Lebanese filmmaker Daizy Gedeon: ‘I’m trying to create a movement’

Lebanese filmmaker Daizy Gedeon: ‘I’m trying to create a movement’
Daizy Gedeon was making a film called “The Dream is Everything.” (Supplied)
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Updated 23 September 2021

Lebanese filmmaker Daizy Gedeon: ‘I’m trying to create a movement’

Lebanese filmmaker Daizy Gedeon: ‘I’m trying to create a movement’
  • The Lebanese filmmaker discusses her powerful and damning documentary, ‘ENOUGH! Lebanon’s Darkest Hour’

DUBAI: Before the catastrophic explosion at Beirut Port on August 4, 2020, Daizy Gedeon was making a film called “The Dream is Everything.” The Lebanese filmmaker had been working on it for years, interviewing the top political figures in Lebanon, centering it around a message of hope, of building a better Lebanon in the long recovery from the country’s civil war. 

“When I started digging in, it became a very hard story. People were suffering. But when I was asking politicians about their solutions — between 2017 and 2019 — I still believed that there may have been some truth in what they were saying; that they were trying to fix the country and make things better for people. But when August 4 hit, the shock turned to sadness, and the sadness to anger,” Gedeon tells Arab News.

“I said forget the dream. There’s no more dreams, baby.”

While Gedeon, 56, was born in Lebanon, she grew up in Australia, spending years as a journalist. (Supplied)

After that epiphany, Gedeon began radically reworking her old footage while manically adding new aspects, ultimately creating a very different film: “ENOUGH! Lebanon’s Darkest Hour.” Her new vision, centered around the perceived negligence that led to the tragic event and the suffering that it left in its wake, and serving as a call to action for substantive change, has already resonated in the international film community, winning the Movies That Matter Award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, supported by the Better World Fund and Filmfestivals.com. 

“When we went back to the footage we had, we realized that I didn’t need to try to indict them, they indicted themselves with their own words. I didn’t need to take anything out of context. I just had to decide that I’m not going to make them look good anymore,” says Gedeon. “Before, I thought that they were part of the solution, so I didn't want to destroy them. I thought we needed them. That explosion was the worst thing that could have happened to Lebanon, but it was the best thing that could have happened to the film.” 

While Gedeon, 56, was born in Lebanon, she grew up in Australia, spending years as a journalist. In 1988, she covered the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, as a soccer writer, jetting off to Europe for a holiday afterwards. While there, her mother implored her to go back to Beirut to visit her family, and after initial hesitation due to the ongoing conflict, she decided to go for two weeks.

“That was the beginning of my love affair with Lebanon. I called my editor in Australia and said, ‘Hey, the airport's closed, I can't come back’. Really, I wanted to learn more about it. It was fascinating because there was a war going on. Like, how close do you ever get to war? There was the green line and there were snipers right nearby. One of my cousins was in one of the militias and so he took me through the buildings,” says Gedeon.

Her new vision has already resonated in the international film community. (Supplied)

She had long been a fan of the Jason Bourne spy novels of Robert Ludlum, which used real-life convicted Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal as their main antagonist. 

“I loved those books, so Beirut in that era really did fit my interests. In Beirut, it was real life. Carlos the Jackal had a base in Beirut. This was James Bond stuff, and it fit into my imagination and my intrigue. But at the same time, there was something serious because I came from this place,” she says. “I started to feel a real affection and connection to people, and that brought me deeper into all of it in a way I wasn’t expecting.”

After that trip, Gedeon never lost her connection to Lebanon and the broader region, relocating to London and covering regional conflicts in the Middle East throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties, before returning to Lebanon to make her first documentary in 1993 — the critically acclaimed “Lebanon… Imprisoned Splendour,” released in 1996. It was a reflection of all she had learned from peeling back Lebanon’s layers and finding a warm and generous people that welcomed her even amidst the bloodshed. 

