Asian Cinema Fund 2018

2014 Asian Network of Documentary (AND) Fund

Project Fatima
Category BIFF Mecenat Fund
Project Fatima
Country Lebanon
Director's Profile On the steppes of Batar, a young Mongolian girl carries a bedroll on her back as heavy mining equipment rumbles along not far away, kicking up plumes of dust. Lately, the mines have come too close to their yurt and the dust blows too easily. Shang Dengxiang has worked at the mines for four years. Refusing to wear a mask while working with his wife gathering coal, his face blackens day after day. Despite the harsh living conditions, it is still better than the gamble of farming the weak soil back home in order to feed themselves. Mr. Ding, the smartly dressed boss, swings a golf club beside the pit. He has been running this site for decades, but lately workers have been falling ill. The Department of Safety pays him a visit, which means either shutting down production or bribing the inspector. Zhang Xianquan, a former migrant worker of a dozen-odd years, stands panting at the top of a hill, holding a black-framed mirror. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with third degree black lung. “I spent so many years in your mines. You can’t just throw me out like a pair of old shoes.” And so he organizes the other workers from his village to sue for compensation.
In 1972, a 19 year-old girl, Fatima Khaweja, was killed by the Lebanese army during a worker’s strike at Gandour chocolate factory. Fatima’s death at the hands of the Lebanese army sparked a national outrage, with twenty thousand Lebanese marching in the streets, demanding workers’ rights and a more accountable government. Her identity was immediately clouded by controversy, with workers claiming her as a militant and others insisting she was an innocent passerby. Then the Lebanese Civil War broke out, pitting Lebanon’s religious sects against one another for fifteen years, erasing all memory of Fatima and any possibility of unity and change. Forty years later, I search for the real Fatima in today’s Lebanon. My search for Fatima takes me from Beirut’s urban periphery to her small village in the south of Lebanon, in a wandering meditation on this past and its traces in the present. My journey through the past brings us back to a startlingly familiar present. Gandour workers, whose demands for a living wage have not yet been met, are now without a powerful union to support them. A country, bitterly divided, the memory of a different future all but erased; we are left to wonder whether Fatima died in vain?
Director's Note
I moved back to Lebanon in 2010 from South America, searching for a popular alternative to the country’s stagnant sectarian politics. Lebanon was still a deeply divided country, lacking South America's popular movements. But delving deeper, I uncovered a forgotten narrative of struggle buried under the rubble of our sectarian civil war. The stories of the Gandour strike and tobacco farmer uprising emerged - linked in popular memory as emblematic of Lebanon’s apex of revolutionary possibility in 1972-73, just before the country exploded into civil war. Fatima was a symbol of this failed revolution, and the controversy surrounding her identity was just as mystifying as the disjointed history of Lebanese social movements. I needed to know who she was.
Still Cut