I Offered You Pleasure, a film by the Lebanese director Farah Shaer, was just banned last Thursday, and it will not be screened at the Beirut International Film festival. Even so, the 26-year-old director looked quite energetic and hopeful Friday evening, despite the film’s ban last week. Holding her laptop, Farah rushed into the coffee shop and suggested watching the film before NOW’s interview with her took place. Earlier Thursday, she posted a Facebook status explaining what happened:
“I am very sad and heartbroken to inform you that I have been just told, right now, that “I Offered You Pleasure – Wahabtoka Al Muta’h” has been officially BANNED by the General Security Censorship Bureau of any public showing within Lebanese Territory & the festival won’t be able to screen it.”
The film itself is a 15 minute Lebanese production that tackles society, sex, teenagers, and women’s rights. Farah says the film’s critical approach has made it “controversial, enough not to make it to the public.”
“The shock did not last, I was only shocked when I first got the news Thursday morning, but maybe I saw it coming,” Farah noted.
According to Farah and activists, Lebanese society judged the whole production based on its 55 second trailer. Nudity, for instance, was barely present in the movie despite the controversial preview. Farah even said that sex was not the main topic of her latest work: “The movie is not about sex, nor only about religion. The movie is about the society we live in, about men and women. The main problem in this society is how it treats us women.”
I Offered You Pleasure arrived at the Beirut International Film Festival after a wide tour around several countries. Farah hoped that the film’s last screening would be in Lebanon. “Many other countries screened my movie including South Korea, France, Italy, and it will be screened again in November 2013 at the 20th Cabrières Film Festival – Court C’est Court, in France.”
Along with Farah’s film, L’inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake), a thriller by Alain Guiraudie about two men who fall in love, was also banned and will therefore not be screened at the Beirut International Film Festival.
Unlike many other Lebanese directors, Farah decided not to publish her work on YouTube. She said that releasing the trailer already made it harder to clarify the film’s actual content – as many people were unwilling “to watch before judging” her film.
When NOW asked Farah why she chose the subject of “Temporary marriages” (i.e. pleasure marriages), she replied: “Why not? It’s all around us, it is happening. We know that it is present, so why not tackle the subject?”
Farah said that making this film took her quite some time. “I had to talk to women about ‘temporary marriage’ – women who experienced it in Lebanon, Iran, Bahrain, and Iraq.” She said she conducted many interviews and discussions before preparing the film’s script. Finding the right actors was hard as well. “Many turned down my offers, but eventually we gathered a great crew and the result was satisfying.”
Farah says that finding the right locations to shoot her movie was not a pleasant experience for the crew, given the film’s controversiality. One of the scenes was originally shot in the Sunday market in Beirut, but after the film’s subject matter became public, men chased the crew away mid-shoot.
MARCH, a Lebanese NGO campaigning against censorship and fighting for Lebanon’s freedom of speech, has a long history in Lebanon. And, General Security’s Censorship Bureau has made their job harder by the day. Lea Baroudi, from MARCH, insists that censorship has gone from bad to worse in the past three years. “Censorship definitely increased, but what’s different today is that social media can build a whole campaign against censorship in a few minutes. Social media exposes censored material, and it is a very positive tool when spreading news about what is being censored and why.” Baroudi also noted that the Censorship Bureau rarely explains its rationale: “They don’t find themselves obliged to explain nor share their censoring criteria with us.”
Lebanon has one of the most vague censorship laws in the world. In most cases, no formal notice is provided when a film or cultural production is banned. In MARCH’s case, when their play bto2ta3 aw ma bto2ta3?? was banned, no written notice was ever provided even though it was requested from the Censorship Bureau.
Colette Nawfal, from Beirut International Film Festival, explained to NOW how movies screened in the festival are international films that are not screened in Lebanese theaters beforehand. “That’s what’s special about the festival,” she says. “We, the Lebanese, have the right to access what everybody elsewhere has access to, including movie, books, and music.”
Two years ago, every selected film was screened during the Beirut International Film Festival. But today, everyone wonders: What sort of society are we trying to build and develop in Lebanon if we advertise violence, war, and sectarianism – yet ban cultural and artistic productions?