Expecting a hero’s welcome Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri was detained at airport



The Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, at the Le Gray Hotel in Beirut. He was detained on arrival at the city’s airport this month and accused of treason over a movie he shot in Israel five years ago. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times
The Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, at the Le Gray Hotel in Beirut. He was detained on arrival at the city’s airport this month and accused of treason over a movie he shot in Israel five years ago. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It was supposed to be a glorious homecoming.

After achieving acclaim abroad for his previous films, Ziad Doueiri, a Lebanese director, thought he was returning to Beirut this month to celebrate the debut of his newest movie, “The Insult.”

Instead, he was detained at the airport and summoned before a military court the next day to answer accusations of treason. His crime: He had shot his previous movie in Israel, which Lebanon considers an enemy state and bars its citizens from visiting.

Why he was stopped on this visit was anyone’s guess, since he had been to Lebanon more than a dozen times in the five years since that previous film was released. The government had even chosen his new film to represent Lebanon at the Academy Awards.

He was released without charge after a few hours of questioning, but what has become known here as “the Ziad Doueiri affair” has fueled fierce debates about law, politics, artistic freedom and Lebanon’s hostile relationship with its southern neighbor.

Mr. Doueiri’s critics accuse him of normalizing the enemy to elevate his international profile. Mr. Doueiri says that he had to shoot in Israel to tell his film’s story accurately, and that the backlash has surprised him.

“I don’t mind at all being attacked ideologically or for a movie,” he said in an interview after his release. “Let them criticize the movie. But to accuse someone of being a traitor — of treason — is big.”

Throughout his career, Mr. Doueiri, 53, has made films about the complexities of Middle Eastern identity and about personal histories shaped by the region’s conflicts.

His first film, “West Beirut,” followed three adolescents — two Muslim boys and a Christian girl — at the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. “The Insult” tracks a street conflict between a Christian and a Palestinian that escalates into a reckoning of the civil war’s legacy. It is scheduled to open in the United States in January.

Mr. Doueiri, an energetic, fast-talking man with salt-and-pepper curls that tumble over his ears and eyes, said his own life had left him attuned to how people’s backgrounds could shape their perception of reality. As a secular Muslim director who studied in California, married a Christian and now lives in Paris, he feels that delving into such complexities makes better characters.

“Dramatically speaking for filmmaking, it’s much more interesting to be nuanced,” he said. “Even Darth Vader has a good side, otherwise he wouldn’t be interesting.”

But he says he knew it was risky to go to Israel, which he said Lebanon considered “the ultimate Darth Vader.”

Indeed, history has left many Lebanese with a deep hatred of the Jewish state.

Its creation in 1948 sent waves of Palestinian refugees across the border into refugee camps that evolved into permanent settlements. Israel also occupied southern Lebanon for nearly two decades, backed factions in Lebanon’s civil war and fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006 that killed hundreds of people.

The animosity has led to laws forbidding Lebanese citizens from traveling to Israel and from associating with Israelis, although the authorities often look the other way when Lebanese with second passports make quiet visits. (Mr. Doueiri traveled to Israel on his American passport.)

The ban on engagement with Israel often creates effects in Lebanon’s cultural realm.

The government has banned Israeli films, like the 2008 movie “Waltz With Bashir,” an animated autobiographical drama about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This year, it banned “Wonder Woman” because its star, Gal Gadot, had been an Israeli soldier.

In that light, many Lebanese saw an extended trip to Israel by one of the country’s most prominent filmmakers, a trip that involved paying Israeli actors and crew, as a step too far.

“We are in a war with Israel, and when you are in a war, you can’t deal with them like a neighboring country,” said Pierre Abi-Saab, deputy editor in chief of Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which has led the criticism of Mr. Doueiri. “So when a filmmaker goes, an intellectual, and says, ‘Brother, we are with peace’ — what peace? Whose peace?”

Mr. Doueiri made his trip to film “The Attack,” which tells the story of an Arab-Israeli surgeon whose wife becomes a suicide bomber, leaving him struggling to figure out what happened.

