De­vel­op­ing an in­dus­try and heal­ing a na­tion

ZIAD DOUEIRI’S THE IN­SULT

Executive Magazine - - Contents - Words by Olga Habre

afew years ago, when Ziad Doueiri was stay­ing in the Monot district of Beirut, he got into an ar­gu­ment with a con­struc­tion worker over a leaky pipe on his bal­cony. The mat­ter was re­solved quickly, but the lm­maker and his co-writer Joelle Touma be­gan to think about what other pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios could have emerged from the scene. This year, The In­sult was re­leased—a cti­tious story that starts with an ar­gu­ment be­tween two men over a leaky bal­cony pipe, and blows out of pro­por­tion into a na­tional scan­dal that reeks of civil war. Al­most 20 years a er the re­lease of West Beirut, Doueiri’s rst fea­ture lm about the Le­banese Civil War that is widely con­sid­ered a mas­ter­piece, The In­sult is about the quest for jus­tice and dig­nity, and the rigid­ity of our per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal be­liefs. Set in mod­ern­day Beirut, the drama sees Tony (played by Adel Karam), a car me­chanic and die-hard Le­banese Forces sup­porter, go head-to-head against Yasser (played by Kamel El Basha), a Pales­tinian refugee work­ing in the neigh­bor­hood. A er a ver­bal in­sult, one thing leads to an­other, and the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lates into a

court case that grips and di­vides Le­banon. Show­ing both sides of the story in a tense court­room set­ting, it’s ul­ti­mately a hu­man nar­ra­tive of grief, anger, and hope. The lm takes an in­sight­ful look at the trou­bled state of Le­banese so­ci­ety, ex­pos­ing old wounds—per­sonal and na­tional—with nesse and sen­si­tiv­ity, while at­tempt­ing to rec­on­cile Le­banon’s col­lec­tive trauma. Most agree there has been no na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and Le­banon doesn’t have an o icial writ­ten his­tory of the con ict that ended in 1 0—so it’s no sur­prise the lm was met with mixed re­ac­tions. Per­haps be­cause it hits so very close to home, some have crit­i­cized the di­rec­tor, who was ar­rested at Beirut air­port last month and put in front of a mil­i­tary tri­bunal from which he was quickly re­leased with­out charges. These crit­ics os­ten­si­bly con­fronted Doueiri about his 2012 lm The At­tack, which was par­tially lmed in Is­rael, with Is­raeli ac­tors, break­ing a Le­banese law that bans it cit­i­zens from vis­it­ing Is­rael or hav­ing busi­ness deal­ings with Is­raelis. Doueiri, how­ever, claims the real rea­son he has come un­der re now is that these peo­ple are un­happy with the themes in The In­sult. The loaded story was bound to start con­ver­sa­tions and con icts, but Doueiri didn’t ex­pect such a harsh re­cep­tion. To him, those who op­pose The In­sult are vic­tims of their own blind­ness, the way many peo­ple are as a re­sult of the war—in­clud­ing him­self. As a teenager grow­ing up in West Beirut dur­ing the Le­banese Civil War, Doueiri says he was in­stilled with ideas of di­vi­sion and un­fair­ness, and ad­mits he thought “the other side” didn’t su er as much as his side did. “We looked at the Chris­tians, think­ing they never su ered … These are nar­ra­tives of war, this is the mis­con­cep­tion of war that has hap­pened through­out his­tory.” He ex­plains, “I grew up think­ing there’s one per­spec­tive, which is my per­spec­tive … It might sound naive, but when you’re young you are naive.” Doueiri says it took him years to see other points of view and to change his own. “With time you grow, you start in­ter­act­ing with this ‘en­emy,’ and you start to un­der­stand that the su er­ing was on both sides … It’s not easy to aban­don be­liefs,” he says, con­clud­ing that crit­ics of The In­sult have not yet come to the same un­der­stand­ing. “The peo­ple who are at­tack­ing us are ac­tu­ally vic­tims be­cause there has been no na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. They think that cer­tain pain that hap­pened dur­ing the war is ex­clu­sive to a cer­tain group and don’t want to ac­cept that there’s an­other side,” he says. Though it deals with a sit­u­a­tion that is very speci c to this coun­try, and the Le­banese are more likely to re­late to and un­der­stand cul­tural ref­er­ences within the di­a­logue, the lm—which is in Ara­bic—hu­man­izes pol­i­tics and tells a univer­sal story that tran­scends lan­guage and cul­ture. The In­sult won over the in­terna-

tional au­di­ence at one of the most pres­ti­gious cinema events in the world this year, the Venice Film Fes­ti­val, where it re­ceived a ve-minute stand­ing ova­tion and Pales­tine’s Ka­mal El Bacha won Best Ac­tor for his role—in­cred­i­bly, as this is the rst fea­ture lm for the vet­eran theater per­former. The movie has also been sub­mit­ted to The Os­cars, rep­re­sent­ing Le­banon in the for­eign lan­guage cat­e­gory. ual­ity lms are the key to build­ing a na­tional cinema in­dus­try, and in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and awards are de nitely help­ful in de­vel­op­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of Le­banese cinema. Doueiri calls the lo­cal lm in­dus­try em­bry­onic, but be­lieves it has a lot of po­ten­tial, as long as lm­mak­ers nd ways to branch out to other mar­kets—the Le­banese mar­ket is too small to carry the costs of a fea­ture lm pro­duc­tion, let alone make a pro t. Doueiri calls on more in­di­vid­u­als to fund Le­banese lms and o ers var­i­ous ways to lighten the load on in­vestors, such as co-pro­duc­tions with other coun­tries. What Le­banon re­ally needs, he says, is sup­port from the state—a lm in­dus­try is a ma­chine that needs ev­ery­thing from script writ­ing, cast­ing and di­rect­ing, to post pro­duc­tion, as well as laws that pro­tect the in­dus­try and help with nanc­ing. Yet, he says the best way to el­e­vate the Le­banese lm in­dus­try is to fo­cus on mak­ing qual­ity lms. “We have sto­ries to tell, we have in­cred­i­ble tal­ent and peo­ple that are dy­ing to make qual­ity movies,” the di­rec­tor says, adding that those sto­ries can, and should, be Le­banon speci c, as long as they are well-told. Au­thors are en­cour­aged to write what they know, and that’s ex­actly what Doueiri ad­vises lm­mak­ers to do. The In­sult was in­spired by a seem­ingly in­signi cant real-life plumb­ing in­ci­dent that was es­hed out with the prej­u­dices of in­di­vid­u­als that have not healed from a cross-bor­der tragedy. The Le­banese ex­pe­ri­ence is a nar­ra­tive rich with sto­ries to tell, and with the right sup­port, our lm in­dus­try can bring these ex­pe­ri­ences to a wider au­di­ence.

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