VOID (Lebanon , 1 hour 18 minutes )
Directed by: Maria Abdel Karim, Naji Bechara, Jad Beyrouthy, Salim Habr, Christelle Ighniades, Tarek Korkomaz, Zeina Makki.
Written by: Georges Khabbaz
Cast: Carol Abboud, Diamand Bou Abboud, Carmen Lebbos, Latife Moultaka, Takla Chamoun, Nada Abou Farhat.
There are 16,000 Lebanese victims of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention in Syrian prisons and Lebanese territories since the start of Lebanese civil war in 1975. Six Lebanese women from different ages, each one of them is still waiting for one missing man from her life that disappeared/kidnapped in the Lebanese civil war. Their hidden emotional wounds are open once again one day prior to a protest in Beirut to keep their cause alive. VOID is a profoundly moving narrative shot in a vignette style focussing on different generation's of women who have lost male loved ones.
Interview:CSB: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today Sam. Your film, VOID, was selected by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture to represent Lebanon at the Academy Awards for the best Foreign Film Award. Congratulations, that is a huge honor. Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from and how did you get into making films?
SL: I am from Lebanon, I studied TV and Film at Notre Dame University northern of Beirut, and then I did a Masters degree in scriptwriting and another MA in Media Studies. After graduation I started a career in Dramatic Arts teaching and since 2000 I teach scriptwriting and filmmaking at NDU. I've built a good experience in short films since I supervised more than 300 short films so far as a Senior Study instructor and as the head of the Audio Visual Department; I also have a background in theater, I produced seven theater plays, three of them went at the national level and four school experimental plays.
Then I felt it was time to pursue the experience of a feature film. So together with my friend and my colleague at NDU we decided to produce a film written by Georges Khabbaz one of the most influential writers and theater directors and actors in Lebanon. Georges Khabbaz wrote a feature script of seven chapters that tackles a very important issue in Lebanon, which is the issue of those who disappeared during the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990. It is still a very vital cause in Lebanon, we have 17,000 people who were kidnapped or killed during that war and we know nothing about them till this date. It was a great cause and a right moment to put this film together. We knew we have a very good script, and we approached Opur Universtiy for funding and they welcomed the idea and covered the budget.
So far we have won eleven awards, participated in twenty festivals, and now in the race for the Oscars.
CSB: What has been your experience as an independent filmmaker? What advice do you give young filmmakers?
SL: I meet lot of students and independent filmmakers at networking sessions at the Film Festival at Notre Dame University, and other film festivals around the world. I decided that the slogan of the festival is “the power of youth” because young people and young filmmakers have lot of things to give and to say, and they just need some support and a good platform to screen their films.
I don’t want to be pretentious and say that I advise them, however, it’s just an idea we can share together: we have to search and look deep inside our pain, our struggle in life; this planet is full of injustice and young people are freed from social and business bonds. Young people can see the truth, they can say their truth and short film is a platform for them to express their thoughts truthfully. All they need to do is believe in their cause and work to make their voices heard.
Void falls in this category, it is a feature film, a one story composed of seven chapters. For those seven chapters, there are seven directors, young directors between the age of twenty-three and twenty-six; and in this film, they made their voices heard.
CSB: As you already mentioned, Void is composed of vignettes featuring women left behind by an important male figure in their life who disappeared during the Lebanese Civil War. What or who inspired this venture for you?
SL: As I said, the writer Georges Khabbaz is a friend of mine and the brother of my partner Nicolas Khabbaz; George had this film and he wanted to produce it himself. George Khabbaz is a much known theater and film director, producer, writer and actor; he’s the best man in town, as we say in Lebanon. When we heard about this story, the first thing that came to mind is that we can take these seven chapters and give it to seven directors among our graduating students. This was one of the ways to convince the school, which is Notre Dame University - Louaize in Lebanon, that they can support financing this movie because it falls within the mission of the university in supporting human and national causes. On the other hand, it also showed that the university encourages its graduating students and faculty members to engage also in the professional world.
It is also a very vital issue; in Beirut we have the longest sit-in, in the history of humanity. The families of the missing people have been participating in a sit-in for the past ten years, since 2005, in front of the ESCWA building, which is the UN building in Beirut, asking for some answers about the life of their missing loved ones. We know that those missing people were either kidnapped or put into the Syrian prisons, or killed by Lebanese war militias and put in mass graves. Opening those mass graves is still something impossible in Lebanon; it is communicated that this may cause some problems at the political and national level.