“With that film, I was trying to show the world that there is more to this place than what people had heard for the previous 20 years. The conflict was real, but that was only one piece of the puzzle. I wanted to fill in the gaps, delving into the history and the actual people there, the reality on the ground,” says Gedeon. 

While her journalism continued as she pursued other myriad projects, Gedeon stepped away from documentary filmmaking for the next two decades. She reveals with visible emotion to Arab News that this was due in part to a “stifling, oppressive” marriage — which ended officially in 2015 — to a person who had once been her closest friend and champion, a devolution that she found shocking and dispiriting. 

Gedeon stepped away from documentary filmmaking for the next two decades. (Supplied)

“You can’t be creative if you’re in a desperate situation. When it was officially over, my mind started to clear and the little voice in my head returned, louder, louder, and by 2016 it was screaming, screaming, in my head. I don't know how else to explain it. I said to myself, ‘Alright, I’ll do it. I’ll return to Lebanon.’”

Throughout the process of making “ENOUGH!,” Gedeon starkly changed as a filmmaker. While raising awareness broadly is still an important part of her work, she is no longer the person that she was when she arrived in 1988. The beautiful words written about her last film in the late Nineties in the West were no longer sufficient. 

Her gaze with her latest film, which is currently on the festival circuit and scheduled for a wide release in cinemas and on digital platforms in early 2022, is firmly set on the place that bore her, and the people like her in the Lebanese diaspora across the world, whom she hopes to bring back to the country to help fix it once and for all. 

“This is not just for film critics,” Gedeon says. “It’s got to inspire Lebanese people, everywhere. If the film does not agitate, provoke, or motivate people to take action, then it's failed. I want to channel their energy and their anger and their frustration to join the movement, change things to a free and fair Lebanon, which starts with the elections in 2022. I'm trying to create a movement. We've got to build this groundswell of people in Lebanon, as well as the diaspora everywhere. 

“There are 16 million outside Lebanon. My goal is to educate and inform those people, people who believe in justice and social change,” she continues. “We need more than just the Lebanese on the ground. We need more people to stand up for social justice everywhere, and for Lebanon to be one of the countries that they say ‘Yes, it's time.’”

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’
Updated 27 May 2022

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’
  • "What is at stake in this trial is a man's good name," Camille Vasquez, an attorney for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star said
  • Lawyers for the two sides are making their closing arguments following six weeks of blistering mutual accusations of domestic violence

FAIRFAX, United States: A lawyer for actor Johnny Depp urged a jury on Friday to find his ex-wife Amber Heard guilty of defamation over domestic abuse allegations and give him his “life back.”
“What is at stake in this trial is a man’s good name,” Camille Vasquez, an attorney for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, said in closing arguments in Fairfax County Circuit Court near the US capital.
“We ask you to give Mr.Depp his life back, to tell the world that Mr.Depp is not the abuser Miss Heard said he is and to hold Miss Heard accountable for her lies,” Vasquez said.
“The evidence shown in this trial has shown that Miss Heard is the abuser,” she added. “She was violent, she was abusive and she was cruel.”
Lawyers for the two sides are making their closing arguments following six weeks of blistering mutual accusations of domestic violence between the couple.
Judge Penney Azcarate will give the case over to the seven-person jury Friday afternoon. The panel will be off over the weekend and on Monday, a public holiday, and resume deliberations on Tuesday.
The 58-year-old Depp filed a defamation suit against Heard in Virginia over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The Texas-born Heard, who had a starring role in “Aquaman,” did not name Depp in the piece, but he sued her for implying he was a domestic abuser and is seeking $50 million in damages.
The 36-year-old Heard countersued for $100 million, claiming that she suffered “rampant physical violence and abuse” at his hands.
Dozens of witnesses testified during the trial, including bodyguards, Hollywood executives, agents, entertainment industry experts, psychiatrists, doctors, friends and relatives.
Depp and Heard each spent days on the witness stand during the televised trial which attracted hundreds of fans of the “Pirates” star daily.
Video and audio recordings of heated, profanity-laced arguments between the couple were played for the jury, which was also shown photographs of injuries allegedly suffered by Heard during their volatile relationship.
Hours of testimony featuring medical experts was devoted to a finger injury that Depp suffered while filming an installment of “Pirates” in Australia in March 2015.
Depp claimed the tip of the middle finger on his right hand was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him. Heard said she did not know how the injury occurred.
Both agreed that Depp went on to scrawl messages on walls, lampshades and mirrors using the bloody digit.
Heard said Depp would become a physically and sexually abusive “monster” during alcohol- and drug-fueled binges and resisted her repeated efforts to curb his drinking and drug use.
Heard said Depp had promised to bring her “global humiliation” if she left him, and she has been the target of a vast #JusticeForJohnnyDepp social media campaign.
Depp testified that it has been “brutal” to listen to his ex-wife’s “outlandish” accusations of domestic abuse.
“No human being is perfect, certainly not, none of us, but I have never in my life committed sexual battery, physical abuse,” he said.
Heard, who was married to Depp from 2015 to 2017, obtained a restraining order against him in May 2016, citing domestic violence.
Depp, a three-time Oscar nominee, filed a libel suit in London against the British tabloid The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater.” He lost that case in November 2020.
Both sides have claimed damage to their Hollywood careers.
Heard’s legal team presented an entertainment industry expert who estimated that the actress has suffered $45-50 million in lost film and TV roles and endorsements.
An industry expert hired by Depp’s side said the actor has lost millions because of the abuse accusations, including a potential $22.5 million payday for a sixth installment of “Pirates.”

