Sunday, December 18, 2011

In The Daily Star: The multifaceted, contentious world of Lebanese documentary

December 17, 2011
by Jim Quilty

DUBAI: (...) With 10 feature length films projected over three programs, Lebanese filmmakers were unusually well represented at DIFF this year. Perhaps because DIFF’s juries feted two of the Lebanese docs in competition, while the other two were locked out of the winners’ circle, these four works prompted a visceral debate – at least among some Lebanese at DIFF.

(...)Complicating this situation is the fact that still more Lebanese documentaries – which in another year, or another festival, might have been included in a competition line-up – were projected in the festival’s non-competitive Arabian Nights panorama.

“Che Guevara Died in Lebanon” (2011), the debut feature of Christina Foerch Saab, is a sweet-natured biography of her husband Ziad, a one-time fighter with Lebanon’s Communist Party who, like so many leftists this century, has taken to re-evaluating his belief system. It’s an often-touching work that draws obvious comparisons to Maher Abi Samra’s 2010 “We Were Communists,” without being in any way derivative of that work.

More challenging is Wissam Charaf’s debut feature-length doc “It’s All in Lebanon.” This media study relies largely upon archival images drawn from a handful of Lebanese television stations – all owned and operated by different political parties in the country – complemented by the commentary of several figures, most notably Lokman Slim, co-founder of the Haret Hreik-based cultural institute UMAM Documentation and Research.

The film analyzes the ideal types that have been projected into the Lebanese public since the end of the country’s Civil War. At one extreme are the Lebanese music videos that encouraged Lebanese to simply ignore their difficult reality – that, as Charaf notes in his voiceover, the civil war has not really ended. At the other extreme were the public relations videos of Al-Manar Television, which promoted an ever greater attachment to and recollection of the past. This business has only been complicated by the Lebanese media response to the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

All these works are worth finding, whether you’re Lebanese or not.

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