UMAM screens film at cultural center

BEIRUT — Lebanese auds have finally been able to “Waltz With Bashir” despite the fact that Israeli helmer Ari Folman’s Oscar-nommed pic is officially banned in the country.

UMAM, an org that archives Lebanon’s history and war memory through written and audiovisual materials, screened the film at its cultural center, a restored warehouse in a southern suburb of Beirut that is home to Hezbollah’s headquarters.

UMAM’s name is derived from the Arabic word for “nations.”

Banned by the censorship board of Lebanon’s Security Directorate, Ari Folman’s film also passed under the radar of Hezbollah at the semi-private Jan . 17 screening, to which 40 people were invited by the nonprofit org but about 90 attended.

Hezbollah — which is politically allied to Syria and Iran — was thought to have played a role in the censor’s initial decision to ban animated pic “Persepolis” last year.

Helmer Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical account of growing up in the shadow of the Iranian Revolution was initially blocked from Lebanese theaters for fears it “could spark tension with Iran,” according to the head of Lebanon’s Security Directorate.

Pic was eventually allowed to be shown theatrically after the pic’s local distrib took the chief censor to a pirate DVD shop in Beirut’s southern suburbs and showed him that illegal copies of “Persepolis” were already feely available.

The directorate’s censorship board bans Israeli films and all material perceived to “endanger national security” or “offend moral values.”

“Waltz With Bashir” meets that criteria by simple virtue of its Israeli origin. Lebanon and Israel are still officially at war.

But public interest is high in the animated documentary that recalls Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and leads up to the 1982 massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps by Lebanese Christian militiamen under Israeli supervision.

“The subject of this film is a crucial moment for the history of Lebanon, for the history of Israel, for the history of the Palestinians, for the history of Palestinian life in Lebanon,” UMAM founder Monika Borgmann tells Variety.

“At one point, each country has to deal with its violent past — and the sooner, the better. I think this is a film that should be shown.”

Borgmann and her husband, Lukman Slim, co-founded UMAM to create a space for cultural exchange in Lebanon. Slim introduced the film by reminding that the screening was private, “but I hope it will be publicly shown,” he said, “in some other circumstance or venue, for there is perhaps no people that this film directly affects more than the people of Lebanon.”

A public screening of ‘Waltz’ in Lebanon would “provide a counterbalance to the demonization of the other,” she says, and “encourage others to confront history in a more honest way.”

“Yesterday, my phone didn’t stop ringing, for the simple reason that everyone wants to have a copy of the film,” Borgmann adds. “I think it comes out on DVD in March. The next day, it’s going to be pirated all over Lebanon.”

“Waltz With Bashir” isn’t the first Israeli film to screen in an Arab country.

In July last year, helmer Eran Kolirin’s “The Band’s Visit,” about an Egyptian band that gets lost while traveling in Israel on the way to performing at a cultural center, was screened at a private event in the Four Seasons hotel in Cairo for a group of invited Egyptian intellectuals and Israeli embassy staff.

Details of that screening had to be kept private prior to the event to avoid potential protests against it.

Although Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, a large portion of Egyptian society and its cultural community are against what they describe as “normalization” with Israel.

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