Even though the film was shot in Israel, Lebanon’s censorship office approved it for showing in cinemas in 2012. But after lobbying by anti-Israeli activists, the Arab League asked its 22 members to boycott the film. Most did, including Lebanon.

Mr. Doueiri, too, was attacked.

“They said, ‘Ziad the Zionist. Ziad the Israeli,’ ” he said. “In Lebanon, in the Arab world, you take that label and glue it to your name and you are screwed for a long time.”

But he returned to Lebanon repeatedly and spent most of 2016 in the country to shoot “The Insult,” with help from the police, the military and the courts — all without any legal problems.

As the new film’s release approached, his foes spoke up.

Mr. Abi-Saab, the newspaper editor, wrote an article calling on Mr. Doueiri to apologize for the “moral, political and national crime” of working in Israel. If he did not, Mr. Abi-Saab wrote, the movie should be not be screened in Lebanon and Mr. Doueiri should be considered “wanted” by the authorities.

In an interview, Mr. Abi-Saab said he considered Mr. Doueiri a talented director. But he said he opposed all engagement with Israel and saw the film as part of an effort to normalize Israel and make the Lebanese people stop seeing it as an enemy.

“Unfortunately, that naïve, romantic talk about ‘the other’ and ‘I want to understand the other and make peace’ — you can’t make peace with someone who has put a knife to your neck,” he said. “It’s impossible.”

Mr. Doueiri never apologized, and the judge who had summoned him threw out the case, citing the statute of limitations and saying that the film had not defamed Lebanon or the Palestinian cause, Mr. Doueiri said.

Mr. Doueiri said he had not intended to make a pro- or anti-Israel film, but to tell a complicated human story.

He was born in Beirut to secular Muslim parents, and his adolescence was dominated by the civil war, which raged until 1990. His left-wing family supported the Palestinians, which meant that he hated the Israelis and their Lebanese Christian allies.

“To me, a good Christian was a dead Christian,” he recalled.

In 1983, he moved to the United States to go to film school at San Diego State University, where, far from Lebanon, he met Jews and Lebanese Christians it would have been hard for him to get to know at home, he said.

He also worked as a cameraman on American films, including Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”

After making “West Beirut,” in 1998, Mr. Doueiri fell in love with a Lebanese Christian woman, Joelle Touma. They were from communities that had hated each other during the war, so the relationship itself was an exercise in learning to see another perspective.

“We grew up in opposite camps in the war, and each of us made his own arc to go back and look at the other point of view,” Ms. Touma said.

They began co-writing scripts, got married, had a daughter and are now divorced, although they still write together, sometimes on the same computer screen, Ms. Touma said.

Their different backgrounds informed “The Insult,” a political courtroom drama that looks at the past suffering of Palestinians and Christians in Lebanon, and the scars that remain.

They wrote it during their divorce, which probably fueled the contentious court scenes, Ms. Touma said.

Mr. Doueiri’s hope for the film, besides that it makes its money back, is that it encourages Lebanese to look back and be more open about their painful histories as a step toward reconciliation.

“It would be nice if people think a little bit about what they have wanted to say but they didn’t dare,” he said.




5 responses to “Expecting a hero’s welcome Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri was detained at airport”

  1. … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on that Topic: yalibnan.com/2017/09/24/expecting-a-heros-welcome-lebanese-filmmaker-ziad-doueiri-was-detained-at-airport/ […]

  2. … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on that Topic: yalibnan.com/2017/09/24/expecting-a-heros-welcome-lebanese-filmmaker-ziad-doueiri-was-detained-at-airport/ […]

  3. … [Trackback]

    […] Find More on on that Topic: yalibnan.com/2017/09/24/expecting-a-heros-welcome-lebanese-filmmaker-ziad-doueiri-was-detained-at-airport/ […]

  4. … [Trackback]

    […] Find More here to that Topic: yalibnan.com/2017/09/24/expecting-a-heros-welcome-lebanese-filmmaker-ziad-doueiri-was-detained-at-airport/ […]

  5. … [Trackback]

    […] Read More on that Topic: yalibnan.com/2017/09/24/expecting-a-heros-welcome-lebanese-filmmaker-ziad-doueiri-was-detained-at-airport/ […]

Leave a Reply