'The Insult': when an award-winning film director is stopped at the airport

'The Insult': when an award-winning film director is stopped at the airport
Q&A: The New Arab meets Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri.

6 min read
09 November, 2017
Ziad Doueiri is an award-winning director who has stirred plenty of controversy [Jean Claude Chinchere/TheNewArab]
When Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri, whose latest work, 'The Insult', was lauded at the Venice Film festival - where actor Kamel el Basha won the Best Actor award - was greeted at Beirut airport by the local authorities and asked to appear before a military court, he was, understandably, surprised.

The reason? Having travelled to Israel in 2012 when filming another movie, 'The Attack'. The case was dropped three days later. While the incident sparked the interest of international media, the furore should not divert attention from the film itself - which offers audiences a story that speaks to everyone, regardless of whether or not they have lived through war.


The New Arab (TNA): Do you believe there is a generational gap between the people in Lebanon who went through the civil war and the younger one that has not? What does that entail and how is it reflected in your movie 'The Insult'?

Ziad Doueiri (ZD): "Yes, we are trying to show there is a drift between generations: one that has lived through the civil war and one that has no idea what it was - and this always creates conflict. This is what we wanted to show in the film; the protagonists have gone through very difficult times through the war that their own wives have not experienced.

"Those who have gone through the war cannot impose on others their suffering and vice-versa. There are two perspectives to war. Some people just want to put it behind them."

TNA: Can you describe your experience living through the civil war in Lebanon, and how that has shaped your persona and your films?

ZD: "The fact that I lived through the war adds an element to the film. I know what I am talking about. I was here [in Lebanon] until I was twenty. I have gone through these moments psychologically - but do I make a movie because I want to talk about the war? It's a bit more complicated than that.

"In storytelling when you write a screenplay you have to think about other things, not just about society, but about screenplay techniques: the protagonists - what are their obstacles? What are their flaws? What do they want? It is pure writing. Writing does not necessarily have to be about refugees, for example, but if I find a story [about refugees that captures my attention] that is my concern.

A good screenplay needs tension, says Ziad Doueiri
[Jean Claude Chinchere]

"I don't care about changing the world, if it changes for the better because of my films, that is great, but it is not my purpose, it is not my goal.

"For a good movie you need conflict. You need to have tension. These are techniques that good movies are built on."

TNA: Do you think artists and movie directors influence society and mentality in a country?

ZD: "No. I think asking film-makers to bring about social change is insignificant. We are not an NGO: we just want to tell a story. I do not think films affect anything: a film is a form of entertainment. You pay ten dollars and you either laugh or you cry, sometimes it makes you think of certain things but it never changes peoples; lives, I doubt that."

TNA: Where you shocked when you were stopped at the airport returning from the 74th Venice International Film festival, where you had just won a prize? What do you think is the reason for this happening now?

ZD: "Yes, it was a little bit upsetting - but then it was fine. They found nothing. I was dismissed without charges. It seems I do a lot of things that cause problems and conversations. It is not my intention, in fact I hate the attention.

"I hate negative publicity; it does not bring anything positive for me. I do not need that negative publicity. It was just a bad chapter and the government behaved very well. I was stopped at the airport for investigation because somebody deposited a complaint with the government that I had been to Israel. So the army had to look into it, that's it."

[Note: Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and do not hold diplomatic relations. It remains illegal for a Lebanese citizen to enter Israel, except in particular circumstances and with the government’s consent, and can be punishable with prison.]

I hate the attention. I hate negative publicity; it does not bring anything positive for me

TNA: Previews of the movie began on 14 September, the anniversary of the assassination of Bachir Gemayel. Is this a coincidence?

ZD: "Believe me it is a coincidence. It is not for the anniversary of the assassination of Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel [14 September, 1982]. People always like to come up with these theories but it is not the case.

"We wanted to release it on 11 September, but then there was 9/11 [to consider], so we thought of the 12th, but movie distributors here told us no-one releases a movie on a Tuesday in Lebanon, so the closest date for release was Thursday September 14. We were submitting the film for the Oscars and the deadline was the end of September, and we needed time."

TNA: Do you feel you are a polarising element in Lebanon?

ZD: "I was often attacked in Lebanon for my positions. The 2012 movie 'The Attack' was banned in Lebanon. This entire attack on me now is caused by that. They do not want the new film 'The Insult' to come out. They are using the older film to have me prosecuted.

"If I go to jail then the film will not be released. They are not succeeding. I ignore those people, they don't mean anything to me; they are losing and so why should I be concerned? I've had the support of the government, the minister of culture and the people. Lebanon has always had problems: no water, no electricity, Palestinian refugees, Syrian refugees - we've always had problems, we are used to it."

TNA: What makes a movie a success and were you expecting to win at the International Film Festival in Venice?

ZD: "For a movie to be good, you need tension, you need a good screenplay. I was so happy for the actor, Kamel al Basha. He spent two years in Israeli jails and he got it. It's fantastic. I was so happy for him. I wish all the actors had won. I was so happy at the festival, it was humble, it was cool, people were generous - it was great."


Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri was speaking to Gaja Pellegrini-Bettoli for The New Arab.

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