Nadine Labaki’s New Movie “Capharnaüm” Is Part Of The 2018 Cannes Festival Official Selection, First Lebanese Movie Since 1991

After Georges Nasser’s films “Ila Ayn” 1957, “Le Petit Étranger” 1962, and Maroun Baghdadi’s “Hors La Vie” 1991, Nadine Labaki’s latest “Capharnaüm” is chosen to be in the official competition at the 2018 Cannes Festival.

While the movie does not have a trailer yet, and neither do we have an official synopsis of what it is about, this is such an honor to bestow on this phenomenal Lebanese director whose previous two films were also critically acclaimed, with Where Do We Go Now winning the top prize at the Toronto Film Festival and being nominated for a Critics Choice Award in 2009.

Being part of the Official Selection at Cannes means that Capharnaüm  is in the running for the show’s top prize – the Palme D’Or – for best movie. Nadine’s previous movies were selected for a different, less prestigious subset, the “Un Certain Regard” selection.

Other movies that were selected along with Capharnaüm are:

  • Le Livre D’Image, dir: Jean-Luc Godard
  • Blackkklansman, dir: Spike Lee
  • Three Faces, dir: Jafar Panahi
  • Cold War, dir: Pawel Pawlikowski
  • Leto, dir: Kirill Serebrennikov
  • Lazzaro Felice, dir: Alice Rohrwacher
  • Under The Silver Lake, dir: David Robert Mitchell
  • Capernaum, dir: Nadine Labaki
  • At War, dir: Stephane Brizé
  • Asako I&II, dir: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Sorry Angel, dir: Christophe Honoré
  • Dogman, dir: Matteo Garrone
  • Girls Of The Sun, dir: Eva Husson
  • Yomeddine, dir: A.B Shawky
  • Burning, dir: Lee-Chang Dong
  • Shoplifters, dir: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
  • Ash Is Purest White, dir: Jia Zhang-Ke

The fact that Nadine Labaki is in the running against a legend such as Jean-Luc Goddard is an honor in itself.

I personally can’t wait to see Capernaum, and hope it’s as phenomenal as the honors it’s being bestowed indicate.

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No, Gebran Bassil, Ne7na Meghterbin

Gebran Bassil – our esteemed minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigrants – wants to change the name of the ministry he is heading from that dealing with Immigrant affairs, to – what I would assume translates as: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora. In Arabic, the change goes from Meghterbin to Mountashirin.

The change, it seems, is Bassil’s attempt – in his ever lasting effort to gain a parliament seat in my home district (which he will get with this freak of an electoral law they’ve come up with) – to indicate to us, Lebanon’s immigrants at large, that our identity is Lebanese.

As if we have forgotten.

We may have left the country, dear sir, but the attempt to wash away the very hard decision of us deciding to pack up everything and leave will not be accepted. The mere fact that you think I need to be reminded of my Lebanese identity is insulting.

I have not forgotten that I have not seen my parents in months. I have not forgotten that I couldn’t be next to my grandfather as he drew his dying breath. I have not forgotten that I am missing out on Celine and Yasmina growing up. I have not forgotten that I have not seen my best friends and have not been in their lives for almost a year.

I have not forgotten that I will be missing out on Celine and Simon’s baptisms. I have not forgotten that I haven’t hugged my grandmothers in what feels like an eternity. I have not forgotten that I haven’t seen my brothers in months either.

And yet, here we are.

What makes me Lebanese is them. It’s what I’ve left behind and I remember every single day of being ten thousand miles away, as I get glimpses of what I’ve left behind over WhatsApp voice messages.

No, you do not get to sugar coat me being away from home.

I have also not forgotten the country you and your friends made me leave. In the time I’ve been here, America has offered me more – and I’m not even their citizen – than what my own government has in over twenty seven years of being its citizen.

America has offered me well-paved roads. You haven’t.

America has offered me a well-paying job. You haven’t.

America has offered me fast internet, water that doesn’t die off on me, electricity that I can rely on, gas that doesn’t break the bank to buy, accessibility that cannot be replaced, and prosperity that cannot be priced.

