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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“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.

Justice League Is Banned In Lebanon Because Of Gal Gadot (Again)

Surprise, surprise, but the second DC Comics movie released this year will also be banned in our wonderful homeland because Gal Gadot is in it. Again.

Following the mini-national crisis that spilled over internationally with Lebanon becoming the first country in the world to ban Wonder Woman earlier in June because of Gal Gadot’s Israeli background, our censorship bureau is doing the same thing with Justice League, the movie in which Gal Gadot’s character is not front and center.

It seems that after being dormant for many years on Gal Gadot, Lebanon’s censorship bureau is up in full swing, banning anything related to her from being commercially available in the country. After allowing all the Fast & Furious movies she was in, and Batman v Superman (horrible as it was), she has become a persona non grata.

Someone needs to tell them that in the age of the internet, her movies are available to stream/rent/download everywhere. I’m willing to bet the same people who were calling to ban Wonder Woman months ago were the first to buy the cheap bootleg DVD when it became available at their nearest pirated DVD store.

Gal Gadot will not pop up from that movie screen, strut an Israeli flag, tell you about her country, and then sing their national anthem. Gal Gadot’s existence in a movie is not a propaganda to her state. She has already gotten paid for the movie, has already made millions off of it, and will be making millions more with the sequel to Wonder Woman, the sequel to Justice League, and other movies that feature her, which will also be banned in Lebanon, of course. This ban is not an opposition to Israel. Israel doesn’t give a rat’s ass about a movie featuring one of its citizens being banned in a small market in a country it’s at war with.

Censorship is not okay in any form. It removes our semblance of a choice because someone decided something is not good for us. It hasn’t been a year since Annabelle was banned because a priest didn’t like something about Christianity in it. Call Me By Your Name, a masterpiece of a movie about a queer boy’s first love, is also banned (of course) from being released in cinemas in Lebanon, and the list goes on. By the looks of it, we will never reach a time when a slice of our population won’t be triggered enough by some form of media not to call for it to be banned for everyone else.

It’s ridiculous that an actor’s background, regardless of what that background is, is grounds enough to ban a movie for everyone in the country. You are horrified by Gal Gadot’s existence? You have the choice to boycott whatever she’s in, and leave others the choice to do so or not. We should not be minions, under the auspices of governmental organizations who dictate what we should be exposed to or not, just because some groups in this country’s defiance struts the hypocritical lines of principles more frequently than the amount of times I’ll be called a traitor after publishing this.

When I wrote about Wonder Woman and some of their people wanted to hang me for treason, I wondered why Gal Gadot is so easy for them to ban, while getting rid of other Israel-affiliated items in their lives is not. The answer was: we boycott what we can. A movie won’t matter. Something with components researched and developed in Israel being banned is a nuisance – such as their iPhone. Let’s stop pretending this is about priorities or principles. This is about PR. With Gal Gadot, Lebanon’s BDS have found an easy target to score small “victories” and call themselves triumphant.

Where do we draw the line at what should be banned in this country because of its association with Israel? Or are we going to keep on cherry picking at battles without knowing the relevance of said battle? How the hell is a movie normalization? It’s because it’s so simple to ban and fight.

Priests, homophobes, backward religious laws, BDS, sheikhs, annoyed politicians, etc… the list of lines any entity in this country has to maneuver to exist is becoming ridiculous, with banning decisions that are always made on the week of a movie (or some other entity) being released. Justice League was supposed to be screened this week. Wonder Woman was banned on the day it was released, dealing huge losses to its distributor in the country, a Lebanese company who was counting on the blockbuster to make a summer profit.

Resist what? At this point, nobody really knows what these bans are resisting exactly. Justice League is a fun movie – it’s sad the Lebanese populace will be missing out, until it’s available for a 1,000LL pirated DVD.

Beirut: A Major Hollywood Movie With Jon Hamm & Rosamund Pike Will Be Released in 2018

Cringe moment incoming, or at least I hope it’s not.

Coming in April 2018 is a major Hollywood movie from director Brad Anderson who’s known for movies such as The Machinist, The Call, and Transsiberian is going to be releasing a new movie featuring Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm titled “Beirut.”

Rosamund Pike’s breakthrough role was most recently in “Gone Girl” for which she received an Oscar nomination, whereas Jon Hamm is known for his role in Mad Men and most recently in the great “Baby Driver.”

