I work in the tradition of film as art. My films are meditations on everyday life, shaped by my personal experience as a Lebanese growing up during the civil war, enduring multiple Israeli invasions, and navigating the Anglo/European culture in which I currently live. Emerging from this context, my films reflect political and social concerns informed by modernist aesthetics and the poetics of the Islamic and Christian traditions. In my films, I create a dialectic between the retinal/material impact of the image and its conceptual possibility in order to depict the world around me. In this way, my films may be viewed as the material expression of intuition and emotions, but also as a way to understand how we construct ourselves as people.
It is because of the varied experiences I have had that I have created films that are personal meditations on some of the issues facing us today: our common emotional and intellectual alienation, our decaying landscapes, our cultural loss, and our never-ending wars and exiles. In my films I aim to listen to life and thus I do not advance an exclusive method. Instead, each of my films has a particular method of its own, constructed out of the life material I am working with. In this way the story, characters, and context mold a method. In my films, method is always a function of the needs of the material I am working with.
In my film City of Brass, for example, I employ optical images with horizontal perspectives and vivid colors to reflect the stability and power the West enjoys, whereas digital landscapes are created in 10th century Arabia with distorted spaces, oblique perspectives, and monotone colors, that allegorically show the tragic reality of Arabs today. In La Rencontre, my adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Emma Zunz, the story unfolds first through the image and second through the omniscient narrator who often repeats, adds, and sometimes omits what the image tells us. This strategy of Bressonian ellipsis and doubling heightens the psychological drama and emphasizes the idea that what is unsaid is as good a clue as what is said. In Vertices I place the cities of Beirut, Dublin, and Seoul side by side in a triptych to depict and reflect upon civil wars, foreign invasions, and the symptomatic post-colonial reality. In Asmahan, a film about colonial Egypt seen through the eyes of a historical female singer murdered because of her political loyalty to Egypt, I use the style of rapid montage, alternating between night and day, people and animals, to form a complex canvas of the singer’s multiple personas as a lover, mother, sister, peasant, actor, informant, and a generator of dreams.
Avant-Garde Film, 18 minutes, © 2008 Muqarnas Film, Lebanon-USA
My most recently completed film, Song for the Deaf Ear (2008), began as a meditation on the insanity of war and violence in my country Lebanon. It is a film that emphasizes the visionary seers and not what one sees. To accomplish this, I made a film built with intricate patterns of clusters of flashes mixed with asynchronous patterns (in the tradition of Serial music), which anticipate other patterns of frame-to-frame montage (not shot-to-shot montage), with certain structures creating a seemingly endless series of irregular accelerations. The structure reveals a world in Lebanon made up of scattered segments that have lost their center, a world where permanence, depletion, and incessant loneliness characterize who we are as Lebanese.
I am now working on In the Shadow of the Clouds, a feature-length narrative film that takes this idea of who we are as Lebanese into the realm of dramatic form. The drama unfolds in today’s Beirut when Maurice, a Lebanese Jew, is forced to leave his house, having learned that his wife Hélène plans to bring another man into their bed later that day. Maurice finds salvation when he encounters Yusuf, a young Muslim poet. Maurice and Yusuf undergo many trials and tribulations before returning to Maurice’s home. Their own actively re-interpreted reality is most triumphant in a climactic scene in which Hélène accepts and affirms who she is as a woman, Maurice as a man, and Yusuf as a poet. The lost and captive city of Beirut is redeemed through the power of love. Thus, the large canvas of Lebanon’s history is rendered in a dramatic form about three people who represent the ever-melancholic consciousness of the Lebanese people.
I hope that the strength in all my films lies in the overall visual/auditory tone and its natural relationship to the overall poetics. I am always asking myself, "How is everything in the film connected to every other thing: plot, acting, montage, camera, décor, etc.?" "What are the film’s spatio-temporal-auditory aspects that make it come to life and thus meaningful to the person watching it?" "How can I create a style that is organic to what I am trying to express emotionally and intellectually and thus to make life happen on the screen?" Indeed, I see my films as visual poems, where emotions come through in the visual-auditory resonances that capture human action. My films, ultimately, are not pre-fabricated works of art, manufactured in rootless and placeless environments, but come out of my very life experiences. For me, the film image has always been a real thing, an organism that embodies human action rendered by the real experiences of the filmmaker.
The meaning of human action cannot be understood solely by looking at politics and economics, but as a filmmaker I must turn to art to grasp what lies in the inner depths of peoples’ lives: our common humanity. In other words, if film has a universal language it is precisely because of its ability to render human action, and to quote Henry James: "It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance…" giving fresh meaning to contemporary life.
Avant-Garde Film, 21minutes, © 2005 Muqarnas Film, Lebanon-USA
Polyvision Film, 34 minutes, © 2005 Muqarnas Film, Lebanon-USA
Narrative Film, 28 minutes, © 2002 Muqarnas Film, Lebanon-USA