Lebanon Through the Eyes of a Mercedes

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A still image from the movie 'Marcedes'. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Roy Dib

Published Monday, May 28, 2012

Hadi Zaccak’s new documentary Marcedes approaches modern Lebanese history from a new perspective.

Since he began making documentaries, Hadi Zaccak has tried to make films that dissect the fabric of Lebanese society.

In addition to the documentaries he made for Al Jazeera, he directed films about religious sects starting with The Copts (2004), Shia Echoes from Lebanon (2007) and Sunni Echoes from Lebanon (2008).

After touring the Lebanese sects in order to dissect them, Zaccak declared his “despair” at presenting an accurate picture of the country’s sectarian, political and social structure and his preference for cars over human beings because they are “less sectarian,” as he put it.

That is why, he decided to make a Mercedes car the protagonist in his new documentary.

Since the 50s, “members of the family left Germany and settled in Lebanon.” Mercedes cars “heard about this small country where east and west meet.” They came at a time known as Beirut’s golden age, filled al-Burj Square and were used as taxis for the country’s high class.

Through Mercedes cars, Zaccak takes us on a journey across Lebanon’s history from the 50s until today. He stops at many important historical junctures, including the civil war. You find the Mercedes car at checkpoints and frontlines, it was even detonated and boobytrapped.

Zaccak did not forget the massacre perpetrated against many [Mercedes] family members near St. George Hotel on 14 February 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated.

In addition to the political and historical aspects, the film includes stylized scenes in which the director shot Mercedes cars at moments of love and feud.

The urgency to uncover Lebanon’s modern history has not left Zaccak. In Marcedes, he criticizes once again the country’s sectarian structure, a malady that metastasizes and grows with every new generation. What is happening today in various Lebanese areas is nothing if not a clear example of this phenomenon.


Documentary Films as Alternative Memory

Muhammad Hamdar

Lebanese cinema represents a research subject for Hadi Zaccak. He views it as an alternative memory to one that was lost and destroyed and sees in it an identity of the people and the country.

After graduating from the Institute of Theatre, Audiovisual and Cinematographic Studies at Saint-Joseph University in 1997, Zaccak published a book in French titled “Lebanese Cinema - Towards the Unknown 1926-1996.” In this book he documented the different eras of Lebanese cinema as an artform that reflects Lebanon, its society and contradictions.

Through the lens of Lebanese, Arab and foreign directors, Zaccak created a journey in his 15 minute film Lebanon Through Cinema, which consisted of film excerpts from the 50s till 2001. It came out in 2003 in addition to his other film The Cinema of War in Lebanon which looks at the connection between war and the Lebanese cinema.

Zaccak also looked for Beirut’s ruins but did not find any. They were removed by the bulldozers of reconstruction. So he resorted to the memory of five artists and their views on the transformation that the Lebanese capital went through in Beirut: Points of View (32 minutes - 2000).

Zaccak also went to South Lebanon in his film Change Your Direction, Go South (29 minutes - 2005), recording people’s lives in southern villages five years after their liberation from Israeli occupation.

Refugees Forever (52 minutes - 2006) shed light on Palestinian camps, exploring the legal, social and health problems and barriers that Palestinians living in Lebanon face.

During the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, Zaccak documented one of the catastrophic consequences in The Oil Spill in Lebanon (43 minutes - 2007). The film won an award for Best Documentary at the European and Mediterranean film festival in Italy.

After that, Zaccak worked on a trilogy questioning the future of a country living through internal divisions after 2005 through The War of Peace (2007), Shia Echoes from Lebanon and Sunni Echoes from Lebanon.

Zaccak continued to examine the reasons behind these sharp divisions in Lebanese society in A History Lesson (52 minutes - 2009). This film documented the sects’ differing views on Lebanon’s modern history. These differences manifest themselves in the absence of a unified history book in Lebanese school curricula.

Zaccak finally returned to Beirut, wandering through its streets to document the city’s daily life through three cab drivers in Taxi Beirut (52 minutes - 2011).

Marcedes by Hadi Zaccak: Starts May 31 - Metropolis Empire Sofil (Achrafieh - Beirut) - 01/204080

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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