America has offered me a place in which I can build my own home, without worrying about tomorrow might bring. You haven’t.

What have you offered?

You’ve offered a country where everyone has a militia, where you don’t succeed based on your qualifications but based on who you know, where half of people my age are struggling to find a job, where corruption is our modus operandi, where the most basic of human requirements are not provided to me.

But please, do remind me that I’m Lebanese. Remind me of how I can’t go on vacation anywhere without needing two hundred and fifty different pieces of paper to have them consider me for a visa. Remind me of how you and your friends have turned the country’s reputation into a shithole. Remind me of all that baggage that I’ve willingly left behind – just because you need my vote, I suppose.

You think we wanted to leave. No one wants to leave their home, and everything that they’ve known their whole life. But you’ve made me do so.

I have not forgotten why I left. I thank the heavens each day that I took that decision. And it won’t really matter what you name your little useless ministry, at least for me.

Come April 29th, Lebanon’s voting immigrants – please choose wisely. And on May 6th, I hope the Lebanese populace back home remembers that their sons and daughters are immigrating for a reason.

A Record 111 Women Are Running For Parliament in Lebanon’s 2018 Elections

As Lebanon’s 2018 elections go on in full swing, a total of 976 candidates have presented to the Ministry of Interior affairs as of the deadline at midnight on March 6th. Of those, 111 candidates are women.

There are two ways to look at this. 111 candidates being women is essentially only 11.37% of the total number of candidates. Yes, the percentage may be dreary, but back in 2009 – the last time we actually had parliamentary elections – only 15 women had run, from a field of over 702 candidates. That’s nearly 2%, an abomination by all measures.

So instead of saying that 111 candidates being women is not good enough, I choose to celebrate the milestone of having that many women run. It’s the highest number since El-Taef agreement, and will only be just a stepping stone for future elections to come.

This year’s elections has the highest number of candidates ever recorded. The previous record was 702, in 2009. There were 484 candidates in 2005, 545 in 2000, 599 in 1996 and 408 in 1992, the first election after the Taef agreement. Prior to the Lebanese civil war, with less seats in parliament, the most candidates that had run was 366 in 1972.

The reason these elections have had a higher influx of candidates in general is the new election law at hand: it allows more representation to entities of the electorate that had been diluted away previously. Even Lebanon’s political parties are fielding candidates in districts that they had not been competitive in. For instance, the Lebanese Forces and FPM have candidates in the deep south and the Beqaa-Hermel districts. More importantly, however, a good chunk of those candidates are people from Lebanon’s civil society who had fought tooth and nail over the past few years against the limitless corruption of those in power.

Interestingly enough, a quarter of Lebanon’s current parliament members are not running for re-election. The most notable of those is probably former prime minister Fouad Sanioura, who held the Sunni seat in Saida since 2009. Many simply didn’t stand a chance at defeating a challenge in the shuffling of proportional representation.

While 111 women running for parliament is an achievement in itself, it shows – yet again – that Lebanon’s political parties have failed in further strengthening the political might of this core demographic in the Lebanese population. Remember the days when they were talking about women quotas? Even their most conservative of quotas is higher than the number of women candidates that are running, and definitely higher than the ones they will have on their list.

For a full list of the candidates, click here.

It’s up to us, therefore, to make sure we have as many new and fresh faces in parliament as possible. As an expat in the United States, I will vote on April 29th. My district – Batroun – has the least number of candidates running in the entire country: only 10 candidates are running for 2 Maronite seats. Of those 10 candidates, a phenomenal journalist, lawyer, and friend named Layal Bou Moussa is hoping to make a dent in the Lebanese political sphere.

It is without hesitation, therefore, that I say my preferential vote will be going to her this year. She has proven over and over again to be a loud voice for all the oppressed. As a reporter for New TV, she’s exposed corruption of those in power. It’s time we give her a chance, every one else in my district has been in power in one way or the other since at least 2005. Enough is enough. On April 29th, I’m with her.

