Beirut: the Aftermath A film by Fadia Ahmad


A month after the August 4th blast, an artist returns to Beirut to help rebuild what she can of her broken city. Retracing her usual itinerary of 10452 steps through the streets of Beirut, she seeks to portray the aftermath of the explosion that shook Lebanon to its core. A journey that once fulfilled the goal of self discovery now gives both Beirut and the blast’s survivors a voice. Raw testimonials and powerful scenes recount the day everything collapsed all while showing th resilience of a people who doesn’t want to give up. Individuals from all walks of life finally ope up after what seemed like a lifetime of silence. The artist’s feet carry her through this journey, a camera in hand, her heart on her sleeve. This story is one for the books, a chapter in history.

Director’s / Artist’s point of view

I was Born in Spain in 1975 while the war was raging in Lebanon. Growing up, I never got t know my country except through stories told to me by my mom; and soon I would have thi utopian image of a country I never truly knew. She used to make Lebanon sound like a fairytale, like it was the most beautiful country, its people the most beautiful people. When I became more aware as a child at 5 or 6 years old, I started asking her why we’ve never been to Lebanon; why don’t we go back? I wanted to see Beirut. She told me that Beirut was wounded on the other side of the horizon, and one day, when the war was over, we would go back. I dreamt of Beirut until I came here in 1991, and reality hit me in the face. It was everything but what my mom had told me throughout the years. The civil war was just ending. I thought that for the first time, I would feel like I belonged. But I couldn’t belong. When I would get asked where I’m from, I’d naturally say “I’m Lebanese”. This was met by more probing questions like where exactly in Lebanon I’m from, what religion I belonged to, which god I believed in or which political party I was affiliated with. So I marginalized myself and gave up on belonging for many years. If
anyone asked me where I was from, I would just say I’m a citizen of the world, I don’t belong to one place. All of that changed 8 years ago when I decided to take on the most difficult artistic project of my life: a journey of 10452 steps throughout Beirut, symbolic of the 10452 km2 of the Lebanese territory. I’d hoped that undertaking this journey would help me reconnect to my roots, my country, to who I am as a person, a woman and an artist. I started walking every single day from Mar Mkhayel, through Gemmayze, all the way to Sporting Club, stopping to take pictures along the way. 10452 steps that cemented my relationship to my city, Beirut; and I fell in love. I realized that history and the people who tell it are liars. Out there, in the streets, what we live as Lebanese people is unity, generosity and love. Every encounter I had through the years was never littered with political or religious talk. And the Beyrouth Beirut exhibition and the Beyrouth Beirut book were born. I decided to hold my exhibition at the famous Beit Beirut Museum, a former sniper house during the war. My decision was built on the belief that in order to overcome our traumas, we needed to acknowledge them, then face them; only then could the show go on. On the day of the opening, we threw a huge party- in remembrance of the dinners and parties held there before the war. 93 nationalities were present. I had stated that for every person who couldn’t be present at this exhibition, I would bring it to them. We were scheduled for 7 worldwide destinations after that. The exhibition tour started in February of 2020 in Amman, at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, and unfortunately came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic started a month later in March. And 6 months later, the August 4th blast shook my country to its very core.

The story of the documentary

On August 8th 2020, I was supposed to fly to my childhood home in Spain, the way I do every summer with my family. On August 1st, I woke up with a sense of impending doom and I told my husband that I had a gut feeling that I should leave for Spain as soon as possible. He responded compassionately, tried to calm me down and reminded me that it’s okay we’re leaving on August 8th. I refused to listen, followed my gut and told him I would be leaving as soon as I could. He wouldn’t come with. I booked my flight and I was on the plane for Spain the next morning. On August 4th, Lebanon was shaken by the blast. For the first time in my life, I was angry at God. Why would I be the one given a sign? Why would I be spared while so many innocent people lost their lives? I lived with survivor’s guilt for a good while after that. I refused to leave home. I couldn’t stop crying. My eyes were glued to the news. An outpouring of love and support came from people all over the world making sure I was okay, offering their condolences. They stated that my Beyrouth Beirut book was no longer an art book, but a history book. My photos would immortalize the houses and buildings I shot over the years. I started realizing that I was still here because I had something to do. I had a duty towards my country, my people and towards myself and my family. My duty was to leave a trace since we’ve never studied the history of our country, and neither have our kids. I am not a historian, but I am an artist, and I can leave a trace doing what I do best. I decided to undertake the journey of making a documentary, the very first one of my career. On September 4th 2020, exactly a month after the blast, the shooting of the documentary started. 10452 steps detailing the aftermath of the blast in Beirut. It was very important to me to give the people I encountered a voice. When someone goes through a traumatic event, enough respect has to be given to let that person say whatever it is they need to say. There was no time limit on my encounters. It was time for the people who survived the blast to relieve that day’s burden off their shoulders. Bringing this story to life was also therapeutic for everyone involved, every member of the crew. Little did we know we still had a lot of healing to do. I believe that every single person in my documentary was meant to cross my path. The universe finally acknowledged their pain, the universe was finally asking them “how are you? How do you feel?”. The people spoke, and Beirut spoke. Beirut’s streets, Beirut’s houses, they spoke. I wanted the world to see how we lived, matter of factly, in the present moment. But most importantly, this documentary is a memoir of Lebanon. A memoir of our history. This documentary has an archival value. They will try to erase what happened, just like they’ve erased history before.
The news showed the blast and its aftermath, but not the psychological impact it had on Beirut’s residents; it was important for me to bring forth how huge the psychological impact of that blast was. People have so much to say, but they never had a chance to say it. The audience will notice the documentary will seem to end at different instances. This symbolizes our neverending story. There is no defined beginning, no defined end. We are a people perpetually on the cusp of death. Every time we think it’s the end, we continue.

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