Special to Outlook
Acclaimed Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, whose latest film is garnering rave reviews and has already won the best actor award at the Venice International Film Festival, was released from custody hours after his arrest on Sunday, September 10. He stood a military trial on Monday, September 11.
The reason behind his arrest goes back to 2012, when the director shot scenes from “The Attack” on occupied Palestinian lands. His arrest, five years after his offense, caused a controversy that fueled extensive arguments between Doueiri sympathizers and condemners.
The filmmaker is anything but faultless.
His offense—shooting a film on locations occupied by Lebanon’s official enemy—goes deeper than a simple blow to national pride: it is an ill-mannered and tenacious attempt at challenging a belief that Israel’s crimes should never be normalized or overlooked. Doueiri, fully aware of the consequences imposed by a national ban from visiting occupied land, decided to follow the “art justifies all” approach and disregard a conflict that has been ongoing for decades.
Even though his film “The Attack” takes place in occupied Palestine, it is common knowledge that the film industry can set scenes in locations yet still shoot them elsewhere.
Considering how geographically similar the Lebanese South and Palestine are, it is difficult to understand how shooting in occupied land is necessary for ensuring locational authenticity. When foreign shows like “Homeland” represent Hamra Street as a sandy desert saturated with militants and still get away with it, Doueiri shooting “The Attack” in the Lebanese South would have in no way downgraded the quality of his work.
The director opted for the option that would pump money into Israeli pockets. In addition to creating jobs for technicians working on his sets, Doueiri cast multiple Israeli actors in his film, instead of encouraging talented local actors.
Three prominent nationalities living in Lebanon could have offered Doueiri a wide range of unique actors to cast, yet he still hired actors he knew were off limits. That approach can be seen as somewhat hypocritical coming from someone who has repeatedly claimed to be a supporter of the Palestinian cause.
If he did it for the sake of the art, then he should be held accountable for creating art that Israelis can be credited for. Much like “The Insult”, “The Attack” could have easily been a Lebanese film the country would have taken pride in and benefitted from. It could have been the country’s 2012 submission for Oscar consideration. One decision took that opportunity away from both the director and his country.
Looking back at basketball player Julien Khazzouh’s case, which effectively saw him sign a one year contract for an Israeli basketball club before casually returning to play in Lebanon, does not, in any way, justify Doueiri’s offense.
The government should be held accountable for not punishing Khazzouh and for waiting five years before interrogating Doueiri, but it should never be criticized for enforcing the law.
Despite Doueiri’s actions, the filmmaker was released after trial, and the Ministry of Culture still submitted “The Insult” as the country’s choice for Oscar consideration. Thus, the government did not attempt to impede the progress of his latest feat and did not harm it in any substantial way; for example, the government did not ban it from being played in Lebanese theaters. The government did, however, investigate an artist the same way it would have investigated a salesman who ventured into occupied territory.
Doueiri sympathizers should ask themselves what right they are defending and why.
Many have defended the filmmaker under the pretense that his trip across the border made way for some sort of creative excellence he might not have found anywhere else. Doueiri himself has now shown the absurdity of that argument.
“The Insult’s” unwavering success proves loud and clear that Doueiri can excel at his art without having to break any rules or any trust. Normalizing such actions would prove to be a slippery slope the country cannot really afford at the moment, but the director’s offense is not unforgivable, as the people who are not boycotting him and his work are exhibiting. The director will hopefully prove to be more responsible in his future endeavors.