4 - Jocelyne Saab - Children of War / Beirut, Never Again / Beirut, My City

5 April, 2020 - 14:00
Paddenhoek

Once you hold a camera, you assert yourself through your profession. You react with your sensitivity as a woman — I don’t deny it. On the contrary ... Maybe, in order to define it, although I can’t say for sure, maybe it’s about a gaze that lingers less on the surface of things, like that of cannons or armies. I always preferred to know the sensitivity of people in their details, the children, the women, the men, the daily life of human beings ... In this field, people are so astonished to see a woman arriving that they make space for her and they respect her.

Jocelyne Saab (1948-2019) was born and raised in Beirut. After completing her studies in economic sciences at the Sorbonne in Paris, Saab worked on a music program for the national Lebanese radio station before being invited by poet and artist Etel Adnan to work as a journalist. Unlike most war reporters, who must travel to war zones to pursue their profession, war came to Saab’s native Lebanon in 1975, and that same year saw the beginning of Saab’s filmmaking career with Lebanon in Torment, an account of the various forces and interests behind the incipient conflict. The war would last another 15 years, and Saab’s chronicling of its horrors — particularly in her remarkable “Beirut Trilogy”, comprising Beirut, Never Again (1976), Letter from Beirut (1978), and Beirut, My City (1982) — is unequalled in both its ethical integrity and emotional impact. The same candour and empathy Saab applied to the war in her homeland can be found in her other documentaries. Filming the struggle of the Polisario Front in the desert of Western Sahara, the consequences of the Infitah on Sadat’s policy in Egypt, or the aftermath of the Iranian revolution of 1979, a picture of a Middle East removed from reductive simplifications emerged through the polyhedral prism of her camera.

“I believe that what makes up the specificity of my trajectory is that I have always wanted to remain coherent; I have always been ready to fight for what I believe in, to show and analyse this changing Middle East that I’m so passionate about. Yet the day came when I grew tired of it, or rather my eyes grew tired. I couldn’t see anything anymore — there had been too many deaths and too much suffering. I then moved on to fiction.” Her entry into fiction filmmaking came in 1981 when she worked as second unit director on Volker Schlöndorff ’s Circle of Deceit. Shortly after that, she directed her first fictional work, A Suspended Life (1985), set in the same war-torn Beirut she had documented ten years prior. After the war reconfigured the whole country, in Once Upon A Time in Beirut (1994), Saab tried to rescue the cinematographic memory of the Lebanese capital in the same year that cinema turned 100 years old. In 2005, she was censured and her life threatened for making Dunia, a film shot in Cairo about desire, pleasure and female sexuality in the context of Islam. Until her death in January 2019, Jocelyne Saab remained devoted to what she called her “two permanent obsessions: liberty and memory.”

 

In the presence of Mathilde Rouxel

Les Enfants de la guerre (Children of War)

Jocelyne Saab
,
FR, LB
,
1976
,
16mm
,
10'

Days after the massacre of Karantina, in a predominantly Muslim shanty town in Beirut, Jocelyne Saab met children who’d escaped, and who were deeply traumatised by the horrific fighting they’d seen with their own eyes. Saab gave the children crayons and encouraged them to draw while her camera turned. She made a bitter discovery: the only games the children engaged in were war games, and war would quickly become a way of life for them as well.

“Children of War denounces the violence that is inflicted on children of ten years old who can no longer speak, think or draw other than in terms of war: they mimic war.”

 

Arabic / French spoken, English subtitles

Print courtesy of Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen

Beyrouth, jamais plus (Beirut, Never Again)

Jocelyne Saab
,
FR, LB
,
1976
,
16mm
,
35'

Gunfire and song mix with a poetic voice-over written by the Lebanese writer and painter Etel Adnan (who also wrote a text for Letter from Beirut) in what would become the first entry in Saab’s “Beirut Trilogy”, which searches for traces of life amid the bombed-out buildings and errant fires of a ghost city, where even the children have become soldiers, looters, and scavengers.

This film marks a turning point. It’s a wandering drift through a destroyed Beirut. To express my sensitivity to a country that I love and that has been destroyed, I asked the Lebanese poet Etel Adnan to write the commentary. Our two sensibilities found one another. This commentary was surprising to many because it doesn’t respect the rules of reportage. It’s a poem expressing personal impressions that could be those of all Lebanese.

 

Arabic / French spoken, English soft-titles

Print courtesy of Cinémathèque Française

Beyrouth, ma ville (Beirut, My City )

Jocelyne Saab
,
FR, LB
,
1982
,
video
,
52'

Beirut, My City finds Saab and her collaborator, the playwright and director Roger Assaf, returning to the shell of her former home following Israel’s 1982 invasion, finding small glimmers of hope in the chaos of refugee camps and the rubble of decimated neighborhoods.

I consider this to be my most important film, the one that is the closest to my heart. In 1982, my house was burning. That’s not nothing. It was a very old house. 150 years of history went up in flames and disappeared. All of that is suddenly destroyed. The family home, wiped off the map, gone from the city, having become a pile of ruins.

 

Arabic / French spoken, English subtitles