I Left Beirut

And so, I left Beirut (again), one day…

My experiment as a returnee failed miserably.  You need A LOT of self motivation and positivity to survive in a place like Post War Lebanon – unfortunately.

I have much better feelings towards Lebanon when I am away.

I love it more, I am more proud of it, I defend it when someone speaks ill of it,  I am able to read more about it and tolerate it, all these things are way easier to do when I am outside the country. Most Lebanese people with dual nationalities, or who don’t reside in Lebanon full time, have similar sentiments.

As I progress in editing my film and the theme of home keeps popping up, the concept and definition of “country” fades away.

We grow up repeating slogans such as “My Country is more precious than My Life”. But I feel that our countries are not more precious than our lives.  Countries are man made.

And then again, back to the initial thought, what defines our countries? Google Maps? The signs at the entrances and exits of our cities?  The place where our families live(d) or descended from?  I ask these questions about belonging to the country while most Lebanese people embrace and sacrifice their lives for belonging to more limited entities  – the village, the tribe, the sect, the religion, the party, the elite… the ZEFT.

And we’ve been conditioned to believe that life is worth one of these things -except for the Zeft; which comes free every election season or another –if elections do take place.

The first step into growing beyond our fanaticism and narrow mindedness is to strip naked from these attachments. They are a major obstacle that prevents us from moving forward with our revolution against corruption and political sectarianism.

تخيلوا بكرة بعد شي عشرة أو خمسة عشر سنة، يصير هيدا يللي “ذبح” الناس باسم الإسلام أو السياسة أو الايديولوجية تبعيته، تخيلوه يصير رئيس لبلد ديموقراطي ويروح ويجي بين مطارات العالم ويستقبلوه الرؤساء والزعماء بينما شعبه عم يتعفن ويموت من المرض والقهر والظلم

لأنو هيدا صنف الناس الموجودين حالياً بالحكم بلبنان اليوم

تحت مظلة قانون عفو “كبير” عن النفس نمت عندنا ثقافة “العفو” عن المجرم الصغير والمجرم الكبير واللص والقاتل والفاسد والخائن

ولحد ما يتحاسب المجرم الكبير ما لح يتربى ويعتبر اللبناني من الدروس اللي صارت. هذا إذا كان مدرك انو في شي “خطأ” صاير معنا بالزمانات

The importance of finding a screenwriting mentor…

My Blank Page

yoda-lukeEvery teacher had a teacher. Every mentor had a trusted advisor. It’s an ongoing process of learning and staying humble about the fact that what you don’t know can actually hurt you.  If you’re lucky enough to work on film productions you can make the necessary contacts with professionals and learn from their experience.  This is a vital element in your continual growth as a filmmaker and screenwriter.  Find a filmmaking mentor and apprentice under them or at least have access to them as they are working.  Study how they handle their business and ask questions about the craft. They’ve already survived many of the pitfalls that you have yet to experience and their knowledge will help you better travel on your journey to success.

I’ve been blessed in my career to have worked with Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy® and Golden Globe® nominated actors…

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This Too Shall Pass…

I have been working on “Twice Upon a Time”, a documentary film about my childhood during the Lebanese Civil War, for some years now. The film is finally about to come to a conclusion.

For the fact that you grew up during a war there is no changing. You will always have grown up during war. What can change is what you make of that experience.

On Friday, June 20, 2014, I got an opportunity to meet people who were making the best out of it!

I was invited to attend a lecture by Dr. Joseba Achotegui, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Barcelona, Spain, and author of “Ulysses Syndrome” and “Ulysses Scale for Refugees”. The invitation came from the Veteran, Immigrant & Refugee Trauma Institute of Sacramento (VIRTIS).

Between emails and in-person introductions, I managed to meet around 40 or 50 people that day at the lecture and the informal exchanges around it. That on its own is a fantastic achievement for someone like me, but it was not the highlight of the event for sure.

My favorite personal high note of the event was the fact that most of the people attending the lecture and all those esteemed professionals working and volunteering at VIRTIS today were war or trauma victims themselves.

At that time, this was a great unifying and defining trait about those in the room.

Today, when I come to think of it again, I find it all the more reassuring and uplifting.

These were people from all over the world who must have witnessed some war horrors or traumatic situations along the journey of their lives. Today, they are all doctors, engineers, professors, businessmen, or successful professionals working towards the improvement of other refugees and trauma victims’ lives.

When I wonder about their pasts, I see things I don’t want to know about. When I look at their present today, I feel that I want to raise them high and show them to all the sad refugees and war victims living in horrible conditions all over our planet.

Thirty years ago, in July of 1984, life was not beautiful at all for my family and hundreds of thousands of other families in Lebanon.

If somebody at that time had come and told us that we will be where we are today, we would’ve ignored them at the very least.

I wonder sometimes, when I feel so helpless towards all the refugees, specifically those living in Lebanon today, what can we do to tell them that even this, this too shall pass…

And will it?

Film Students and Film Stories

Soon after I returned to Lebanon in 2010, I was given an opportunity to look into the inner and outer worlds of Lebanese Youth through teaching scriptwriting to undergraduate university students.

Truth is, I was blessed for the time I got to spent with my students, my friends. Most of them were mature youngsters who needed an opportunity to express themselves and an opportunity to be listened to. But for some reason, they always chose to express themselves in abstract terms.

Telling a story is something that students in Lebanon, and all over the world I am sure, do on a daily basis.

Gossip is all stories:

Somebody, somewhere, something, conflict, succeds, fails.

But for the life of me, I could never understand why our film students failed to tell stories when it came to film.

Whenever there is a film festival in Beirut, I ask my colleagues and friends if there were any good short films. Most of the time the answers range somewhere between, “None” to “They were too abstract”, “I didn’t understand”, “It looked really nice but there was no….how to say it? Something was missing”.

A story is missing. Characters are missing.

Everything else is always at its best: Exceptional Cinematography, superb production design, great locations, talented actors… But a story that goes all over the place with no beginning, middle or end. And characters who laugh and cry and act and react with no dramatic motivation.

When I taught two years of scriptwriting I had hopes that my students will possibly make better films, maybe films that some people will understand at least. I know they wrote scripts that everybody else in class understood. That was a good sign.

But their films were made and not much changed. When I asked,

“Why didn’t you make the script you wrote in class? That was a good story! You worked on it for months.”

“But it was too simple, too understandable. I want to make something more sophisticated.”

Truth is, I have stopped wondering why we don’t have good short films showing at our festivals.

I now believe it is a societal issue that goes beyond film as a discipline.

There is a lot of bravery in Lebanon, and a lot of cowardice.

Our students rebel. Unfortunately, they only rebel against rules.

And our society is so full of sh*t that even the young ones do not feel safe producing material that is simple for others to understand. Because they fear their work won’t be appreciated. The safest thing is to produce material that nobody will understand. After any screening in Lebanon, nobody, not even I, will dare to say, “I didn’t understand what the film was about.”

But the truth has to be told to these young people: Courageous are the ones who expose their minds and hearts to others in simple storytelling techniques, accessible for the masses. Those who want to be sophisticated can enjoy their sophistication in the one and a half screenings that their films enjoy in sophisticated environments. For sophistication definitely travels less than simplicity does.