To my Beirut

Á mon Beyrouth…

Beirut Film Festival and the price of censorship


While crowds of people flocked to follow up on Iranian President Ahmadinajad’s every move upon his arrival to Lebanon, I was busy in UNESCO, working with a wonderful team of people in preparation for the closing ceremony of the Beirut International Film Festival. The festival was wonderful, and we had a wonderful set of guests, among them actress and producer Arsinée Khanjiann and Cinema historian Robert Daudelin. The closing ceremony began with handing out the awards to the films, of which we are starting to see this year an increase in Arab films displayed, particularly from Saudi Arabia.

What upset me (which might be the best diplomatic word to describe my current feelings on the subject) during this festival was the Lebanese Government’s somewhat successful impact on the films that were screened. There were two cases here:

1. The first, done to spare the feelings of Iranian President Ahmadinajad, was the postponement of  the screening “Green Days”, a dramatic documentary set during the protests that followed his disputed election in 2009. The Lebanese Government, or to be more precise, the “General Security” were successful, not in banning the film, but rather, according to the festival’s director, Colette Naufal, the censorship authorities had “asked us to postpone the two screenings because of the Iranian president’s visit.”

My problem with that is the following:

  • In Iran, leading film-makers have been swept up in the government crackdown on opposition and freedom of expression that followed the protests, among them Jafar Panahi, who had been imprisoned for 3 months and would have died of his hunger strike had their not been an international reaction with a petition signed by many, including fellow directors, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese etc.
  • Link to petition article

  • We know what happened in Iran during the protests. We know who died during the protests as well. We all know who Neda is. Had Ahmadinajad won fair and square during the elections, then he would not have felt the need to silence his people, neither would he nor his government would have felt threatened by Iran’s artists and filmmakers.

2.  My other problem, is the absolute censorship of another film,  “Chou Sar” (What Happened?)

“Chou Sar?” is a movie directed by De Gaulle Eid depicting the massacre of his family that he witnessed during the civil war in his hometown in Edbel, North of Lebanon back in 1980. The film was banned by the ISF for “inciting sectarianism.”

“The film/documentary tells of the director’s own life story. On December 9, 1980, De Gaulle Eid’s parents, youngest sister and eleven other members of his family were gunned down in Edbel, Northern Lebanon. Eid left Lebanon to go to France, and now lives with his own family in Corsica. However, since leaving Lebanon, Eid has remained traumatized by the massacre. When he finally returns to Lebanon, he has to deal with his past. He also has to deal with the reality of the 1993 amnesty agreement, which meant that perpetrators of civil war-era atrocities are immune from retribution. Discovering his former neighbors, who participated in his family’s slaying are still living in the area, Eid is faced with a hideous reality.”

The above was written by the Dubai International Film Festival. Do you know why I had to get my information from a foreign film festival about a Lebanese film made about Lebanon? Yup. Exactly. Cuz I didn’t watch it. And why is that? Because nobody here watched it… not yet anyway.

The General Security gave a “verbal message” to the organizers of the Lebanese Film Festival as well as the Beirut International Film Festival that although they “liked” the film, they found it too controversial.

Anyway, what happened at the Beirut International Film Festival was that the jury had awarded a special prize to De Gaulle Eid, who received a standing ovation, despite the fact that his film was not even screened.
In his touching speech, De Gaulle Eid thanked the audience for clapping for him, and asked that they do not clap for the politicians. His voice began to break as he wept on stage, and had us all weeping with him. He said that film was a form of expression and dialogue, and that the doors of communication must always be kept open, no matter what political party or religious sect we come from.
I do not remember all of what he said, but I do know that no one could top it after that speech. The director of “Kick-off”, an Iraqi film, Shawkat Amin Korki, came and gave a polite and good-natured “Thank you” right after.
I guess this is another example of the Lebanese obsession with erupting amnesia every time the Civil War is mentioned…

3.   And last but not least, we had a case of  “being on the verge but had a last minute save censorship”.

“Waiting for Abu Zayd”, a documentary by Ali Atassi about Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, one of the leading liberal theologians in Islam, had trouble at the General Security’s censor, who, at first refused to grant clearance to the film that gave a liberal vision and interpretation of Islam, only relenting a few minutes before its scheduled projection at Beirut’s festival of Arabic-language film, Ayyam Beirut al-Cinemaiyya. Perhaps they felt they were over-doing it this year.

For more details on the film, click here.

And on how it was almost banned, over here.

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5 comments on “Beirut Film Festival and the price of censorship

  1. Farah
    October 15, 2010

    love it
    but hate what is happening to cinema in lebanon
    everything is associated to political situation :S

    keep up da good work girl

  2. Mhamad Safa
    October 15, 2010

    I am really speechless miss Natasha 🙂
    You always find new ways of surprising me!
    Keep up the good marvelous work!
    God Bless you

  3. Pingback: How The Beirut Film Festival Was Censored | The Beirut Spring, a Lebanese Blog

  4. Trella
    October 16, 2010

    Excellent round-up Natacha !
    here is something i wrote about it as well
    http://trella.org/?p=1966
    and a short you-tube video

  5. Pingback: Beirut Film Festival and the price of censorship « Natasha … | Moon Festival

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