In the spotlight:

Lana Daher

"I didn’t want this Western subjective eye to tell the story of this film, so I started to hunt for much more local perspectives.”

Film still: Do You Love Me (working title), dir. Lana Daher

How did we get to where we are now: In conversation with Do You Love Me filmmaker Lana Daher

Do You Love Me is the first feature film project of Lebanese director Lana Daher. Made up chiefly of archival footage, the project has been pitched as Lana's personal journey through the fractured historical, social, cultural, and political landscapes of her home country. Speaking to Lana reveals the filmmaking path has been a long and rocky one, but it started with a clear question: How did the people of Lebanon get to where they are now?

“That question is what drove me to start my research, and the result of that research is this film, in this form,” Lana says. “When I first started this project, I was a bit naïve. Growing up, I had this perception that we’re innocent and united; we have these big bad warlords, and it’s us against them. But bit by bit, living in Lebanon the last few years and studying our history much more, I started to realize that it’s not so binary; we are fragmented and divided as a nation. It’s not by chance that there’s 18 different religious sects and there’s always a clash between them.”

That societal fragmentation, Lana notes, has been around since the birth of Lebanon as a country. Nowadays, it’s reinforced by a lack of history books, memorials, and state archives, making it difficult to uncover the nation’s past, let alone reflect on it.

Developing an archival film in this context, then, is quite a challenge. Lana describes her research process as sometimes more akin to archaeology than traditional filmmaking.

“So many things have been ruined from the war, and there hasn’t been any preservation, so just finding the archives in Beirut was really hard,” she says. “Then once I did find them, not everything was digitized. “And then bit by bit,” she recounts, “I started to discover what’s available here. One door leads to another, and I discovered a treasure trove of cinema.” This led to Lana making some crucial artistic choices about which images and perspectives to show—and not show—in the film. “I decided that I wanted to use the least possible foreign press content,” she says, alluding to the selective eye of international press agencies that would fly into one part of Beirut, get a few token shots, and leave. “I didn’t want this Western subjective eye to tell the story of this film, so I started to hunt for much more local perspectives.” Lana adds that showing a non-partisan point of view was also essential for her, as well as the decision to focus on the periods between major war events. In other words: The stories that got swept under the rug.

Film still: Do You Love Me (working title), dir. Lana Daher

“The civil war was 15 years, and then they said it ended, but it feels like it never really ended,” she says. “I was very interested in those longer periods of time, where the war is still going on, and you’re trying to normalize life, but it’s not really normal, even now. So, I was trying to search for those bits that are in between.”

Yet while Lana hunted through all the old footage she could get her hands on, she remained keenly aware that Lebanon’s living history was still unfolding all around her. The pandemic, the Beirut port explosion, the revolution, and Lebanon’s wide-spread economic collapse are just some of the Earth-shattering events that began to shape the film itself, in both form and narrative.

“I originally thought it would be all archive material,” she begins. “I thought I’m discovering this path that we haven’t had any access to as students or as Lebanese, and I’m going to rewrite our story through all this material from the past.

“And then things started happening in our environment that were so relevant to this bigger story. I just felt this urgency to start documenting things that were happening right now.”

As part of this turning point in the filmmaking process, Lana speaks about her interest in shooting Beirut’s abandoned and derelict high-rise buildings—what she calls “unintentional landmarks” in Lebanon’s history.

“In Lebanon we don’t have memorials, but what we do have is these massive towers—an old hotel, a statue, or some random building that used to be a great shooting point for snipers.

These are the relics that are left in the city that represent the past,” she says. “I decided to document things like this myself, because I feel that those landmarks also tell that story.” Left with a wealth of footage, which amounts to 90% archival material and 10% original footage in the project's current form, Lana has found editing to be an important creative outlet in the filmmaking process.

“With this project, I started editing very, very early on,” she explains. “Now I have around 60 minutes of an assembly edit. But the truth is that I’m writing my script through the edit, so I’ll edit things, and then I’ll write, and then I’ll put those together.” While that story, and how to tell it, is still unfurling, it’s clear that the resulting film will be a powerful intertwining of the personal and the political—one that has been long overdue for Lana and her peers. “The story that I’m telling is definitely political in some way, but it doesn’t have any political leaders,” she says. “It’s more focused on the people, and on our experience as these generations of Lebanese who have constantly gone through similar crises that don’t seem to end. I'm trying to give a voice to that experience.”

By Julia Yudelman

Producer Jasper Mielke (left) and Lana Daher (right) pitching their project Do You Love Me (working title) at IDFA Forum 2021