There’s a lot to say about the chance that people from Lebanon’s civil society have to get to parliament. But if we all belittle their chances and either not vote or vote for political parties instead, then we’ll be falling into the same rabbit hole we’re never going to get out of. It’s worse when there are accomplished candidates running in our districts that need our votes.

Other notable female candidates running are:

  • Paula Yaacoubian for the Armenian seat in Beirut’s 1st district,
  • Joumana Haddad for the Minorities seat in Beirut’s 1st district,
  • Jessica Azar – MTV journalist – for the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn,
  • Sethrida Geagea for the Maronite seat in Becharre,
  • Gilberte Zouein running for the Maronite seat in Keserwan,
  • Maya Terro running for the Sunni seat in Chouf,
  • Sandrella Merhej running for the Maronite seat in Baalbek,
  • Lina Mokhayber running for the Greek Orthodox seat in Metn,
  • Raghida Dargham running for the Druze seat in Beirut’s second district,
  • Michelle Tuein running for the Greek Orthodox seat in Beirut’s first district, among others.

How many of those candidates will end up in parliament is yet to be determined, but the mere fact that since the last time we’ve held parliamentary elections, the number of Lebanese women willing to throw in their hat into the figurative political scene has grown by more than 700% is telling. Maybe this time, we can actually get more than 4 women out of 128 members of parliament.

The next deadline in the election process is to submit lists. Candidates cannot run on their own anymore, and as such they need to be part of bigger lists that are running candidates to their district. This is because the new electoral law adopts proportional representation, which will make voting not as simple. The following is a neat video by the Lebanese Forces about how the law work. Yes, it’s a political party’s video, but no it’s not partisan in its information:

 

Lebanon’s Government Wants To Silence Hisham Haddad For Making A Joke About The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Ben Salman

In your daily dose of the increasing censorship being enforced by an unchecked government in this country, comedian Hisham Haddad is now on their chopping block as the Lebanese government is filing a lawsuit against him for making fun of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Ben Salman.

In case anyone forgot, Mohammad Ben Salman is the same guy who, not even three months ago, had our own prime minister imprisoned and forced to resign from office. He’s also the same guy who has a bunch of his cousins still held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in his crackdown on “corruption” as he buys mansions and paintings for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Haddad’s “fault” it seems is that he made fun of Michel Hayek’s yearly NYE predictions in which he “advised” the crown prince to cut down on his intake of fast food. The joke in question is the following:

There’s literally nothing in it that is remotely offensive, not that an offensive joke is grounds for a lawsuit in the first place. And yet here we are. Since when are we a country where criticism of any political leader is a red line? Or is it just because its *this* particular leader, whose ass we really want to keep kissing?

I’m not sure if there’s a toxic level of confusion at play here, but Lebanon not a country where citizens can be silenced left and right for making a joke about leaders – and at the very least leaders of other countries – and no repercussions about it. We are not a country where a joke can get you beheaded, imprisoned. In other words, Lebanon is not Saudi Arabia. Our leaders are not supreme rulers. They are elected officials who answer to us, and whose powers end when they try to walk all over our constitutionally given freedoms just to appease foreign leaders by going extra miles just for their appeasement.

This same government was upset a few weeks ago that Marcel Ghanem’s TV show allowed Saudi pundits to be on air and insult the Lebanese government and its president. By the looks of it, MBS seems to be a role model for the way our leaders want to govern, but they won’t be having any of it.

Regardless of the girth of Mohammad Ben Salman’s abdomen, or the amount of daily fat he likes to eat, this country will never become what our leaders want it to become: a place where we have to think 300 times about criticizing a politician, the policies of another country, a religious leader, or agree in any form or fashion to their heinous attempts at oppression by filing baseless lawsuits just because they’re bored.

If Saudi Citizens are used to having their basic human rights and freedoms walked all over, then we – as lebanese citizens – are not. And what Hisham Haddad is going through now, and Marcel Ghanem before him, are horrendous transgressions against their basic constitutional rights as Lebanese citizens, just to please a Saudi prince.

