Danielle Arbid

Beirut Blues

Cigarettes, coffee, and controversy – chatting with Lebanese rebel filmmaker Danielle Arbid

I was attending a documentary film festival at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where Danielle Arbid had just screened her latest experimental short, Allo Chérie (Hello Dear, 2015). In it, moving imagery of random streets in Beirut – shot using an iPhone – are set to audio bits of phone conversations between the filmmaker’s mother and shady, predominantly male ‘business partners’. Throughout the projection, the audience seemed perplexed, but thoroughly enlivened by Arbid’s mother and her vigorously active logorrhoea. When the time came for the Q&A segment, most of the attendees chose to toss platitudes left and right. The turn of an older woman came, who seemed eager to get a staff member to lend her the microphone. At first, Arbid appeared measured and steely as she took in the woman’s question. Upon closer inspection, though, and, as the question spread itself painfully in time, some of her facial features betrayed her calm demeanour. Prior to our first meeting, fellow journalists had warned me of the filmmaker’s volatile nature, but I instantly ruled them out as misogynistic. My general impression was that she was self-possessed, warm, and also surprisingly generous; but at that particular moment, it felt like she was ready to explode. The dynamic was tense, bordering on grotesque. The woman’s closing remark – and the moment her rhetoric finally espoused the seemingly ever-impending interrogation mark – was especially distressing. ‘I can’t seem to figure out what it is you’re trying to say about Lebanon and its people. I mean, are even trying to say anything at all?’

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