‘Our films are more honest’

Movie producer Bahaa Khaddaj on the new breed of Lebanese filmmakers

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The film “Conflict 1949 – 1979” tells the story of director Josef Kalüf’s bid to discover his father’s role in the Lebanese civil war and was screened this weekend at the Beirut International Film Festival. Executive caught up with the film’s producer Bahaa Khaddaj to discuss the film and the Lebanese movie industry.


Your film screened at the Beirut International Film Festival this weekend. How did it evolve?

I met [director Josef Kalüf] once at Screen Institute Beirut and we became friends right away. He wanted to make a documentary about his father and link it to the Lebanese civil war. In Josef’s opinion, the fact that his dad was a fighter ruined his childhood and the regrets Josef has in his life, or his decisions, his personality or his character – he links that all to his dad. The moment I saw this film is [very] personal I wanted to be part of it and we’re lucky to have a festival in Lebanon to motivate young filmmakers. It’s a good film community.

What is your background in filmmaking?

I studied at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and there I met Malek Akkad, who is also a USC graduate. I interned at his production company in the story department reading around three scripts per day and writing coverage. Reading scripts was a good way to learn about different narrative styles and to recognize the technicalities of storytelling.

After that I worked for a post-production house in Los Angeles, I started as an assistant editor and became an editor after 6 months. Around 2007 I started freelancing for National Geography and Lifetime TV. I also wrote and directed a couple of short films. At that time, Malek was getting ready to start his production on Halloween, he contacted me and I joined him in making the movie.

Khaddaj thinks a new generation of filmmakers are changing the Lebanese industry


What was your experience with funding for “Conflict 1949 – 1979”?

For “Conflict”, we didn’t have a lot of money. We applied to Screen Institute Beirut at that time and they accepted. We pitched the story, we got the checks, and we started working. It was a two-year process of shooting and editing.

Is there a certain genre of film, or style of director, that is more likely to get funding?

The market in Lebanon is split into two things: either cheap Lebanese movies and TV shows or sophisticated documentaries. There is not much in between. Nadine Labaki is in between and I think partly it’s why she gets her scripts funded. She is a famous director/actress, she made a good name for herself, and people like her so if she makes a movie it will make money. I’m not saying she’s a genius, I think she should work more on creating a new style.

What does that say about Lebanon’s artistic style?

I think we don’t have a Lebanese style. You have Lebanese filmmakers who are so obsessed with European cinema or with the Hollywood style and they just copy. But you don’t have a clean Lebanese mind that tells you a Lebanese story in a Lebanese way. Not even one. The moment I have an interesting script I know how to make it in a Lebanese way.

How do the business aspects of filmmaking in Lebanon affect content?

In Lebanon [filmmaking] is a cheap business. The market is not big, so if you want to make a Lebanese movie and make a profit it needs to be made cheaply. For soap operas the problem is psychological. Screenwriters who write most Lebanese soap operas have this weird phobia of showing things the way they are; their stories are uncommon to our society, which makes them untruthful. Syrian and Turkish shows are more truthful which makes them more popular. We have a lot of important things to talk about. Once your main concept is based on something solid and truthful it’s interesting. But it will change, now there is a new platform.

You’re referring to Internet viewership and on-demand content?

Yes, now you can just go online and watch whatever you want. Smart production companies [in Lebanon] are starting to invest in that. They look for young filmmakers and fresh content. Those people created their own market and their market is honest.

What do you mean by honest market?

What is good will stay and what is bad will lose funding. So if what you make is appealing, you’ll have a lot of viewers; meaning you’ll get paid through advertisement. Once on-demand television is introduced, everything will change.

How can young filmmakers adapt to this emerging platform?

The question is how will the old filmmakers adapt? [laughs]. This is a tough, specific market. The old way is easy; if you knew someone you were in. Now, if the masses like you you’re in, you’re successful.

Jeremy Arbid

Jeremy is Executive's former economics and policy editor.