“West Beirut” and “The Insult” Director Ziad Doueiri Arrested in Beirut Because His Last Movie Was In Israel

Pity the nation that insults its people as other nations honor them.

Ziad Doueiri is probably the most essential contemporary Lebanese cinematic director. His movie “West Beirut” is probably the most renowned Lebanese movie for the past 2 decades and his latest “The Insult” just made its debut at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews and a best actor win for Kamel El Basha, starring as Yasser in the aforementioned movie.

And yet, here we are, with such a Lebanese pioneer being arrested because his prior movie, The Attack, was set in Israel even if it did not show the Israeli state in a good light.

I had the chance to watch The Attack in 2013 when I was with a friend in Paris. That same movie had been banned in Lebanon because it was set in Israel. Understandable, given the country couldn’t even handle a movie where the main actress was Israeli. And even though I was not a fan of that movie at the time, I was still able to commend the fact that it commanded a discussion. Be it with the other Lebanese who watched it with me, or the French people in that theatre who were wondering about what the details the movie discussed actually meant.

“The Insult” opens in theaters in Lebanon in a few days. Local movie reviewers such as Anis Tabet have given it a glowing recommendation. But that seems not to be on the same wavelength of the Lebanese state that’s arrested Mr. Doueiri at our airport for “dealing with the enemy.” He was coming here prior to the Tuesday premiere of his movie.

It’s horrifying to see how narrow-minded we can be and how despicable our levels can sink when dealing with the people of our country that help raise our voice on international levels, such as Mr. Doueiri, because of convoluted measures that have no reflection whatsoever on reality: a person filming a movie in Israel does not mean they are in bed with the enemy.

Following his arrest at the airport, Doueiri’s Lebanese and French passports were both confiscated. He is scheduled to stand trial in front of Military Court tomorrow at 9AM, Beirut time. Meanwhile, his movie “The Insult” has been selected by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture to represent Lebanon at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Bipolarity much? Not only are they arresting him five years after he had been in Israel and after multiple visits back to Beirut, but you can’t also arrest a director for “treason”, and then use him to propel you on the international cinematic stage. You can’t arrest a Lebanese citizen and then use his work to wash away the many failings that constitute your modern republic.

The arrest of Ziad Doueiri comes after a complaint lodged against him. Expect the campaign against the director to go into full blown mania soon.

It’s not just the lack of consistency that’s horrifying, it’s the absolute carelessness of our basic rights as citizens, and the fact we are at the whim of some entities that have nothing better to do.

The entire notion that Military Court can judge civil issues is abysmal. It’s even worse when you realize that Doueiry was in Lebanon to film “The Insult,” even spending two weeks doing so at the country’s highest court.

The question therefore becomes: why now? What prompted them to realize just before his movie’s Lebanese release that he has a troublesome past?

I bet some people in Lebanon would be happy to see Mr. Doueiri foresake his Lebanese citizenship. After all, the bar at which some label others as traitors seems to fluctuate depending on whether their existence is essential or not. At the rate we’re going, he wouldn’t be mistaken to do so. After all, we have no issue with any other foreigner who’s visited Israel to come into the country as long as their passport doesn’t have a stamp.

Utterly despicable. Here’s hoping the Prime Minister and our government see through this bullshit.

Update: he’s been cleared by military court.

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Caramel, The Attack, 12 Angry Lebanese on International Best Movies Lists

 

The Guardian has  published a list of the top 10 Arab movies and they featured Zeina Daccache’s Twelve Angry Lebanese on the list, with nine other Egyptian movies of which I haven’t heard.

The list’s author justified their choice for choosing the movie in it being deeply moving and full of humanity. I have to wonder why that movie hasn’t made a splash in Lebanon:

I was on the jury when this won the top documentary award at Dubai in 2009. The director is a young Lebanese drama-therapist who put on a production of 12 Angry Men inside Lebanon’s most notorious prison and filmed the long protracted process. The film was partly an attempt to reform the country’s criminal and penal laws and improve prison living conditions. It also enabled Daccache to extend her drama-therapy work to prisons across Lebanon, and she had started working in Syria shortly before the current conflict began. It is deeply moving and full of humanity, particularly in the way it describes the process of lifting men from a profound states of despair into a renewed desire to live and build a different future for themselves.

As a follow-up to that list, The Huffington Post wouldn’t take it. As such, they published their own list of 6 movies they believe The Guardian missed and included Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack and Nadine Labaki’s Caramel.

