Lebanese Rocket Society: The strange story of Lebanon's space programme
by Sergio Ríos Pérez
- Recently screened in Sevilla after its world premiere in Toronto, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige's documentary explores the bizarre story of Lebanon's attempts to launch a rocket into space
Sometimes you discover small and marvelous secrets hidden in the creases of history. They are so bright that they don't appear real. For example, at the beginning of the 1960s a handful of Lebanese of Armenian origin joined the space race that was so preoccupying the United States and the Soviet Union at the time. It's this fascinating, bizarre, and singular story that is told in Lebanese filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige's Lebanese Rocket Society [+see also:
interview: Khalil Joreige
film profile], a documentary that was co-produced by their own Abbout Productions with the French Mille et une Productions and that recently screened in the "Not Fiction. Eurodoc" section of the ninth edition of the Sevilla European Film Festival.
But, beyond the incredible story of Professor Manoug Manougian, who along with his pupils made rocket launching into space a priority and a source of pride for Lebanon, this documentary tries to pose an even bigger question: Why does no one in the small Middle Eastern country remember this project, about which they even made stamps?
Via exceptional archive footage and interviews with some of the main characters of the events, the directors reconstruct the story of the Lebanese space race set in the context of the turbulent 1960s, while also reflecting on historical memory and the role that a cinematic work can have in recreating and recording an event that had become long forgotten.
At the point when in many documentaries the words "The End" would have appeared on screen, the directors take this exploration even further and decide to film their attempt to give homage to the architects of these spacial experiments, the "dreamers", through building a commemorative statue in the shape of -- of course -- a space rocket. This epilogue closes with a fragment of animation that, after the parts dedicated to the past and to the present, offers a leap into the future.
The story's enormous charisma, the fast-paced rhythm of its narrative, and the great quality of the archive footage make Lebanese Rocket Society one of those rare documentaries capable of reaching any kind of audience. What is more, its setting in the 1960s and their political and cultural implications give it great potential for sales abroad, albeit perhaps not for its distribution in cinemas.
After its world release in Toronto and its stopover in Sevilla, Lebanese Rocket Society is to be screened at the Danish festival CPH:DOX and in Doha. Its international sales agency is the French Urban Distribution International.
(Translated from Spanish)
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