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
Updated 27 May 2022

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
  • Aryan Khan, 24, an aspiring actor and director, was arrested in October during a raid on the cruise ship off Mumbai
  • Evidence from an eight-month investigation didn't implicate Khan

NEW DELHI: Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s son was cleared on Friday in a drug case involving a party on a luxury cruise ship, with no evidence showing he possessed banned drugs or was involved in trafficking, India’s narcotics agency said.
Aryan Khan, 24, an aspiring actor and director, was arrested in October during a raid on the cruise ship off Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital. He was released on bail after three weeks.
India’s Narcotics Control Bureau said in a statement Friday that evidence from an eight-month investigation didn’t implicate Khan. However, it pressed charges against 14 other people.
After the raid on the ship, the narcotics agency had said it had evidence in the form of WhatsApp messages showing that Khan was involved in illicit drug dealing.
Mukul Rohatgi, Khan’s lawyer, told reporters Friday that the arrest was “arbitrary” and the agency did not conduct a medical examination to show his client had consumed drugs.
The case was widely covered in India, with fans of Aryan Khan insisting on his innocence while others called for a boycott of his father’s films.
Shah Rukh Khan, 56, is known as the king of Bollywood and is India’s most loved actor. He has starred in more than 105 movies over nearly three decades.
In September last year, the narcotics agency questioned some of Bollywood’s most prominent stars in connection with the death of famous actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Rajput died by suicide and doctors and police ruled out drugs.

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE
Updated 27 May 2022

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre announced the launch of the Kanz Al-Jeel Award for Nabati poetry at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair this week.

Nabati is a centuries-old form of colloquial poetry that originated as part of the oral traditions of the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Gulf.

According to a statement, the award was launched with the aim of preserving “the traditional heritage of this form of writing for the next generation” and recognizing “scholars and creators whose works highlight the rich history and heritage of Nabati poetry and its inherent values.”

Finalists will compete for a share of a total prize of AED1.5 million (just over $408,000).

During the launch ceremony at the book fair, ALC chairman Ali bin Tamim said, “Today, we celebrate the launch of an exceptional award that brings tremendous value and depth to our cultural scene.

“It derives its name from one of the poems of our founding father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and reflects his wisdom, passion for poetry, and his vision, which helped cement this literary genre in the hearts and minds of all Emiratis and Arabs,” he continued. 

There award is split into six categories: Poetry matching (awarded to a poem that closely matches the rhythm and rhyming pattern of one of Sheikh Zayed’s poems); creative personality; arts; studies and research; poetic publications; and translation. 

