Beirut couple screens 'Waltz with Bashir' despite official ban

Director Ari Folman says it's "wonderful" that Lebanese citizens have seen the film; Hizbullah declines to comment.

Waltz with Bashir nice 88 248 (photo credit: AP)
Waltz with Bashir nice 88 248
(photo credit: AP)
Monika Borgmann's telephone has been ringing off the hook since she ignored a Lebanese ban to show an Oscar-nominated film made in Israel about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. "There is a real interest in this film," said the German-born Borgmann, who recently held a private screening of Waltz with Bashir for about 90 people at the southern Beirut production center she co-founded with her Lebanese husband, Lokman Slim. The couple only invited 40 friends to the screening - not looking to attract attention - but others tagged along. "People were really touched by the movie," said Borgmann, who has been fielding calls from even more people who want to see it. The film centers on an IDF veteran who interviews fellow soldiers to restore his cloudy memory about the invasion and the massacre of hundreds of people in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied with Israel. "I think it's important to see this film," said Borgmann, who brought the movie to Lebanon from Germany. This film deals "with a kind of common history, and the massacre of Sabra and Shatila is a common history for Lebanon, the Palestinians and Israelis." But many in Lebanon may never see the movie, which won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film and has been nominated for an Oscar in the same category. Lebanon and Israel are still officially at war, and all Israeli products are banned in the country. Lebanese citizens are also banned from traveling to Israel or having contact with Israelis. Ali Mikdad, a 36-year-old architect who attended the January 17 screening, said that it was strange to watch a movie in Hebrew, but that he was happy to see the film did not gloss over Israel's role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres. "It shows that Israeli soldiers see what is going on inside the camps, and they do nothing to stop it," said Mikdad, who lives in the neighborhood of Haret Hreik, where the movie was shown. "Instead, they fired flares so that those committing the crimes could see better." The Sabra and Shatila refugee camps are only about a mile away from Haret Hreik, a stronghold of Hizbullah. The Beirut suburb once housed Hizbullah's headquarters, which was heavily bombed during the Second Lebanon War. A Hizbullah official declined to comment on the movie screening. The film's director, Ari Folman, said he was happy his work was shown in Beirut. Borgmann said she was not especially concerned about reprisals from the Lebanese government or Hizbullah for showing the movie. "I don't see why there should be a reason," she said. "I mean, we did not organize a film festival where we screened this film. It was a private screening for some friends." Information Minister Tarek Mitri, who is a strong opponent of censorship, said it was officially illegal to show the movie in Lebanon but acknowledged people could still download it from the Internet. Asked if the couple would face legal action for showing the film, Mitri told reporters, "Although it's against the law, I am not a policeman." Mikdad criticized the country's ban as harming "intellectual freedom." He said Lebanese should be able to watch the movie and decide for themselves what they think.