The boy who stars as Zain is actually a Syrian refugee. Zain Al Rafeea had lived in Lebanon for eight years and was 12 years old during production. His character is named for him.
All actors in Capernaum are people whose real life resembles that of the film. Thus, Zain's real life is similar (to some extent) to that of his character, as was Rahil, who was undocumented. For the character of Zain's mother, Nadine Labaki was inspired by a woman she met, who has 16 children and lives in the same conditions as those of Capernaum. Six of his children have died and others are in orphanages for lack of care. The one who plays the role of Kawthar really fed her children with sugar and ice cubes.
Capharnaüm is a fiction of which all the elements are things that Nadine Labaki has really seen and experienced during her research in the field. Nothing is fantasized or imagined, on the contrary, all that we see there is the result of her visits to deprived neighborhoods, detention centers and juvenile prisons, where she went alone.
Shooting lasted six months and resulted in a cut 12 hours long; it was subject to edits over two years.
The film received a 15-minute standing ovation following its premiere at Cannes on 17 May 2018.
The title, Capernaum, can mean 'chaos' in Arabic. It is derived from a biblical town that was condemned by Jesus as one of the three cities that refused to repent for its sins even after Jesus performed miracles of healing there.
Many of the actors were novices, which Labaki described as necessary because she wanted "a real struggle on that big screen".
This is the second Lebanese movie after The Insult (2017) to be nominated for an Oscar in the foreign language category.
It was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize.
Although Labaki is an actress, she gave herself only a small role, preferring the novice actors drawing from their experiences.
The film was selected as the Lebanese entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards.
Nadine Labaki's 3rd feature film. All her three films have premiered in Cannes film festival and she has played a role in all of them.
During filming, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees applied for resettlement on behalf of lead actor Zain al Rafeea and his family, who all had been sleeping on the floor in one room. They were subsequently relocated to a two-story house in Norway, where Zain is learning to read and write.
The title, "Capharnaüm", was imposed on Nadine Labaki without the filmmaker realizing it. When she began thinking about the feature film, her husband offered to write on a white board in the middle of their living room all the themes she wanted to talk about, her obsessions of the moment. At one point she looked at the board and said, "C'est un Capernaum" - it's chaos.
Nadine Labaki's 3rd feature film is also her third film to be nominated officially to the Academy by her country Lebanon.
Sony Pictures Classics, which had previously distributed Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?, bought North American and Latin American distribution rights for the film, while Wild Bunch retained the international rights.