Filming the Forgotten

Lost in Lebanon, a film by co-directing sisters Sophia and Georgia Scott, intimately documents the lives of four Syrians who fled to Lebanon due to the ongoing and brutal six-year civil war in Syria. For a year, the film follows Sheikh Abdo, a community leader in northern Lebanon; Nemr, a nineteen-year-old who volunteers as a teacher in Sheikh Abdo’s community; Reem, an architect who helps organise and develop programs in the Shatila refugee camp; and Mwafek, an artist in Beirut. “As Nemr, Mwafak, Reem and Sheikh Abdo show, the profound psychological effects of war can cross borders, impose great strains on society as a whole, and can be the ground on which new enmities grow,” GroundTruth Productions said in a press release. “These are just four stories out of the millions of people who are struggling to build their lives and find security in the neighbouring countries of Syria.” By following these four people’s daily experiences, the film displays a level of humanity that is all too often forgotten about in mainstream media coverage of the Syrian Civil War. The Scott sisters give faces to the numbers.

The film documents these four Syrians as they navigate growing resentment towards Syrian refugees, issues of legal status, right to work, and access to education. It captures the devastating effects of Lebanese-implemented laws on all Syrians. The Scott sisters, who run GroundTruth Productions, premiered their first feature film, In the Shadow of War, which focused on the impact the Bosnian War had on four young people, in 2014, twenty years after the war ended. Three years later, the Scott sisters released Lost in Lebanon, their second feature film, which was was selected for screening as part of the Human Rights Watch annual film festival in London in March, and in New York City in June. Additionally, a shortened version of the film was screened at Chatham House on April 25, while a full length version was screened at Norton Rose Fulbright in London on July 10. The film has also been officially selected for the One World Film Festival in Prague.

The sisters are currently working to get the film screened at a variety of different locations, such as the European Parliament and House of Lords, in the hopes of eventually impacting different governments’ policies. As the Sisters told The Gate, Lost in Lebanon’s release is intended to have a three-pronged effect. They hope it will raise awareness about the situation in Lebanon, educate people through screenings at schools and universities, and influence governments through screenings “with the intention of having a genuine impact on policy.” “We are hoping this film can be used as a tool to call on the international community to try and help Lebanon, as they are taking on such a disproportionate number of Syrians relative to the size of their own country,” they said. “We hope this film achieves enacting some empathy in other nations and triggering them to potentially alter their attitudes to refugees.”

The film took the Scott sisters eighteen months to film, and another eighteen months to edit. Despite being both foreign and female, the sisters did not feel unsafe or intimidated. “Everybody that we came across was welcoming and friendly, and thus for the vast majority of our time spent there, being foreign nor being women provided any issues for us,” they said. “People were curious and inquisitive as to our stories and it enabled us to meet some of the most amazing people.”

However, the Scott sisters did have to take into account safety concerns, especially in regions in the north of Lebanon, where ISIS is active. Despite not initially planning to travel to the north, the sisters realised that it is the area with the poorest and densest Syrian population, and therefore felt compelled to. “By the time we finished filming there we felt completely comfortable and welcomed.”

Other challenges when making the film included knowing boundaries with their characters: “We take a very intimate approach when creating a film, so that line can often be blurred,” they said. “It was the characters we filmed that gave us the courage and the inspiration to finish this film.” Additionally, because of the sensitivity of the subject, the Scott sisters had difficulties in terms of figuring out what footage was appropriate to include, which resulted in the removal of two key scenes of a character’s family members back in Syria due to security concerns.

The Scott sisters had hoped  to include more footage of Lebanese people talking about personal experiences with Syrians, to emphasize the complexity of the issue.  As they said to The Gate, “We do not want the film to be regarded as overly critical of Lebanon, as the support they gave at the start of the refugee crisis was remarkable.” Instead, “our film seeks to put pressure on the international community, rather than attack the Lebanese government.”

At the end of the day, the Scott sisters want to put an emphasis on the people behind the numbers. “We feel more than ever the need to play an active role in documenting the ongoing effects of war and to give voice to those who become just numbers on our screens.”

Follow the @ScottSistersDoc on Twitter to keep up to date with what they are doing and to reach out to host screenings of Lost in Lebanon. The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.

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