Nominations, which must come from “academic, research, and cultural institutions, or the higher committee of the award,” can be submitted until July 30. 

Nominees are required to have “actively contributed to enriching local and Arabic poetic, critical, or artistic movements,” according to the statement. 

Only one entry for one of the categories is allowed per person. Submissions must be in Arabic, except for the translation award, which will be given to poems translated from Arabic into other languages, and the studies and research award, for which submissions can be written in “other living languages.”

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 
Updated 27 May 2022

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 

DUBAI: Emirati social media influencer Majid Alamry took to social media this week to criticize US cable network Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Dubai,” set to premiere on June 1. 

Following the trailer release on May 17, Alamry said that the reality TV show does not represent housewives in the UAE.  

The three-minute clip, set in the 11th city in the franchise, offers a glimpse of the six cast-members — Caroline Stanbury, Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Sara Al-Madani, Lesa Milan and Nina Ali — at luxurious dinners and lunches, fashion shows, vacations and a wedding.

“From the trailer, (there are) women wearing bikinis on beaches, using the nastiest language you can ever think of and they are representing themselves as gold diggers, trying their best to get money from rich men,” he said in a short Instagram video.

“Now, my wife is a housewife, she does not dress like that in public. She does not speak in that manner, and she has achieved a lot in her life,” he said. “The housewives of my country are our mothers, our sisters (and) our daughters. They are the backbone in helping giving our children the proper upbringing.”

“Yes, we are a tolerant country, but that does not mean that others can walk all over our morals and values,” Alamry said. “That series does not represent the real housewives of Dubai.” 

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Updated 27 May 2022

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
  • The pavilion showcases the country’s cultural power during ongoing political and economic crises

VENICE: Inside an amply lit space in the Arsenale, one of the most prominent exhibition areas at the Venice Biennale, multimedia installations in Lebanon’s pavilion depict the beauty and chaos that has befallen the country after several years of economic and political crises.

There’s Ayman Baalbaki’s arresting 2021 work “Janus Gate” — a two-sided installation (named for the Roman god of beginnings, endings, transitions and time, usually depicted with two faces) covered in the artist’s abstract expressionist brushstrokes, which underlines the idea of a fragmented city. The vibrant front is typical of Baalbaki’s expressionistic painting style; it features the media panels placed on construction sites depicting an artist’s rendition of what the building will look like decorated with neon lights and spray-paint, imposing the lively chaos of the capital city’s present onto corporate promises of a brighter future.

Walk through a doorway to the back side and the visitor is confronted by a dimly lit olive-green monochrome recreation of a watchman’s hut, with a washing line and small table outside. From inside the hut comes a red light showing, Baalbaki explains, “the heat of a living creature.” The olive-green is a deliberate reference to the military, and how the civil wars in Lebanon and Syria turned civilians into soldiers. The red light alludes to the thermal signatures visible through night-vision scopes.

Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate, 2021. (Supplied)

Baalbaki’s installation, like Janus, combines the past, present and future. It gracefully depicts the stoicism and resilience of the average citizen in the face of chaos.

Across from it, a haunting split-screen movie by Lebanese-French filmmaker and artist Danielle Arbid titled “Allô Chéri” (2022) plays. It is shot from inside a car driving through Beirut. The soundtrack is a woman narrating how she is constantly chasing money. That woman is Arbid’s mother.

Arbid was born in Lebanon in 1970. She moved to Paris aged 17. In 1997, she directed her first film. Since then, she has alternated between fiction, first-person documentaries, and video essays, and works as a photographer. Her work has won numerous awards and been the subject of several retrospectives.

Ayman Baalbaki. (Supplied)

For “Allô Chéri,” Arbid installed a recording device in her mother’s mobile phone (with her mother’s consent) and soon discovered that her mother was running her own banking system — a result of Lebanon’s financial collapse and the need for the people to access money through other means than the official economic system.