During the Lebanese war that started in 1974 and ended in 1990, the militia groups kidnapped a lot of people from different parties. During the war, they tried to hide this by killing those people and putting them in mass graves. And after the war, those people who were the heads of those militias, the lords of war became the lords of peace; they took power, so somehow they wanted to erase this file.
After the withdrawal of Syrian army in 2005, the parents and family members of the missing people wanted to know where their missed relatives are, so they started this sit-in. It is a cause that is still living in our conscience; the least we can do as filmmakers is to make a movie to keep the cause alive and to say to everyone “those people are still waiting”. The title of the film in Lebanese Arabic is “Waynon” which means “where are they”? Where are they and where is the conscience of the politicians in Lebanon?
CSB: How long did it take to complete the film and what were the most challenging aspects?
SL: We did eleven days of shooting, it was fast in terms of production, However we had 3-4 months of preparations. All the directors were first-time directors, this was the main challenge. They were working with most professional actors and actresses in the country. It was a mix of professional actors and directors who were at the first stages of their professional careers and the whole team were students.
CSB: Will you be attending the festival, or maybe just the screening of your film?
SL: Unfortunately, we are preparing for our festival NDU International Film Festival which should start on November 15, so we are in the middle of the preparations and at the same time, we had festivals that we were already booked for. So I am traveling with my partner to Sweden next week; and directly after the NYC Indie Film Fest, we have the Asian World Film Festival in LA; we are obliged to be there because we are promoting for the Waynon for the Oscars. So it came in a time that we cannot travel. But we hope that the audience in NYC will receive it in a good way—and we are counting on your article. *laughs*
CSB: What can we expect from you in the future?
SL: We are preparing our second feature film, It is a co-production between Lebanon, Germany and Ireland; and it falls in the same category, which is “film for a cause”; It speaks about separation within the city and how people live under political and religious separation. At that level we are waiting for the funding and we are about mid-way.
CSB: Is there anything else that festivalgoers should know about your film?
SL: We want them to watch the movie with an open mind. This is a movie that targets the human being inside them, and we want them to reflect on this idea, to think about it. This is an international topic, it’s not only in Lebanon, it is all over the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and also it happened in Serbia, in Russia, in Mexico, in Argentina... Everywhere in the world, there is someone waiting for someone who disappeared during a war conflict, and they have the right to know where those people who disappeared are.
***Interview with Carolina Solms-Baruth, press representative for the 2015 NYC Independent Film Festival, and Sam Lahoud the producer of VOID.
By Marie Francillon
Since the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, 17,000 people are missing. In 2005 the families of these victims gathered downtown to Parliament Square in Beirut for the longest sit-in in the history of humanity, begging for answers.
VOID shows how the war greatly affected six Lebanese women lives, as they each await a man who has disappeared/kidnapped during the Lebanese war. As the day of protest approaches, each of these ladies begin to recall their last moments before they were never seen again. The Film opens with Carole the sit-in creator and ambassador who is visibly too focused in her work and focused on finding answers about her father’s kidnapping back in the 70’s, that she doesn’t realize her friend is in-love with her. The second is Mrs. Latief, an elderly mother, so consumed in sadness over her sons’ disappearance that she imagines that he is still around the house. When her husband brings her back to reality, she pulls at your heartstrings as she breaks down and screams, asking where he is. Then begs the Virgin Mary to bring him back to her.
Takla, a single school teacher whose brother is missing, speaks on her obligation to go to the sit-in to keep her mother who is aging, from spending the day in the heat. While her friend is trying to get her married, she recalls the memories of her life changing after her brother went missing. Diamand, a young women bikes into the scene seemingly happy until she walk into a café and devastates her boyfriend. As she sits at a bar with an old friend she shares how her fathers’ disappearance played a big part in how she lives her life, though some many feel it is a way for her to cop out of her feelings.
The film takes a small turn into a bit of scandal and a few awkward moments as they introduce Carmen, a woman who bursts into tears quickly after sex, then explains that she is crying because of her husbands’ disappearance. Though she expresses her need to find closure by attending the sit-ins, she goes onto make the situation even more awkward by comparing her lover to her husband who was a college professor.
Thus leading to Nada, a woman married to a Parliament official. After her husband talks about how sorry he feels for the victims’ families as they will never know the truth, Nada expresses her need to attend, in honor of her ex-lover/professor who was kidnapped. As the day of the sit-in arrives all the women are joined together to protest, leading to unspoken words and silent support as they hold up their loved ones pictures. VOID is an official selection of the New York City Independent Film Festival and will be shown at the festival on October 12-18, 2015.