Q&A with Director and Writer Reine Mitri on Her Banned Film “In this Land Lay Graves of Mine”

Angele Ellis
Ellis: Watching “In This Land,” this viewer was affected by how the film moves back and forth between elegy, emotional exorcism, and indictment of Lebanon’s leadership, past and present. Since finishing this documentary, have your feelings about your complicated relationship with Lebanon and to your own heritage continued to change?
Mitri: When I was making the film, which took five years, my relationship with Lebanon and my mixed feelings evolved significantly from the point of departure until the day when I finished it. Paradoxically, I have become more attached to this place we agree to call a nation, despite an increasingly painful existence here. I have come to realize that my relationship to Lebanon is a visceral relationship. Since I finished the film, my relationship to this place where I was born and where my dead are buried continues to evolve and become stronger. I express this relationship in a new film that I started in 2012, and put on hold until I finished “In This Land.”
Ellis: Was your decision to make yourself a character within this documentary planned from the beginning, or something that happened during scripting and shooting?
Mitri: No, it was not planned from the beginning. I started writing in 2009. It became suddenly obvious in 2011 when my mother decided to sell our village house. At that time, I was still writing the script, so I decided immediately to film the part with my mother and myself in the house, for fear that the house would be sold and I would no longer have access to it. 
Ellis: Do you think that being a woman was an advantage in getting the witnesses in this film to open up to you, or a disadvantage? What are the advantages—and disadvantages—of being a contemporary woman filmmaker in Lebanon?
Mitri: Being a woman filmmaker was definitely an advantage when approaching people to film. They easily confided in me. That is also because I told them my own story, and was very clear with them about my intentions in making this film.
I don’t know what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a contemporary woman filmmaker in Lebanon, because I think these depend on each film’s subject matter and filming situation, as well as on the character of each filmmaker. I don’t believe in gender generalization in this matter.
Ellis: Who are your major influences as a filmmaker?
Mitri: I don’t think of influences. When I watch films, those that I feel are essential stay in the background of my head, but I don’t think of them when I make a film. They remain in my subconscious. But if I want to name filmmakers that move me or mark me, I would say Chris Marker, Tsai Ming-liang, and Joris Ivens.
[NOTE: Chris Marker (1921-2012) was a French filmmaker associated with the Left Bank Film Movement, considered the “essayist” of his generation by his friend and collaborator Alain Resnais. Tsai Ming-liang (b. 1957) is a prominent and award-winning figure in the “Second New Wave” of Taiwanese cinema. Joris Ivens (1898-1989) was a Dutch documentary filmmaker and Communist whose prolific 65-year career included his 1937 masterpiece “Spanish Earth,” which championed the Spanish Republicans over the fascists led by Francisco Franco.]
Ellis: Do you think that this film’s being banned in Lebanon has helped or hurt its global distribution and impact?
Mitri: No. Censorship in Lebanon has no effect on international festivals’ selection or distribution.
Ellis: What projects are you working on now?
Mitri: I am currently working on a very intimate film whose subject I cannot disclose.

This interview appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 20, no. 70 (2016).

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