Lebanon is not a district of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our president is not a crown prince. And Mohammad Ben Salman is open season for any joke in my country. Now let’s have Lebanon’s government be up to speed with this.

“The Insult” Is Nominated For Best Foreign Film Oscar, First Time Ever For A Lebanese Movie

Ziad Doueiry’s latest movie, “The Insult,” was just announced as one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2018 Oscars. This marks the first time ever that a Lebanese movie has scored such a nomination – the closest we’d gotten before was when Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now” won the big prize at the Toronto Film Festival, and scored a nomination for best movie at the Critics Choice Award, losing to “A Separation.”

Released in September in Lebanon, “The Insult” quickly became one of the year’s biggest hits at the Lebanese box office, and a true testament to what Lebanese cinema can do when given proper material. In a time when we are inundated with one mind-numbing stupidity after the next, and chastised for being critical because the only thing you’re allowed to be in Lebanon is supportive, The Insult was a breath of fresh air, and hopefully a new standard by which other Lebanese filmmakers go about their craft.

The release of the movie was not without controversy. Right off the bat of landing in Lebanon for the premiere, director Ziad Doueiry was briefly arrested and had his French and Lebanese passports confiscated because his prior movie, The Assault, had been filmed in Israel. He was ultimately trialled and released without charges.

“The Insult” is about the Palestinian Yasser (Kamel El Basha), a respected foreman in Beirut charged with fixing building-code violations, who encounters car mechanic Toni (Adel Karam) whose building has an illegal drainpipe. After Yasser suggests fixing the drainpipe, Toni slams the door in his face, which prompts Yasser to fix the drainpipe anyway, leading to an insult from Yasser’s side.

This single slur then becomes the hallmark for a court case that divides the nation, pitting Palestinian refugee and construction worker, against a Lebanese Christian. The court case evolves into more than just insults, but into the long standing sectarian grievances that plague our daily lives back home.

The political backdrop of “The Insult” are historical speeches of Bachir Gemayel, with all the political pulsations that such speeches entail on the relationship between Lebanese – mostly Christians – and Palestinians refugees; it’s essentially a cross examination of an aspect of Lebanese society that many of us do not routinely address.

I recently had the honor to watch this movie in New York City. The experience of “The Insult”was humbling. It was a movie so about home, that I was watching from so far away. For the duration of its runtime, I was transported back to the streets of Achrafieh that I knew, to those encounters and discussions that we know all too well. It was so engrossing that I was disoriented, exiting that New York City theatre, as to where I was. It’s a work of art that renders you speechless, worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The entire cast did such a phenomenal job, with career defining performances. I was a proud Lebanese watching those actors soar on screen, in front of Americans who were as engrossed as I was, despite them not being aware of the historical backdrop to which the scenes unfold. It doesn’t matter – the struggles illustrated in “The Insult” are universal, transcending politics, and attaining human nature.

With that movie, Ziad Doueiry has proven once again that Lebanon has enough reservoir of stories to make proper cinema, as our brains are rendered numb with the barrage of worthless junk that fills theaters. Congrats to the makers of the movie and all of the cast, you’ve made us tremendously proud. Best of luck to you, and I hope you bring home that trophy.

Lebanon Bans Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” Because Of His Support of Israel, Proving The Country Is Run By Stone Age Airheads

At the rate Lebanon’s censorship bureau has been going for the past year, the country might as well have rang in 1918 instead of 2018, because the situation has become unacceptable.

The latest victim of a censorship bureau that doesn’t want to upset what’s becoming a form of cultural terrorism in the country is Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” a stunning drama that is absolutely VITAL to be seen today.

The reason why Lebanon has an issue with Spielberg is both anti-semitic and because of the country’s anti-Israel laws. When Spielberg’s Tintin was released, his name was struck out from the poster in order to upset anyone due to his last name’s obvious Jewish background. His name was eventually added to the blacklist of the Arab League’s Central Boycott (of Israel) Office because of a donation he made to the Zionist state in 2006.

