An Interview with Reine Mitri (Director)
The End of an Certain Era
Q: What was the significance of the Modca Café for you?
RM: This café was very important for the people of Beirut, both politically and culturally. People involved in the arts gathered at the café as if it was their second home over the course of its thirty-year history. For me as well, this café was very significant both emotionally and culturally. So, when I heard it was going to be torn down, I was of course sad, and it was painful. Two years have passed since the café closed, but since then that location has turned into just another commercial district. I think the café’s closing signifies the end of an era. An era when people gathered in the neighborhood and enjoyed themselves has come to an end.
Q: I felt a gap between the frantic people and the cool gaze of your camera, but how did you deal with switching your own emotions in order to film calmly?
RM: To be honest, I wasn’t able to control my emotions. In fact, I joined in that demonstration and was shouting too. Maybe it would have been possible to distance myself for the filming, but in reality, I wasn’t able to do it. I wasn’t able to prevent my emotions from coming to the surface. However, in the end I think maybe I was able to preserve a certain distance by inserting the camera between myself and the people being filmed.
Q: It seems like you had a critical view of the activities of the populace, but specifically how did you view their actions?
RM: It’s true that at first I too was part of the demonstration, but at some point I got the feeling that the situation wasn’t going to change, that once they embarked on the movement those activists were just interested in their own self-satisfaction. That doesn’t generate any kind of benefit, and to the contrary, it does harm. So after a certain period, I became critical of that kind of activism. However, I don’t think demonstrations are necessarily bad, and I think they should happen. But, the thing that always pains me is that there is no continuity for demonstrations. People get wrapped up in it for a time, but one day they get bored and return to their daily lives. I feel sadness and also critical about that.
Q: What kind of role does the camera play for you?
RM: The biggest meaning for me is recording and recalling a certain time. The camera has a lot of different meanings depending on the theme and the people being filmed, so I can’t sum it up in a single answer. But in the case of this café, at first I was filming in order to preserve my memories. So, for me, the camera is something for preserving important moments and memories. In my case, I refer to the things that I film as “documentary essays.” It’s said that for documentaries you need to look at things objectively, but everything passes through you and ends up becoming subjective, so that’s extremely difficult. That’s why I use that term. So why do I shoot documentary essays? Because I have things that I want to say, and also I want to share those opinions with someone. And another thing is to preserve this time, this place, or this instant as if in a time capsule.
(Compiled by Hashimoto Yuko)
Interviewers: Hashimoto Yuko, Nishiya Mariko / Interpreter: Saito Shinko
Photography: Sato Akari / Video: Oki Chieko / 2005-10-12