“I discovered my mother’s turbulent financial life,” Arbid told Arab News. “Secrets of debts that she hid from us, but that we (guessed at), because she was very stressed during this period. My mother’s life resembles the economic life of Lebanon today.”

The film also shows Arbid’s mother wandering the streets of Beirut. Like those around her, she looks for answers and clings on to hope, but clearly carries with her the despair and weight of the tragedies that have befallen her city.

Aline Asmar d’Amman. (Supplied)

“Allô Chéri” is one of a series of nine films that Arbid has been working on for several years titled “My Lebanese Family.” Each family member has a film focused on them, each in a different genre.

Lebanon’s participation at the 59th Venice Biennale is only the second in its history, and considering all that has transpired in the country, exhibiting in Venice is a feat that goes against all odds.

The pavilion was inaugurated one month before the Lebanese went to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections — ones which resulted in victory for some opposition candidates, spelling momentary celebration for those hoping for change. A desire and commitment to change and to Lebanese heritage and culture can similarly be felt in Venice — but through art.

The Lebanese state provided no money to stage the show; it was entirely privately funded by generous Lebanese art collectors and patrons.

Danielle Arbid. (Supplied)

“The private sector wanted to make sure that Lebanon was well-represented,” Lebanese art collector and patron Basel Dalloul, one of the pavilion’s funders, told Arab News. “The exhibition does represent Beirut’s contemporary art movement. It portrays a commentary on the two sides of Beirut echoing the ancient Roman god of Janus and his two two-faces.”

The Lebanese Visual Art Association (LVAA) organized the Lebanese Pavilion under the patronage of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, who mandated Nada Ghandour to curate the show. The two artists — Arbid and Baalbaki — were chosen to provide two different but connected viewpoints on contemporary Beirut. Arbid has witnessed her country’s travails from the diaspora, whereas Baalbaki lives and works in Beirut.

“This year, the Lebanese Pavilion comes to life in spite of the extremely challenging times that Lebanon is going through, and the political, economic, and social turmoil that the Lebanese are facing,” Ghandour told Arab News. “By placing the Lebanese Pavilion in the Arsenale, I wanted to show that Lebanon still exists on the world art map and also to send a strong message to artists in Lebanon to encourage and motivate them; to show them that there is support for them, and also promote Lebanon’s contemporary art scene, an important sector for the country.

Danielle Arbid, Allô Chérie, 2015. (Supplied)

“The exhibition invites viewers on a symbolic journey into our contemporary world through a theme, a city, and two artists who maintain a political and aesthetic dialogue from a distance, by presenting artworks which are so far and yet so close,” she continued.

Paris-based Lebanese architect Aline Asmar d’Amman, who designed the pavilion.

“My first intuition was to express a powerful message of hope and unity from Lebanon to the world,” d’Amman told Arab News. “The circular brutalist egg-shaped envelope is a symbolic gesture, a tribute to the cinema of Joseph Karam in Beirut and the experimental theater by Oscar Niemeyer in Tripoli, both monuments that became ruins during the civil war. The structure is open like an oculus, revealing the magnificent wooden framework of the Arsenal. Ayman’s monumental sculptural installation and Danielle’s energetic images travelling through the streets of Beirut, framed in the circle, incarnate the dialogue and the deep plunge into our beloved city.”

Through their artworks, those two artists poignantly — and at times painfully — relay the beauty and decay of the city of Beirut and life as they once knew it in Lebanon.

Baalbaki, born in 1975 — the year the Lebanese Civil War started — has long been one of Lebanon’s most acclaimed artists, known for his work that focuses on political and social issues relating to Lebanon and the Arab world, particularly the conflicts that have ravaged the region.

“The city of Beirut for me is just as Foucault says: ‘A heterochronic space,’ meaning within one space there are several other spaces — utopian and real at the same time,” Baalbaki explained. “You feel like Beirut stretches forward and backward. Janus has two heads: one head faces backwards and another forward. He symbolizes the beginning and the end of time. And, with time, there is a promise of the future.”