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LEBANON: Filmmaker takes on violence and masculinity in new short movie about militias

May 9, 2010 | 10:29 am

Picture 3 When fighting erupted in Beirut in May 2008, filmmaker Katia Jarjoura found herself literally caught in the middle as scenes from Lebanon's 15-year civil war appeared to play out right before her eyes.

Recently she screened her short film inspired by those events, "In Their Blood," to an audience that included former militia fighters.

"In Their Blood" tells the story of a father and son alienated from each other by their personal history and the cycles of violence that grip Lebanon, ending with the accidental killing of the father by the son.

After the screening, Jarjoura fielded questions from the audience on everything from technical challenges to Lebanese filmmakers' obsession with the civil war.

Some thought the movie was realistic. But others thought it oversimplified the myriad reasons -- including poverty and sectarianism -- that lead to violence in Lebanon.

"[The film] talks about how everyone in Lebanon is armed," said Farah Kobaissy, a university student who attended the screening. "[But] you can't just go into the street with guns like that."

Jarjoura, a Lebanese Canadian dual national, discussed the film with Babylon & Beyond.

Katia Jarjoura How do you respond to criticism that the story is not realistic or representative?

It's one fiction; I'm not generalizing. I wanted to tell the story of one broken family in a populated district. Films are not there to portray a general message. They should tell a story.

Your film dealt a lot with masculinity and coming of age. As a woman, what kind of research did you do for this? Was it challenging to write about this very male-dominated militia culture?

I was a reporter for 10 years, and a lot of that time was spent in conflict zones, so I spent a lot of time with men -- politicians, fighters, weapons dealers. I spent a lot of time with militia fighters who took part in the war but also with bored kids in the street who dream of doing what their fathers did because they don't really know what it is. For me, portraying this male culture was not very difficult. 

In your film, the son is being drawn into the same party that his father fought with, the "New Lebanon" party.  Why did you create a fictional political party rather than write about one of the existing ones?

Well there are two reasons. The first is that I didn't want to pinpoint a specific party because all the parties in Lebanon are tied to a religion, and for me it's beyond religion. I had two parties in mind when I was writing it, the Amal movement and the Lebanese Forces, one is Christian and the other Muslim, and it could have been from either. Even in the funeral scene, there are no crosses or religious symbols. It was important to me that we not know which religion they are from. 

The second reason is that there is censorship in Lebanon, and you can't talk about political parties.

You've said you were inspired to write this film by the events of May 2008. Can you talk about the writing process?

In 2008, war was really in the air. I saw a lot of kids in my district, Ras al Nebaa, out in the streets, and I saw a lot of tension. The most difficult part for me was the ending. And then it came to me that the father has to die, because by the father figure dying it serves two purposes: it forces us to confront our past and it means that the cycle of violence continues. Everyone is both a victim and a perpetrator.

Was it difficult to switch from journalism to fiction?

The hardest thing is that a fiction film is more of a team effort. You learn to let go, and it becomes a collective work.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Video: Katia Jarjoura, whose film screened in south Beirut recently, in an interview at the Dubai International Film Festival in December. Credit: YouTube

Photos, from top: The poster for "In Their Blood" and the film's director, Katia Jarjoura. Credit: Katia Jarjoura

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