Yes, Spielberg making donations to Israel is abhorrent, but he’s not the only Hollywood figure to do so, nor will he be the last. When and where do we draw the ridiculous line about what we ban and allow in this country when it pertains to Israel, because this sure as hell is pushing it. An American director, with no ties to the country in question except for his religion, makes a contribution to the country like thousands of other Westerners and Americans do, and he’s suddenly persona non-grata?

To make matters worse, the decision to add Spielberg to that Arab ban list occurred in 2007. He’s had countless movies released in the area since, without any form of controversy. He has been director and producer of many movies that were released without a glitch in the area. Of those movies, I list: Transformers, The BFG, Bridge of Spies, Jurrasic World, Lincoln, etc…

Over the past 10 years, Lebanon has screened SIXTEEN movies in which Spielberg was either directing or producing. And here comes 2018, with Lebanon’s BDS office finding new muscle in our government, and the country won’t be able to get any of his movies ever again.

I would call such a ban illogical, but those calling for him to be blanket banned don’t really understand logic. They are the same people who believe Gal Gadot’s existence in a movie is a covert attempt at spreading zionism into the subconscious of the Arab masses, except in Gal Gadot’s case the argument was that she was actually Israeli, whereas in Spielberg’s case, the affront is an association to the n’th degree, just to appease to some people’s hypersensitivity, but I digress.

Being in the United States, I had the pleasure to watch “The Post” in its opening weekend a few days ago. The movie, set in the 1970s, features legends Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as the owner and editor of the Washington Post at that time, respectively, as they try to reveal government secrets about the Vietnam War, during Nixon’s White House, as he attempts to silence the press.

The movie, based on a true story, is exceedingly important in today’s day and age where freedom of speech, the press, and the important of expression are all threatened. The irony of a movie about fighting off censorship being censored in a country that is developing a knee-jerk response to anything that ruffles its feathers should not escape you.

What we have in Lebanon is a bunch of airheads in power, whose brains only function in binaries, and who can’t appreciate enough nuances to be able to distinguish between cause to ban (which should never exist, but it’s Lebanon) and not. Instead, The Post is the second movie to be banned this week after Daniel Radcliffe’s “Jungle” also receives the same fate, when it’s discovered that the screenwriter, and some of the people involved in the making of the movie are Israelis.

To expect any movie coming in from the U.S. to be Israel-free is non-sensical. To expect any media import that we get from the big bad West to be Israel free is stupid. What’s next, banning everything that breathes because of a positive opinion they have of the Jewish state? I’m willing to bet those calling for the movie to be banned have watched countless Steven Spielberg movies before.

I expect this bullshit we’re dealing with not to decrease over the next few months, but to further perpetuate like the rabid fire it’s becoming. The next Nathalie Portman movie? Forget about it. Anything featuring Gal Gadot? Forget about that either. Any Steven Spielberg movie coming up after The Post? Nope. It’s just sad.

Again, I reiterate what I’ve said countless times before. Boycotts are not bans. Boycotts add to whatever message the BDS folks want to propagate in the country, whilst bans do the exact opposite. With every single movie they cause to be banned, they lose more people who’d be willing to support them. But I guess they don’t really care about that, either.

The hypocrisy of banning movies in Lebanon because they’re an easy target should not escape anyone. There are products distributed in the market, and imprinted in everyone’s personal life, that are also related in one way or another to Israel, but BDS’ dependency on such products will never have them call for bans.

The lines that movies can’t cross in this country are increasing by the day. “Call Me By Your Name,” the year’s best movie, won’t be released because of its LGBT theme. Movies are banned because Israel. Movies are banned because they upset Christian or Muslim clergy. At this rate, there’s no point in cinema in this country anymore.

Until then, enjoy streaming the movie online or buying it for $2 at your local bootleg DVD store. The biggest loser in all of this bullshit is that Lebanese distributor, in this case Italia Films, that already bought the rights for the movie and will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, as did Joseph Chacra with Wonder Woman, just because we have easily-influenced entities in offices of power, without any ounce of backbone whatsoever.

