With images but no sound, a new Lebanese silent movie shows how the camera is more powerful than the gun.
Marie-Rose Osta is a Lebanese director working in the advertising industry, while at the same time pursuing her personal projects with passion. The last one, called “GangBang”, is a short, catchy silent movie that was screened in Beirut during the 2016 Lebanese Film Festival.
In a playful way, the film mixes influences and references from various genres and periods of time, telling the story of a lone biker who is chased by a gang of fearless riders in black leather. The hero in the end saves his life thanks to an 8mm camera. We talked to Osta about her movie, seemingly light and funny at first but with deeper underlying issues.
Which is your favourite silent movie?
I cannot limit myself to only one, for [the era of silent films] is marked by some of the most memorable and interesting pieces of art. The artists behind those movies experimented with this new medium of self-expression, discovering its vocabulary and thus created what we now call the art of filmmaking.
I might not sound very original with my answer, but the silent movies that go under the umbrella of German Expressionism are my favourites. “Metropolis” is undeniably the most interesting, a futuristic film ahead of its time. I also find “Nosferatu” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” very entertaining and mesmerising. The play of light and shadow, the torrid angles, the effects of horror and anticipation, are all to learn from.
Silent movies are visual aspirations. There are few written dialogues, but transcending story lines and experimentalism all the way to the end. Just the way movies should be.
What is more powerful, a gun or a camera?
“GangBang” clearly suggests that a camera is more powerful. And, more importantly, it also suggests that the combination of a camera and social media can bring down guns, or even change the balance of powers.
What the gun and the camera have in common is that for either of them, you have to focus on a target and shoot. Your flesh cannot escape a bullet – your reputation cannot escape the truth. The results are theoretically the same, yet physically very different. The camera captures the raw truth. If you have something to hide, you’re busted. There is no way you can escape. A camera condemns you a priori, without having to go to court. It is also a mirror in movement: it’s society’s reflection. Now that everyone wants to be seen and heard, there is no room for error anymore. The image cannot lie and just like a gun, when it hits, it hits hard and bad.
How is it like filming in Beirut?
I find Beirut a very pleasant city to shoot in. Everyone is friendly and helpful. The moment people see a camera in the street, they follow the requests and demands. Especially given that our productions are low budget, we cannot afford to close off a district in order to shoot. We usually settle with closing off the entry points of the road, and sometimes we don’t even do that, depending on the scene. Beirut also has a wide range of scenery, varying from place to place. So there are many different options to shoot all kinds of movie genres. We are lucky that way.
Given the particular sectarian and political divisions in Lebanon, the only challenge we faced was when requesting a shooting permit. We are not able to film in certain specific locations unless getting the authorisation of local powers. Since in Lebanon everyone knows everyone, you usually end up getting your permits and all is well after that. Sometimes a curse becomes your blessing.
Which other Lebanese directors should our readers know about?
I can recommend two directors. They are different in style but both very interesting to watch. Ghassan Salhab is oriented towards the latent and rhythmic European style of filmmaking. He is more into the psychology of his characters and the scenery than the action itself. Some might find his films heavy to watch. They are definitely not popcorn films.
Ziad Doueiry comes from the American cinema industry, so his style is driven towards storytelling and camera movement. He has managed to maintain the appeal of his movies and keep them entertaining while at the same time sticking to the central essence of his films.
Can you tell us about your next project?
I recently finished a new short film, around 20 minutes long. It is currently in its post-production phase, due this September, and tells the story of people imprisoned in a vicious circle, with no horizon. The movie is spread out over the length of one night, and shows a couple in their Beirut apartment, surrounded by the news of war and troubled days to come, not being able to fall asleep. It represents the situation we have been living for about 10 years now, which is actually as bad as being in a war. The only way to release ourselves from it is to take charge of our lives, make a decision and say ‘no’ to everything that is keeping our progress back. I want the viewer, when watching the movie, to feel as if spending the entire night with the characters in the film.