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Statement from Directors
Stephen Gerard Kelly and Garry 

The plight of the people of Lebanon, under successive corrupt sectarian governments, has largely been forgotten. Hundreds were killed and thousands injured in the massive Beirut port explosion of August 2020, a tragedy directly linked to government negligence. However, despite creating headlines around the world, the news agenda soon moved on, leaving many thousands of citizens struggling desperately in its wake, victims of circumstance and a deepening economic crisis which shows no sign of abating.


Our intimate, cinematic film follows the lives of four families in the marginalized neighbourhoods of Sabra and Shatila living in incredibly difficult situations. It follows people who inspire through superhuman resilience, incredible strength and endless patience. People who want nothing more than to live normal lives with the most basic human rights, to work and provide for their families, raising children with morals and values, with love, respect and security. While Sabra and Shatila, each with their own distinct demographics and dynamics, are incredibly rich culturally and socially, they are two of Beirut’s most impoverished neighborhoods economically. They are also the tragic setting of the notorious 1982 massacre, where thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in one of the worst war crimes of the 15-year civil war. 


This is a timeless story of the incredible love we have as human beings for our families, friends and communities, how complex we are and how we can never judge others without having walked in their shoes. The footage and stories we have gathered are intimate; our cameras living alongside people in times of celebration, as well as hardship, witnessing the immense challenges faced alongside frequent glimmers of hope - hope in Abu Ahmad’s boyish smile and playfulness with his mother, and as he moves to different jobs making friends along the way - hope in Sanaa’s feisty nature, subtle smile and quiet resolve - hope in the bravery of Saarea’s parents, continuing with their lives and raising their children to be caring, kind and loving, despite the harsh reality that surrounds them - hope in Aboodi’s eyes that life for him and more importantly his newborn son might one day meet a new dawn, away from the few tough choices offered to youth in the paramilitary controlled, drug-dealing alleyways of Sabra. 


Listening first, observing second and then only using the camera when it was fully understood what was being filmed, we have built deep trust within these tight-knit communities over six years, together with our Lebanese production partners, Abbout Productions, whose films portray authentic stories from the region with a strong political and social resonance. 


We are a team of highly experienced filmmakers with a number of award-winning films to our names. Together with our Lebanese production partners, we made this film from an objective POV with the world as our audience, just as we did with our Sundance 2019 film, GAZA.


Filmmakers coming in from outside will often make a different film than someone who comes from that community. Both films will have their merits, only the skill of storytelling should separate them. If this was not the case then someone like Oscar winning filmmaker Steve McQueen might have been prevented from making his debut, signature film, HUNGER. Why was an 11-year-old black Londoner fascinated by the image of an Irish hunger striker on his TV screen every night? The answer is not that much different to why I found myself at home amongst communities in Beirut learning the stories of immense injustices suffered by people because of where they were born, a place where warlords carve out government positions for themselves and their families in the sectarian, debt ridden economic wasteland they lucratively exploit call Lebanon.


In the Shadow of Beirut – like Gaza– is not overtly political, in that it does not pursue or espouse any one individual political belief. However, through an examination of the film’s lead characters and their lives, it is clear there is a strong underlying political statement being made, that Lebanon has suffered a failure of political leadership since the end of the civil war in 1990. These same warlords masquerading as politicians and their inner circles perpetuate patriarchal structures of dominance over all sections of Lebanon’s socio-economic fabric.


This important message is clearly visible in the sick eyes of young Saarea, whose parents can’t afford to bring her to hospital, in the dearth of life chances afforded to Sanaa, who faces the prospect of marriage at the age of 13, and in the exasperation of young Abu Ahmad, as he forfeits his education to push his wheelbarrow of rubbish to the local dump one more time. All are life-changing aspirations that most of us in the western world take for granted, but amidst the tough environment of Sabra and Shatila, these simple and just ambitions are largely absent. 


By filming the lives of our friends, we are celebrating the beauty and resilience of the human condition, showcasing the warmth and vitality that lies bubbling amidst the chaos and ruin of this truly remarkable place. We hope you find our film to be a cinematic, heart-warming, poignant and at times humorous work, and we hope it finds an audience who will share a deep empathy for our characters and help them gain a deeper understanding of Lebanon than they had before.


Hopefully, in our own modest way, we will change some important perceptions and in doing so, promote action.

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