On the latter, the author wrote:

Labaki’s film was my in. I’m a relative newcomer to the magical world of cinema from MENA, having been brought up on a mixture of Woody Allen, the works of Fellini and Visconti, all sprinkled with a bit of Lina Wertmüller, and Caramel got me hooked from the first frame. It’s sensual, full of life and each time I watch it, it makes me proud to be a woman. It’s also the reason I yearned to travel to Beirut, and once I got there, I could see Labaki’s lushly constructed characters at every turn. I may be a romantic, but it’s a must watch for anyone who has yet to discover the beauty of Lebanese cinema. And its people. Labaki’s follow up, Where Do We Go Now? is also a greatly entertaining lesson in peace.

On The Attack:

Showcased at the Dubai Film Festival last December, Doueiri’s film is currently screening across the U.S.. The tragic story, of a Palestinian surgeon who discovers his marriage may not have been what it seemed, was what engulfed emotionally, at first. But then the absurd politics that enveloped the project really drove its profound meaning home for me. Lebanon banned the film because Doueiri had “snuck” into Israel to film his project, which of course was indispensable to the truthfulness of the story. A Gulf film organization distanced itself from The Attack though it had partly financed it in development. Of course, Doueiri is now having the last laugh, because his film has been winning prizes and hearts around the world, but The Attack remains a great example of why watching a film is almost always better than watching the news.

Lebanese filmmakers seem to be doing a rather fine job at having their works make a dent abroad.  It’s great to see Lebanese cinema getting such recognition abroad, especially with movies that are not what we’ve come to believe our filmmakers only know how to make.

It is sad that a movie such as The Attack will not be screened here for the most absurd reasons. I had the chance to watch the movie while on a trip to Paris and while I wasn’t as engrossed by it as the French with whom I shared the theatre or other Lebanese who found it highly engaging, I could appreciate the need for such a movie especially given the intense discussion it spurred with the Lebanese who watched the movie with me.

I believe that’s what cinema should do: spring up debate and discussion, especially in this country and specifically when it comes to topics that are still considered so taboo that discussing them can have “treason” plastered all over you. It seems those foreigners appreciate our movies more than we do.

 

The Attack (2013) – Movie Review

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Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack might as well be considered as the most controversial “Lebanese” movie of recent times. But that’s not saying much. The hype surrounding the politics of the movie has been resounding. But does The Attack deliver on all the promises the director and the people who like him gave?

Amin (Ali Suliman) is an Arab-Israeli surgeon living and practicing medicine in Tel Aviv. While receiving some humanitarian award from the Israelis, Amin receives a call from his wife who sounds distressed. He doesn’t give it much attention, the focus is all on him. Soon enough, while having lunch at the rooftop of their Israeli hospital, the surgeons hear an explosion. 17 casualties ensue, 11 of which are children… And it’s Amin’s wife Siham (Raymond Amsalem) who committed the attack. Between the barrage of the Israelis who suddenly turn on the man they believe they sheltered into becoming one of them and the guard of the Arabs who believe Siham did a noble thing and are disgusted by the “bastard” who left his heritage and home to integrate in a place that is not his, Amin seeks out to find why his wife became a radical person who managed to get convinced to blow herself up for the Palestinian cause.

Sounds good, right? Well, in theory it does.

The Attack is divided into two parts. The first one is what can be called the Hebrew segment in which Tel Aviv is shown as a bustling cosmopolitan city whose people are as disassociated with the conflict raging outside their city’s confines while the other half is the Arab part, situated in Nablos, whose people struggle in their everyday life and revel in the idea of martyrdom, turning Siham into a local heroin. In a way, each part serves to pitch each side’s case.

I found the take on the issue, which the movie tries to do, shallow and borderline grating at times, even in its tackling of Siham’s radicalization which The Attack finds even more astonishing due to the fact she’s Christian. The Attack doesn’t go as deep as it should. it remains up there, flapping around the stereotypical stories of both sides – the action/reaction scenario that never ends. It never asks the tough questions: are the reactions warranted? Are they the best way to tackle the actions that led to them?

And I, for one, am glad and fully supportive of not choosing The Attack as Lebanon’s Oscar submission last year because there’s nothing Lebanese about the movie at all. In fact, the Lebanese elements of the movie are a mention of Hassan Nasrallah and Beirut – separately.

As a movie, The Attack works. It’s a decent thriller. There isn’t a dull moment, constantly keeping up the pace it sets from the get-go. The camera work, cinematography and locations are all well-done. But don’t expect it to blow you away. The acting, however, is superb. Both lead actors do a great job in their roles. Amsalem’s portrayal of Siham is gut-wrenching at times as is the life Ali Suliman gives her husband.

