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.