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Diaries of a boy and his dog - by Jim Quilty for The Daily Star, 15.12.2014
The filmmaker has set his camera outside the kitchen window of his family’s summerhouse. He calls his mother and asks her to speak with him about anxiety. Her reflections are those of one who knows the subject intimately and has probably had versions of this chat with her son before. The window is barred and, when she asks why the filmmaker wanted her to talk to him from this location, he replies that he wanted to film her behind bars. The shot also places him and his camera within the frame, reflected in the window glass.

Living in the world can make you neurotic. A lot of people have obsessive-compulsive disorder – or “are OCD,” as pop culture parlance would have it.OCD types tend to be perfectionists, which, while baffling or annoying to more easygoing colleagues, can be useful if a neurotic labors in the creative trades, filmmaking say.

A more useless neurosis is General Anxiety Disorder, a condition not uncommon among political activists living in countries apparently impervious to change – positive change anyway.GAD is common in Lebanon, it seems, and with good reason.Civil war, an ever-popular topic among “Lebanon experts,” is one.

Indeed, some observers of the country’s remarkably dysfunctional domestic politics have suggested the Civil War that began in 1975 didn’t “end” in 1990 so much as enter into a more regulated phase.
For those who don’t subscribe to this catholic definition of “civil war,” there’s other stuff to crank up personal anxiety levels. Endemic “security concerns,” is one. Another, institutional corruption (aka kleptocracy), is as intimate a part of the citizenry’s daily lives as water shortages and electricity cuts.
GAD provides a premise for Bassem Fayad’s feature-length doc “Yaoumiyat Kalb Ta‘r” (Diaries of a Flying Dog). Fayad’s is an intensely personal work of “creative documentary", a form that stresses subjective experience and tends to be formally more interesting than classical documentaries aspiring to objectivity.

The film opens with a fixed shot of a rural road, stretching to a near horizon. Standing in for voice-over is a taped conversation between Fayad and a woman, a therapist it seems. They are discussing panic attacks when she asks him whether he’s started shooting his film, this film. He’s started filming his family, Fayad tells her, and the opening shot is the road to their mountain summer house, the doc’s principle location.

The film includes conversations with the filmmaker’s mom and dad about how it’s possible to inherit the anxieties of the previous generation. He also speaks with his sisters about this matter and his camera observes the behavior of his little nephew Nizar, who becomes inconsolably upset if he hasn’t changed into his pajamas after he comes home from school. Mingled with his informal conversations with family and friends are diary entries, taken from stressful periods his life – when he decides he no longer wants to live in Beirut, a city “that hates itself and hates me,” in the  aftermath of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, and the monthlong Israeli siege of Beirut in 2006.

Accentuating Fayad’s GAD is the coincidence of his having been born on Black Saturday, one of several Civil War-era massacres that saw Phalangist gunmen murder and kidnap hundreds of non-Christian Lebanese and Palestinians.

Mostly, though, the film is preoccupied with the filmmaker’s efforts to convince Zen, his pet dog, to venture beyond the gate of his parents’ house.

“Diaries Of A Flying Dog” is Fayad’s directorial debut but he’s become well known in artistic circles as a top-notch cinematographer who has worked with a small but diverse range of accomplished artists. His first significant credit was as co-director of photography for award-winning docs by Simon El  Habre – “Semaan Bil Day’ia” (One Many Village, 2008) and “Gate #5” (2011) – lyrical works that linger over the discrete traces Lebanon’s Civil War. He also shot Diala Kachmar’s prize-winning “Guardians of Time Lost” (2013), a work much closer to classical documentary that examines the culture of Beirut’s sectarian-inflected street gangs. That year Fayad also photographed “Letter to a Refusing Pilot,” a video art piece by Akram Zaatari, one of Lebanon’s most high-profile contemporary artists, and, earlier this year, the artist’s “Beirut – Exploded Views.” Fayad’s most recent feature film credit has been Ghassan Salhab’s “The Valley,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. […]

Cinema is meant to speak universally and – though Lebanon’s Civil War and its knock-on effects have been a decadeslong obsession (as it were) among the country’s documentary and fiction filmmakers – such docs tend to have limited international appeal, even within the relatively narrow art house market. That said, Fayad’s boy-and-his-dog approach to this thorny subject is quirky enough to buoy up an otherwise heavy subject matter. Suggesting that pets have a way of adopting the behavior of their owners, Fayad’s minor key struggle to take Zen for a walk becomes a comic metaphor for the filmmaker’s own neurosis. Having worked to reify (“thing-ify”), his Civil War-born anxiety, the film effortlessly undermines that when a friend (film producer and dog-lover Lara Abu Saifan), drops round the house for a visit. She abruptly decides to take Zen for a walk. The dog obliges without much struggle. It’s not such a stretch to read “Diaries of a Flying Dog” as “a portrait of the artist as a neurotic.” No doubt Fayad did set out to make a film about anxiety, but it’s not really “about” neurosis or the dysfunctional country that inspires it. The subject of this doc is the work that provides the creative outlet for Fayad’s anxiety. “Diaries” is about impeccably framed shots of the barren hills adjacent the family house. It’s about a tabletop, and the meticulous arrangement of books upon it, perfectly framed by the camera above. The books disappear from the frame, leaving a diary and an ashtray, with a cigarette balanced on the edge.
source: Daily Star

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