jam. What pushed me to manifest it, was a question by a beautiful, talented artist and friend, “Tell us how your creative mind functions?”

Here it is… my answer is in this Intuitive Film Lab.

It is the whole of who I am, from heart to mind, from spirituality to physicality, from the seen and the unseen parts of me. This Intuitive Film Lab is my gift to the audiovisual artists of the world who are willing to look within and discover with me the genius that lies within them… in their gut through their intuition, they can reveal their uniqueness through a composition of sound and images that only they can create… and I, in all this, I celebrate the “creation” by witnessing their art and the divine that awakens every time they allow life to co-create with them, through their emotions and talent, their personal cinematic depiction of being human.

My purpose is to teach around the world, Teaching is for me an opportunity to look in my students eyes and empower the glow in their hearts. Teaching is an act of empowerment, an act of love but most of all it’s a revolution on the self through audiovisual arts.”

Q: Finally, what future projects or ideas are you planning to implement in the near future? We will be waiting for new works from you.

Muriel Aboulrouss: Zyara the doc series and the Intuitive filmlab program are my projects, both ongoing, evolving and growing in time and depth. We are heading to establish “the Lab of Intuitive Arts” in Lebanon, the first of its kind in the MENA region with international partners, mostly those who appreciate and support experimental arts, the underground and the alternative way. Life is an experience where the questions are more important than the answers and that for me is the key that let me into a world where the creative process has become the greatest question of all.

Contacts Muriel Aboulrouss: