December 15, 2009 / 2:06 PM / 9 years ago

Filmmaker confronts mother's killer in documentary

DUBAI (Reuters Life!) - When De Gaulle Eid confronts his mother’s killer on a quiet street in a village of north Lebanon, he finally achieves a closure of sorts for a trauma which has haunted him for nearly three decades.

“You don’t remember me, but I remember you. How could someone not remember their mother’s assassin. You killed my mother,” the director says at the end of his arresting and deeply personal documentary “Chou Sar?” (What Happened?).

The man Eid addresses is lost for words as the camera lingers awkwardly on his face for what seems like an eternity.

Eid breaks down in tears as he stands in the now deserted house that was attacked by the gunmen of a rival family from a rival political party in December 1980. That was the night the 10-year-old Eid lost his parents and a sister, but managed to escape with another sister.

The film is the climax of a journey from Eid’s current home on the French island of Corsica to the Lebanese village where 14 members of his family were massacred, and its dramatic effect was powerful for the audience at the Dubai International Film Festival where the documentary was unveiled on the weekend.

The filmmaker said his motive was to delve into the wounds of Lebanon’s brutal 1975-90 civil war which he says remain raw despite a post-war amnesty over war-era atrocities, an abrupt coda suppressing discussion that for many leaves justice undone.

Other societies that experienced similar periods of communal violence adopted different approaches, such as South Africa’s “truth commissions” after the apartheid system was dismantled.

“I tried to do what the government could not do,” he said afterwards,” Eid said. “It could have been Sarajevo or anywhere else. To me it’s not a film about the Lebanese civil war but about how the government did not do anything to open the files.”

The fragile balance of Lebanon’s sectarian political system, including Palestinian groups, collapsed in a war that drew in foreign powers, including Israel, Syria and the United States. The number of dead are estimated at around 150,000.

In the film Eid hears that his immediate family, linked to the Christian Phalange Party, had become caught up in clan and political party rivalry and he asks pointed questions of an uncle over whether he had provoked the massacre as retaliation from members of the Syrian Social National Party.

He interviews relatives who say they still think of revenge. Some in the audience said the absence of voices from the other side reduced the film to a form of revenge.

Eid answered that he saw the work as his personal means of coming to terms with an incident that had haunted him for years.

“I tried to take revenge but it’s a spiritual revenge, which is stronger than something physical,” he said, adding he was not trying to champion one political party over another.

“I had to know before doing this that I could handle a tough situation. I realised that the camera was like a weapon that could be dangerous,” the 39-year-old documentary filmmaker said, adding that the team of three quickly left the village.

“The technician was really scared, he was shaking. After shooting we had to leave immediately.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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