Wednesday, July 20, 2022

On the issue that Jackie Chan is producing a film in Syria


Lately, news transpired that (honorary Oscar winner) Jackie Chan is shooting a film in war-torn Syria.

Now everyone is up in arms about it.

To begin with the film is called "The Home Operation" and is about how China evacuated its nationals from Yemen in 2015. The director of the film, Song Xinyi said: "It takes the perspective of diplomats who are Communist party members, who braved a hail of bullets in a war-torn country and safely brought all Chinese compatriots on to the country’s warship unscathed.”

The film is being shot in Hajar Al Aswad - a place in Syria where in 2012 the Free Syrian Army took hold, then in 2015 the area was under the Islamic State, before being captured by government forces in 2018. Suffice to say, that the fact that China backed Bashar Al-Assad in the Syrian conflict already has everyone very mad.

Now of course, the idea of locals dressed as Yemenis, while the surrounding sets are composed of war-torn buildings, makes people queasy - without factoring the political implications (I do wonder at times, if anyone contributed to producing any film where locals are used as props - hell, this has been a mainstay in anything related to Lebanon and marketed outside of it - see here).

Let's go back a little though: To (some examples of) films produced in war-torn Lebanon. Anything from the brilliant "Beyrouth, jamais plus" (written by the late Etel Adnan, directed by also the late Jocelyne Saab), going on to the oeuvre of the late Maroun Baghdadi (Beyrouth ya Beyrouth, or - I know this is an unpopular opinion - the underwhelming Little Wars (Houroub Saghira) to the wonderful Hamasat (written and recited by Nadia Tueni)), and landing eventually to West Beirut Ziad Doueiri (which caught the post-war Beirut to shoot a film about a war-era Beirut).

Fine, I will already anticipate the criticism that these are films done by "Lebanese" directors (even if many of them built their careers outside Lebanon). So the "opportunistic" element might be missing as in the case of Chan/Syria. As a side note, and interestingly the film "Beirut" (released in 2018) was actually shot in Tangiers in Morocco (and, go figure, was criticized heavily for not looking like its namesake city).

So let me tell you about the 1981 exceptional "Circle of Deceit" by the German director Volker Schlöndorff. I shall let you read about the plot of the film here. I saw the film at a festival in Beirut and was fresh out of my army military service (therefore it must have been 1998), and its climatic ending was obvious for me for the said reason. But this did not detract from the use of Beirut and its war-porn imagery (which leads to the said ending).

Look, if you are going to say that Circle of Deceit is "unethical" for using Beirut during the war to question the ethics of its main protagonist, then we - seriously - have a lot to discuss. The film is a delight to be honest.

But here we go - again, another unpopular opinion - for production purposes, having a ready-set background of a destroyed city in a film that includes a destroyed city is budget-cutting heaven. 

From what I hear, the inhabitants of Talooine (yes, that's from Star Wars) are having issues about their city being shot in Tunisia at the time. 

Har har.

Or wait, that was Jar Jar (sorry :) )...