Jon Hamm is Mason Skiles, a former U.S. diplomat who returns to service to save a former colleague, whereas Rosamund Pike’s role will be a CIA field agent working undercover at the American embassy who’s tasked with keeping Mason alive and ensuring the mission is a success, as per Wikipedia.

The movie is also written by Tony Gilroy who’s responsible for movies such as The Bourne Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogue One, Nightcrawler and a lot of episodes of House of Cards.

There’s not much information available about the movie as of now except that it’s about a former U.S. diplomat who returns to service in order to save a former colleague of theirs who happens to be in Beirut from the group responsible for the death of his family.

The project has been in the works since 2015, and was filmed during 2016 in Tangier, Morocco, which has me assuming their portrayal of Beirut is going to be less of how the city actually is and more like a Qandahar war-torn desert city, far from its current reality, especially if the movie is another perpetuation of the civil war reputation surrounding the city.

Ironically, the movie is set for release on April 13th – the memorial day of Lebanon’s Civil War. Coincidence is probably not the case here.

Regardless, I hope the movie ends up entertaining and thought provoking enough. Given the people behind it, I am hopeful it will be the case though it being released so early in the year next year means it’s not really geared towards awards consideration, as much as they want it to be a money grabber.

I bet this movie will also be a hit in Lebanon as people flock to theaters to watch their own capital memorialized in film. I just hope whatever product Hollywood ends up giving does it justice, albeit doubtful.

No trailers for the movie have been released yet.

Lebanon Should Participate In Eurovision 2018

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The Eurovision is quite the global thing. More than 200 million people tune in each year to watch the show, not just from the 42 countries which happen to be members of the European Broadcasting Union that have the right to participate, which is why you see countries such as Israel or Australia or even Azerbaijan participating.

The 2017 version of the Eurovision concluded yesterday with Portugal getting crowed the winner after votes from the people in those 42 member countries and their juries allocated points. They succeed Ukraine, which was voted the winner in 2016 in an obvious political jab at Russia.

The Eurovision, apart from being a celebration of (bad?) music, isn’t only about the music but about the politics behind all the ways these countries interact with one another. Regardless, it’s still interesting to watch and pretend to be surprised that Cyprus, for instance, voted for Greece. I’m shocked. Can you even fathom it?

In 2005, Lebanon was supposed to participate through Tele-Liban and Aline Lahoud in that year’s version of the Eurovision. Except, as is always the case, Israel happened. You see, Israel also happens to be a member of the European Broadcasting Union and has been since the 1950s, which means they’ve been participating for over 4 decades in the Eurovision contest and have actually won 3 times.

The problem for us, therefore, becomes in the fact that we pretend they don’t exist and have laws that forbid us from even acknowledging their existence, which was why we had to withdraw in 2005, be banned from participating for 3 years and pay a penalty: Tele-Liban didn’t show Israel on the official poster of the event. When they were confronted about it, they replaced the poster with a generic one about Eurovision. They were then told they’d have to broadcast the Israeli contestant’s song, which they couldn’t legally do, leading them to withdraw.

Israel, however, will not be participating in the 2018 Eurovision, as they announced live on air yesterday as they allocated their points. Their announcer said:

“This is IBA, Channel 1 calling from Jerusalem. For the past 44 years, Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, winning three times. But tonight, is our final night, shortly IBA will shut down its broadcasting forever, so on behalf of all of us here in IBA, let me say thank you Europe for all the magical moments and the beautiful years. And hopefully we shall meet again in the future.”

For how long Israel won’t be participating in Eurovision remains to be seen, but I believe this gives Lebanon an opportunity to finally participate and avoid all the drama we went through in 2005. And why wouldn’t we? We have good singers, as long as we don’t send Star Academy grads. And we can deliver a good show, if we invest enough.

I believe that private TV stations such as MTV and LBC would and should jump at such an opportunity. They’d get the ratings, the ad money and the international exposure they always crave. It’s also a good medium for the country to have exposure on such a scale, in a setting that doesn’t involve talking about the Syrian crisis or some other issue that plagues the region.

So dear MTV or LBC or some other private media company with similar resources, connect with the organizers of next year’s Eurovision and check what we need to do in order for us to participate. It should be fun.

No, this isn’t a Phoenician attempt at building bridges with European BFFs It’s not a political move, even if the competition can have political undertones, at distancing Lebanon from its Arab history. It’s just a medium for fun, healthy artistic competitions and we need such things in this country.

I vote to send Hiba Tawaji. Who’d your pick be?