What The Attack manages to do, which might be the most important thing, is create a discussion. I watched the movie with 4 other Lebanese while on a stay in Paris – the movie will not be released in Lebanon – and we spent almost 40 minutes huddled outside the cinema center discussing what we had just seen. As a nation, though, Lebanon is possibly nowhere near ready for such a movie to be screened although the current state of Israel is eye-opening to what we, as a country, are so desperately lacking.

3/5

Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack” Banned in Lebanon

The Attack is that kind of movies that spring controversies without people even watching it. When I first blogged about it (link) back in December 2012, I asked the obvious question: will the movie having to do with Israel, being shot there and whatnot, deter it from being screened here?

For a while, it seemed the answered would be no – the movie had gotten its permit for screening approved back in September:

 

Ziad Doueiri The Attack Permit Lebanon

 

Then came Oscar time and the movie’s director made a big deal out of our ministry of culture refusing to have his movie represent Lebanon at the Oscars. People panicked: what an act of cultural terrorism, etc… I thought the ministry of culture’s decision was spot-on. It was simply choosing not to submit the movie for an award show, not banning people from watching it. Regardless of how excellent the movie is, does it represent Lebanon enough for it to be our submission for the Oscars? I hardly think so (link).

However, things have taken yet another turn. The permit shown above was asked to be returned by relevant authorities because minister Marwan Charbel decided to ban “The Attack” from being shown in Lebanese theaters. The justification for that was exactly the initial question I had asked way back when: part of the movie was shot in Israel.

Now the decision to ban the movie is downright unacceptable:

  1. Lebanon has had Palestinian movies released in it, some of which have had parts of them shot in Israel. Paradise Now anyone?
  2. The movie is not an Israeli movie for us to maybe fathom banning it. There are Israeli actors in it but that doesn’t mean the movie is funded by the Israeli government.
  3. How about we start banning all movies with parts that may have been shot in Tel Aviv? I can think of many American movies with Israel-centric scenes. Or do we just panic when it’s a Lebanese filmmaker?
  4. What’s the point really of banning a movie with a sequence shot in Israel? It doesn’t end the occupation, it doesn’t serve a higher moral purpose and there’s no point to it at all.
  5. Shouldn’t the ministry of interior affairs have more serious things at hand? For instance, shouldn’t they be working on an electoral law? How about working on all the racist municipalities issuing curfews against Syrians? Or better yet, why not work on the deteriorating security situation in the country? Oh wait, movie shot in Israel trumps all of those anytime of the day.

We have reached a time where our government doesn’t even know that I can download whatever movie they ban with a few clicks (and a 24 hour waiting time given our internet). The moment “The Attack” becomes available online is the moment I get to watch it. And I’ll see that Tel Aviv scene and I won’t panic nor will I become a traitor nor will some feeling inside me move towards our Southern enemy. Who’s the only entity hurting from such archaic and irrelevant bans? The filmmaker who’s hurting financially and Lebanon’s reputation as a country for freedom, being dragged daily towards the abyss by minds still stuck in 1864.

Good job Marwan Charbel. One day you sign a civil marriage contract, the other you ban a movie – because keeping a good streak is too mainstream.

(Source).

Rejecting Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack

The Attack Ziad Doueiri

News of Lebanon’s refusal to submit Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack, a movie I had originally told you about here, to the Oscars is making the rounds. You can check all the details here (link).

If the movie had been banned from being shown in theaters here, the discussion would be different entirely. But is the movie really representative enough of Lebanon to be our submission for the Oscars? And is this refusal enough for us to call the committee responsible for such dealings ignorant and with a backward mentality?

I think not.

The movie features the following:

  • A story by an Algerian author.
  • No Lebanese crew.
  • Israeli and Palestinian actors.
  • Location of shooting is Israel.
  • Lebanese director with an American passport.

Would I want to see the movie? Definitely. Do I want it to represent Lebanon at the Academy Awards? Let’s just say I’m on the fence regarding this.

This isn’t exactly West Beirut for us to cry wolf for it not being submitted. If Ziad Doueiri truly wanted his movie to be Lebanon’s official submission to the 85th Academy Awards (my predictions – to lighten the mood), he could have at least made an effort to make the movie more Lebanese by maybe shooting it over here and not in Israel and having a Lebanese actor or actress play a role in it, despite both elements not being a criteria required for Academy Award approval.

As it stands, the only thing Lebanese about The Attack is the director who wouldn’t have been able to make this movie if he had actually employed his Lebanese aspect from a bureaucratic point of view. The director says his choices regarding the movie’s components are logical.

Well, I say the committee’s decision is entirely logical as well. Not everything is supposed to be turned into a national matter of censorship.