Dubai: Lebanese Director Eliane Raheb on Topical Documentary ‘Those Who Remain’

Lebanese Director Eliane Raheb on Documentary
Courtesy Dubai Film Festival

Lebanese documentary director Eliane Raheb, whose well-regarded “Sleepless Nights” screened in Dubai’s Muhr competition in 2012, returns to the fest this year with the world premiere of the poignant “Those Who Remain.” It focuses on handsome, aging Haykal Mikhael, a true salt of the earth type, who stubbornly maintains a farm and restaurant on the slope of the Al Shambouk mountain in the Akkar region of Lebanon. Haykal is a Maronite Christian, living in a Christian enclave that borders on both Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslim villages and is within clear sight of Syria.

I saw Haykal as a metaphor of Lebanon so I tried to use his story to reflect on the people who really want to stay in this difficult, tense region and their personal and political challenges,” Raheb notes.

Despite his strong connection with the land, Haykal faces many problems that show why agriculture has stagnated in the area. The roads that lead to his farm and restaurant are pocked with massive potholes and practically impassible during winter unless the snows is ploughed. Dust from the neighboring quarries covers his crops during the growing season. Then there are the local sectarian tensions, plus the political and economic repercussions of the Syrian crisis. As opportunists buy out desperate Syrian farmers at dirt cheap prices, they then undercut the prices at which Lebanese farmers need to sell their crops and livestock. And to top it off, there’s an ongoing court case over the ownership of the farm.

Raheb met Haykal in 2014, through a friend who hikes in the area. “I decided to make the film in 2015 and started the shooting at the end of 2015,” she recounts. The crew was relatively small (five people) and they shot 10 days, spread over three seasons. “He is a very open person and it was not difficult for him to share personal stories.”

In addition to Haykal, Raheb interviewed the opinionated Muslim woman who works for him, the urbane local doctor whose family is behind the lawsuit over the farmland, a Muslim from the neighboring village whose purchase of land in the Christian enclave creates problems in some quarters, a volunteer militia-like watch group and a Christian zealot who campaigns to keep Muslims out of the Christian neighborhood, despite the fact that the Muslim neighbors had long preserved an ancient Maronite church. “The fanatical guy belongs to a movement called “my land, my church” and he tries to impose his acts disregarding the municipality decision,” says Raheb. “He represents when the state is totally absent and small groups and fanatical parties take over the power and impose their laws.”

Raheb, who also teaches film at Beirut’s St. Joseph University, has multiple docu projects in the works. In Berlin this spring, she nabbed the top prize of the Robert Bosch Stiftung for her Lebanese/German project “Miguel’s War.” She also received funding from the Doha Film Institute for the Lebanese-French-Qatar project, “The Great Family,” about a Lebanese adopted child growing up in France who discovers she is a survivor of the massacre at the Tal Al Zaatar Palestinian refugee camp.