First published on THE MANTLE
At the opening of “Out Loud – The Documentary” director Samer Daboul begins with a very difficult set of questions: “What does it mean to be a true artist inLebanon and in the Middle East? Does a film have the capability to create opportunities and freedom of expression in Lebanon and the Arab society? How do we create opportunities for artists to thrive?”
Those questions are at the heart of the making of his 2011 motion picture “Out Loud” and the enormous difficulties faced by the crew during the production of their film, and this doesn’t come as a surprise when the subject of film is revealed:Human rights, gay rights and freedom of expression.
The film is an unusual and bitter-sweet tale of love and darkness set in modern Lebanon in which a group of friends and a girl are brought together amidst the tensions that beset the contradictory land – improbably torn between war and freedom and conservatism and lust and an ever-changing socio-political landscape.
The documentary is a portrait of how the film came into being and provides the footnotes of why the film is so important in the context of Lebanon and the Middle East: With a next to non-existing film industry and ever increasing censorship “Out Loud” comes to confront not only gay rights but the role of women and the complicated relationship to the civil war.
But more than anything it deals with the present challenges of Lebanese youth, whose struggles are nowhere represented by religious and political zealotry. ActorAli Rhayem says about “Out Loud”: “A new idea in this country”. What does this idea have to do with? Is it just about breaking the rules or does something larger underlie the harsh predicament?
Samer Daboul and his crew speak about a struggle which isn’t only moral and symbolic: Angry mobs, religious fundamentalists, threats, and injuries, disrupted film shootings, lost equipment and what not. How can we aspire to live free and without walls in the Middle East if we are not even allowed to ask the most basic human questions about how we want to live?
He speaks about this “burden of ideas” that plagues Lebanese society and that blurs the definition of human rights in terms of groups, sects, ideologies, etc. but never in terms of humans. For the first time someone’s speaking out loud and without banisters, without walls. But what are the risks? How will Lebanese society react to this film and to the young actors?
Samer Daboul’s defense of his purpose is loud and clear, when he speaks about the opposition faced in the city of Zahlé, where the film was shot: “We didn’t bomb the city like others do, we didn’t kill anyone, we just danced and expressed love”. It is in this world of contradictions, called Lebanon and the Middle East that against all odds “Out loud” was possible.
Here one is reminded of another documentary, Wissam Charaf’s “It’s All Lebanon” that was released only a few days ago; a realistic – but paradoxical, sardonic and hysterical – view of the country since the end of the civil war and asks the common place question: Did the civil war end? What happened with reconciliation? Was there a missed chance to re-build?
Those questions are very common place but the film has a sinister twist and a fascinating article appeared in Francophone site Libnanews speaking about it. The complexity of Lebanon’s inconsistencies and contradictions come together in national media in which pop music, pin-up icons, and martyr paraphernalia blend into propaganda.
The quasi-incestuous relationship of Lebanon to both war and peace takes the shape of a tireless noise to which “the Lebanese dance. They live the moment and not for tomorrow. Because tomorrow might be the last day of peace”. The article sums it up brilliantly: “This film is based on the spectator. It doesn’t have any sense of reality. Life has become a video-clip.”
It is to this same world where “Out Loud” belongs and yet there’s more than meets the eye. The noise makes invisible the neglect, the amnesia and the sorry status of human rights, which Samer Daboul’s film has wanted to tackle. But fortunately he is not alone. Today for example, LGBT organization Helem held an event with a courageous message:
A discussion on the status of homosexuals in Lebanon and re-launch of Lebanese LGBT magazine Barra that makes a bold statement, being a publication entirely in Arabic, showing people’s faces and without hiding or blurring. The event was covered live on social media by Lebanon LGBT Monitor and certainly constitutes a major step in the direction of dialogue.
Gabriella El-Murr, art director and supporting actress in “Out Loud” has said it bluntly in the documentary: “There’s no freedom in the Middle East… If you sacrifice, like an artist, he sacrifices himself, because in Lebanon we don’t have rights.” As long as art continues to have a place and a voice in the discussion, there will be a place for life in culture and consciousness.
Samer Daboul concludes his film with: “There’s a place for an artist everywhere, it might be a difficult place to survive here in Lebanon but that can be a reason to face a bigger challenge, to do more, to work harder, so that our culture might again evolve”.
What his film has done and the documentary bears witness to, is what Susan Sontag wrote in 1995:
“The love that cinema inspired, however, was special. It was born of the conviction that cinema was an art unlike any other: quintessentially modern; distinctively accessible; poetic and mysterious and erotic and moral – all at the same time. Cinema had apostles. (It was like religion). Cinema was a crusade. For cinephiles, the movies encapsulated everything. Cinema was both the book of art and the book of life.”
For a broader look into the status of human rights in Lebanon and “Out Loud”, see my “Out Loud for Human Rights in Lebanon”.