Hollywood’s Upcoming Movie “Beirut” Checks Off Every American Stereotype About Lebanon

The trailer for Jon Hamm’s latest movie, titled Beirut, and produced by Bleeker Street, was released yesterday. The movie, set in 1982, tells the story of an American officer who finds himself back in Beirut 10 years after his family was killed there to save a friend of his who works in the CIA after he was kidnapped by some Islamic terrorist organization.

In theory, and the fact that the movie is written by the same people behind The Bourne trilogy, this sounds like something that could be fun. Except, once again, an American Hollywood studio decides to whitewash the civil war of a city, and turn its entire struggles about the past and hardships of a white man, who is out of place among the savages he’s forced to exist with.

Here is the trailer:

A Qandahar-esque city ravaged by war: check.

Oriental music with no clear of origin: check.

English spoken like only Americans think terrorists speak English: check.

Mosques on the silhouette of every city shot: check.

Brown kids running around with guns: check.

A terrorist Islamic organization that doesn’t actually exist: check.

The movie not only omits any Lebanese presence in it, but bends the history of the country and of the era that it portrays to make it conform with exactly what Americans think of the city and of the political factors at play. Suddenly, the Israelis are the knights in shining armor trying to save Beirut from its own people, while white Americans roll in to save the day once more.

Those Arabs in the movie? Barbaric savages. Their cities and where they live? Hellholes. Their entire lives? Reduced to kids running around cars with plastic guns.

A movie filmed in Morocco, with no Lebanese cast, with no Lebanese input, with no Lebanese insight – and named after the capital city of a country, while it makes sure to perpetuate the exact notion believed by the people in the country where this movie will most advertise itself.

Representation matters. And this is most important at a time when some creature like Trump is president, a creature that believes any country that is not European is a shithole, and every immigrant from a country that isn’t Norway and friends is a disgrace to his country. In the movie, Beirut, the notion that Arabs are people that exist in an endless circle of violence is perpetuated once more, whilst ticking off every white American’s notion of orientalist Middle Eastern realities. Even the tag line of the movie is “2000 years of revenge, vendetta, murder. Welcome to Beirut.”

Did anyone tell these people that revenge and vendetta are the same thing? Or that the 2000+ year history of Beirut is not about revenge, vendetta and murder, but that a city older than the oldest entity in their country is not summarized by what they think is true of it.

What’s worse is that you’d never find a Hollywood movie, say, that is set in New York portray nothing relevant to the city and be named after it. You’d never find a movie set in any “white” European city negatively portray that city as a terrorist infected haven. Instead, all portrayal tries to stay as respectful as possible to the history of the place they’re showing on screen.

We do not get that courtesy.

I don’t know how Beirut looked in 1982. I was not born back then. But my parents were alive and well back then, and this is not the city they knew. Even in its war-torn buildings, and its own struggles. Even our airport back in the 80’s didn’t look the way it was portrayed in that movie’s trailer. They can’t even afford us historical accuracy – but what do you expect from producers who think all Middle Eastern countries are the same, and that filming a movie in Morocco to portray a city thousands of miles away is fair enough and accurate.

The worst part about the movie is that this is an American take on the Lebanese Civil War – to a certain extent at least – while the war itself had nothing to do with them. And then the release date of the movie is set to coincide with the 43rd anniversary of the Lebanese Civil War, on April 13th.

Dear Hollywood, I understand you have a growing need to be “woke” these days, but being “woke” also involves being aware that other people’s countries and cities are not free reign for you to appropriate into movies whose only purpose is to further perpetuate what you believe is true about those places and those people, as well as fill your pockets with money at their expense.

I, for one, will be boycotting this movie when it’s released, and I invite every Lebanese to do the same. Using our capital but filming somewhere else, using our people but using other nationalities, using our heritage but using other languages, accents and music, and white-washing our entire struggles to fit into the cute boxes that would never oppose the notions of the typical American movie goer, while reinforcing what they think of us, is not okay.