the director about the film / sociopolitical background
I wanted to make a film about the port, but here I was face to face with my father.
Weakened by disease, he wanders the city streets in his taxi, driving customers from one region to another, from one suburb to another, from one end of Beirut to another. He sometimes takes the sea route which runs alongside the port and bypasses it. But he almost never ventures into this space with which he had an adversarial relationship back from the 1970s till the 1990s. Yet it is those years that fascinate me. Their violence, but also the complexity of the stories generated from these decades. It is those years that I want to rebuild through the testimonies of the truck drivers.
Their stories allow us to retrace a part of the history of the Beirut and the country. A physical, almost organic, connection binds the drivers to the port, whose rhythm forges theirs.
The film is also the reflection of my own nostalgia, and a fascination with this line of work that I developed when my father used to take me for long rides across the country in his truck. A truck is not only a large instrument of economic development, but also a wide playground for a child’s imagination. By the time I was a teenager, I wanted to become a truck driver too. I wanted to stay on the road, to move from one place to another, to be neither entirely here nor entirely there, to hit the road every day and come back again.
However, by the 1990s, I had begun to witness the impact of the change in the economic system on the financial status of my father. The privatization of the majority of the port turned it into one giant company where drivers, crushed by the capitalist system, had a hard time integrating themselves. Even the trucks, which have given way to giant cranes, have lost much of their virility. Yet these men, who are now between 50 and 60 years of age, still wake up at dawn every day hoping to get their share of the pie, a delivery that will allow them to resist the invasion of a place that used to be a source of considerable income for them.
My father fell ill in the late 1990s and decided to leave the business for good after he was forced to sell his trucks and his last remaining one was stolen. I watch him today; his long days driving his taxi are interrupted by regular visits to the hospital. His determination inspires me. I tell myself that my father carries in him bits of the history of this country, bits of its cracks and fissures. He is sort of a History Bearer.
There is no official historiography in Lebanon, each of the many confessions has an own narrative, if at all. Whilst from the outside the sectarian dissection of the country causes curiosity and is often regarded as interesting and authentic Lebanese, living without a common definition of the past causes permanent tension, fear and eruption of violence. The lack of writing history includes day to day life. The general amnesty that was declared with the ending of the civil war in 1990 caused a general silence about the past. Most young people in Lebanon have no idea about how even day to day life was like in the war and pre-war time.
Over the past years a number of artists and intellectuals started collecting stories and reflecting the war-torn past of their country on the level of national grounds, thus inclusive for all parts of the society. The work of Simon El Habre is part of this informal movement that reflecting the universal aspects of the local stories without denying the realities on the Lebanese grounds.