Imaging Dahyeh – Journeys towards a Home
babelmed - 30/05/2007
Nat Muller and Jim Quilty have been asked to curate a selection of Lebanese and Palestinian short films for the Norwegian short film festival…How to tell about South Beirut, Palestine without comforting the “war images” so much attached to these places? With “Imaging Dayeh –Fragments from the Edge of Beirut” and “Journey towards home” they questioned media narratives that “tend to represent “the Middle East” as an undifferentiated conflict zone.
The selection starts from this simple observation: “Television images are so monochrome that audiences might be forgiven for not knowing if a report is coming from Gaza, Ramallah, Beirut or Baghdad. No surprise, then, that spectators assume the geographic and cultural proximity of the region’s artists is enough to make their work somehow “the same”.” With the series of shorts selected, filmed from inside, the programme addresses other issues and shows the power of artistic narration.
Imaging Dahyeh – Fragments from the Edge of Beirut: A Program of Lebanese Shorts
“Beirut’s Southern Suburbs, Dahyeh, is an often imagined but, until recently, rarely visited region of Beirut. Originating as quasi-legal settlements peopled by Shi‘a refugees and other migrants too poor to find a place in Beirut, Dahyeh has long been a non-space – perceived as parochial and dangerous, the stronghold of the militant Shi‘a political party Hizbullah. Filmic representations of Dahyeh are rare, and work about the suburbs by Dahyeh residents rarer still.”
With a “Sheherazade Tale” Rami Kodeih films Ziad, a student in Hay el Salloum (a neighbourhood in the Southern suburbs of Beirut), narrating the story of his death, while “Beirut”, by music improv and video artist Raed Yassin, is searching for the urban side of Beirut through its marginal characters. During the process of making the video he discovered that Beirut is a suburb of an imaginary city: the street is the image which he loves most, yet also turns out to be a fake, similar to the images we produce and receive continuously: smiling without blinking, like a drug for peaceful sleep.
Both films are introducing the neighbourhood which will witness a complete change after the Israeli 2006 34-Day War: “during that war, Dahyeh impinged upon Beirut’s consciousness. Israeli bombs and shells sent massive concussions throughout the city, and waves of displaced people into the incongruous safety of Beirut proper. Beirut artists responded with an avalanche of film and video works, all grappling with how to make art in the face of media representations of the conflict”- explain the Curators.
“From Beirut…to Those Who Love Us,” is a video letter made on July 21st 2006, in the early days of the war. It is a film collective which runs the bi-yearly Ayam Beirut al-Cinema'iya Festival of Arabic Film, in collaboration with Samidoun, a grassroots gathering of organisations and individuals involved in refugee-relief and media interventions from the first days of Israel’s assault on Lebanon. It is redolent of the betrayal felt by Lebanese civil society when the neither the West nor the Arab world – the two faces of Lebanese identity – proved willing to act to stop the war.
Wissam Charraf’s “A Hero Never Dies” addresses the paralysis of war and takes up the question of what role the artist can play in a conflict that he, by definition, doesn’t control. Emotionally abraded by this war, residents of Beirut were never under direct attack, effectively relegating them to the role of spectators.
Filmed on the day of the ceasefire, “Lebanon Slash War” by Rania Stephan shows the responses of ordinary Lebanese people during this violent and tragic event. The camera looks in on the complex interplay of unbridled euphoria and media control at one location in Dahyeh. Journeys towards a Home: A Program of Palestinian Shorts
“The programme title echoes Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “We Journey towards a Home”. Here, the experience of lost homeland and imposed exile culminate with the words “Of our home we see only the unseen […]/a throne carried on feet torn by roads that led to every home but our own”. The image situates itself between longing and belonging.”
Najwa Najjar’s “…They Came From the East”, is a wry contemporary retelling of the story of the Three Wise Men, who followed a star from the East in search of the infant Jesus. This time it’s three young Palestinian women who start their journey in the desert and follow a star through a much different Palestine…
Barriers can be internal too, a theme taken up to comic effect in Enas Muthaffar’s “A World Apart within 15 Minutes”. An American English-speaking Palestinian woman drives though Jerusalem, pausing to ask Israelis for directions to Ramallah. Though 15 minutes away, Ramallah is “the Other” for Israelis and well off their mental map. Her inquiries are met with disorientation and surprised consternation, suggesting that not only do Jewish Jerusalemites not know how to get to Ramallah, they’ve no idea why anyone would want to go there.
In “Summer of ’85,” Rowan Al Faqih returns to what was her grandparents’ house, recollecting a summer spent with an American cousin just before the first intifada.
Like the story she tells, the site of the razed house, the stones and concrete wall are all charged with latent political significance.
Enas Muthaffar’s “East to West” documents the apparently mundane chore of her parents’ move from one side of Jerusalem to the other. The task of gathering the detritus of past years, though, amasses emotional weight within the crucible of unspoken loss.
Larissa Sansour’s “Soup over Bethlehem (Mloukhieh)” is also a family affair. While Sansour and her close relatives enjoy a meal of mloukhieh, they start a culinary discussion about this national dish which soon evolves into a personal and engaging conversation about politics...
“Eden Resonating”, by Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, cleverly uses an incongruous layering of image, sound and text to evoke the palimpsest of contemporary expatriate identity. The camera follows Anastas’ mundane activities within a neglected New York borough, accompanied by a 1940’s recording of "Layali el-uns fi Vienna" (“Twilight Delight in Vienna”), sung by Egyptian singer Asmahan.
Annemarie Jacir’s “Like 20 Impossibles” returns to Palestine, using similar techniques of disjuncture to distil the intimate relationship between identity and movement. A Palestinian film crew en route to a shoot discuss their role as artists in country under occupation: Checking their papers, the Israeli soldiers discover some of the crew are Israeli Arab, others American and Palestinian. The director watches, helpless, as the crew is forbidden from moving forward or back, then physically divided – the separation of camera and sound destroying the continuity of the film. The scene functions as a metaphor for the fragmentation of Palestinian identity and territory. (30/05/2007)