At 6:08 pm on August 4, 2020, time stopped in Beirut, Lebanon. It took only a few seconds to destroy the little hope the Lebanese had felt when they marched against sectarianism and corruption in October of 2019.
These few seconds carried the weight of years of past corruption and the unbearable pain to come. Beirut was hit by one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history—a seismic explosion that left more than 200 dead, 6,500 injured and more than 300,000 homeless. The blast was so immense it was heard in Cyprus and felt in Greece.
As we at Film Independent support many Lebanese filmmakers through the Global Media Makers (GMM) program, a partnership between Film Independent and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, we were particularly anxious for our Fellows in Beirut immediately after the blast.
We were relieved to know they had not been hurt by the blast, but as we all know too well, the effects of such events are long lasting and linger for days, weeks and even years. So we asked our GMM Fellows to share their experiences in the aftermath of this tragedy through personal video essays. Understandably, many were not able to participate, as they were still amidst repairs and rebuilding.
However, four Fellows: Zeina Badran, Amin Dora, Mira Shaib and Jana Wehbe were able to depict—in candid and very personal videos—the grief and destruction left behind by the cataclysmic explosion.
As two Lebanese expats working on the staff of GMM, we were moved by these videos and wanted to use this opportunity to provide some context from our first-hand experiences growing up in Beirut.
In its 5,000 years of history, Beirut is believed to have been destroyed and rebuilt seven times. As Lebanese, whether in the diaspora or back home, we know this history and are accustomed—or thought we were—to the ebb and flow between heights of progress to lows of destruction. We often compare our city to a Phoenix that rises from the ashes, a cliché we use as a coping mechanism to get ourselves through crises. We convince ourselves that we are a resilient people. But August 4 was different.
As expats, we went from worrying about COVID-19 to worrying about our families not being able to buy groceries or receive health care due to the financial collapse, then to a paralyzing panic after the explosion. We felt helpless and hopeless.
Then, in the few days that followed the catastrophe, we began to see the youth of our country taking the initiative to clean up the debris scattered over the city. The site of these youth, from all walks of life, all ethnicities and sectarian backgrounds, coming together began to heal us and restore hope in us.
It is the same hope we can also sense in our Fellows’ videos, reaffirming Lebanon’s famed resplendency through their lenses. They left us remembering the words of the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran: “Your Lebanon is a political knot, a national dilemma, a place of conflict, and deception. My Lebanon is a place of beauty and dreams of enchanting valleys and splendid mountains.”
Louay Khraish is Film Independent’s International Programs Manager; Sam Shaib is Operations Manager, Global Media Makers. To help support the ongoing relief efforts, please check out these resources.