An Interview with Mary Jirmanus Saba (Director)
The Meaning of Reviewing the Past
Q: This film centers around the people’s movement of the 1970s. Why did you decide to make the film on this theme today?
MJS: You need to look at history to start a new movement. When uprisings in various Arab societies sprung up in 2011, I thought of making a film about labor and social movements. There had never been films about labor or social movements in the Arab world. As I saw the Arab revolutions happening, I thought: “Our generation is repeating the same patterns and mistakes from the past. Something must be wrong.” I made this film in the hope that looking at history will lead us to discover a solution for today.
Q: The Lebanese women activists from the early 70s are so powerful. Are there such women in Lebanon today?
MJS: The short answer is, no. The situation has changed quite a bit since the 70s and 80s. At the time, people were allowed to have differing opinions, but nowadays the dominant way of thinking does not tolerate alternatives. The economic situation has shifted, and people are struggling each alone to survive, to get a good job, to prove their value. Organizing has become very difficult around the world. In the Middle East, history of past social movements has been erased from record and memory, and we don’t have the techniques to organize ourselves anymore. Activists respond when something comes up by launching demonstrations and emergency relief actions, but the basic technical know-how of running for example a labor union is lacking. In the film, you see the elderly explaining the specifics steps they used to take. How they approached and invited sympathizers to the movement, explaining why the issues related to them and connecting them with a larger goal. I believe these skills are relevant and included the discussion in the film.
Q: I understand that the breakdown of the people’s movement generated a negative impression, and it became harder for people to rise up again. This reminds me of a similar history in Japan. Do you feel that screening the film is contributing to changing the atmosphere and creating impact?
MJS: I think it’s the same in Lebanon and Japan—researching past movements is so important. Everyone takes failure in a negative way, but we should learn in detail why it all happened and think about what parts we can change to connect to future activism and how to better the system. I believe the movement failed because the participants were not watching the happenings closely, and they did not grasp the inner machinations. I know that social activism is accompanied by higher risks these days, but it is necessary. Someone who attended a screening in Lebanon told me, “This film initiates a paradigm shift.” They didn’t tell me specifically what the paradigm shift was about, but that was a meaningful and gratifying response for me. The film is just a film, but I hope that this small thing can make some kind of difference.
(Compiled by Miyamoto Airi)
Interviewers: Miyamoto Airi, Oshita Yumi / Interpreter: Nakazawa Shino / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Masuda Haruna / Video: Masuda Haruna / 2019-10-13