Friday, September 30, 2022

04:19

Lebanon: Explosion of Anger Tells Stories of Survivors in the Wake of Heartbreak

Source: The New Arab

A husband and wife sit on their sofa and make a joke. 

The scene is intimate; familiar, and universal. 

Abou Jawde, the husband, tells his wife Mortaja Haidar that he will take a donkey to work instead of driving. 

Obtaining fuel in 21st-century Lebanon has become an unaffordable and time-consuming ordeal. When the donkey is stubborn, he says, and doesn’t want to move. Neither will he.  

The couple laugh.

Their laughter offers a moment of humorous relief in a movie documenting the suffering and sorrow after the catastrophic Beirut blast, called Lebanon: An Explosion of Anger.

The hour-long feature tells the story of modern Lebanon through its people. Families, survivors, and victims share the most difficult, and in some cases the most intimate, moments of their life. 

The scene featuring Abou and Mortaja, who sit side-by-side on the sofa as the lights flicker on and off, speaks to a central part of the movie as a whole: emotional multiplicity.  

In the wake of tragedy and immeasurable heartbreak, anger erupts alongside frustration, resilience, connection, hope, humour and despair. 

The focus of the film is the 2020 port blast. 

Over 200 people died and 7,000 were injured when tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible compound stored poorly in Lebanon’s central port for years, exploded on August 4 2020. 

Two years have passed since this tragedy. Victims and their families say they have not received any form of justice. 

Lebanese blame endemic corruption for the disaster, pointing fingers at authorities who were at best negligent and at worst contempt and cruel. 

Vision House’s movie tells the story of the explosion through the voices of those who were there that fateful day. 

The original brief, says director Andrew Carter to The New Arab, was: "People might be aware there was this huge blast, but other than that they don’t know anything about the country. Let’s show them something."

Vision House is a polish media company, founded by Krzysztof Dzięciołowski, a journalist, producer and director who worked alongside Andrew. The film was commissioned by TVP, a polish state media corporation.

The guiding principle was to produce a film that allowed people "the time to tell their stories," Andrew added. 

Indeed, the collection of interviews is deeply moving. 

Husband and wife, Jawde and Haidar, speak about the stomach-dropping moment when they thought they had lost their three children.

"And they just they dived straight into this," says Andrew when talking about filming the interviews. Despite the sensitivity of the subject matter and being surrounded by strangers, he was struck by people’s openness: their willingness to share, to connect in the face of such heartbreak. 

"Ultimately, thankfully, [it’s a ] very redemptive story but initially very painful. Unbelievably challenging for them."

Luckily, Abou and Haidar’s triplets survived. A nurse, who also features in the film, rescued the days-old young ones and carried them safely to another hospital.  

However, others in the film were not so fortunate. 

Mireille Khoury, the mother of 15-year-old budding rap star Elias, talks about her overwhelming grief after the loss of her son. William Noun, the brother of a volunteer fireman, talks about his deep sadness and growing fury following his brother’s death. 

"Without [Joe] there is no joy in our restaurant," says William’s family as they sit grief-stricken in the shadows of their once jubilant family-run restaurant. 

These testimonies stay with you long after the credits roll. They give voice to the emotion behind the headlines about Lebanon and the Beirut blast. They lay bare what it means to lose so much in a single moment. 

Interwoven with the testimonies is a wider context about Beirut’s past and its current social and political climate. 

Historians, journalists and activists are featured to paint a picture of how modern Lebanon came into being. 

We also wanted to give people a "potted history," says Andrew, "which is very complicated politically". 

Successive wars, invasions, and foreign occupations are all mentioned in brief. 

"[It’s] a pretty big challenge [to] decided to take on." But, the film includes "[an] incredible roster of people to help tell the story from many walks of life."   

One of these individuals is Ronnie Chatah, a storyteller and podcaster, as well as the son of slain diplomat Mohamed Chatah. 

Chatah wanders the streets of Beirut, tracing his popular walking tour. He speaks about Lebanon’s history, "the greatest story ever told," intermeshed with the story of his family and connection to the city. 

Mohamed Chatah was a Lebanese economist killed in a car bomb in 2013. The explosion claimed the lives of six people and wounded more than 70 in central Beirut, destabilising the city during heightening region tensions with Iran and Syria. Hezbollah, an Iran-aligned militant group, were implicitly blamed for the incident by former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. 

Like other aspects of the film, the young Chatah's account of the attack is personal and emotional, rather than clinically detailed. The audience is given a glimpse of Beirut's history and a full view of the place the city holds in the hearts of the people who live there. 

"Everything that could go wrong has," says Chatah. But Beirut’s story "has not always been bleak". 

"I've made films in many places over the years," says Andrew. 

"I’ve seen people… in a hopeless state. And you know, what's always there? Hope resides in those places, in good people, and in those in the film.

"So, if there's a lot to be hopeful about, it's that those good people that are still in Lebanon are still giving their all to making their country the place that it deserves to be," says Andrew.

Lebanon: Explosion of Anger was longlisted as one of the best feature documentaries at the  One World Media festival. Vision House told The New Arab that they plan to show the film at a series of festivals.