Since 1982, the Lebanese film industry is placing its mark again at the 71st edition of Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival after exactly 39 years of absence.
Dafter Maya (Memory Box in English), directed by Lebanese filmmakers Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, has landed a nomination in the “Golden Bear” award category in Berlin.
Memory Box tackles the subject of a Lebanese woman who moved from Lebanon to Canada with her mother. On an average day, the woman receives a box filled with notebooks and cassette tapes that were recorded during Lebanon’s civil war between the 1980s and 1990s.
The film is based on Hadjithoman’s real cassette tapes and notebooks that she recorded and written herself during the civil war, as a way to communicate with her friend in the 80’s who had to flee the country to immigrate to Paris.
“We made a promise to write everyday to each other, and we actually kept that promise,” Hadjithoman told The961 in an exclusive interview.
From the year 1982 to the year 1988, Hadjithoman and her closest friends stayed in touch. They started writing to each other when they were only 13 years old, and went on to stay in contact by utilising cassette tapes and notebooks till they were 18 years of age.
“We shared our daily lives with a lot of details, but after so many years we lost contact,” the Lebanese director said.
However, there is a happy ending to the long-lost friendship. Hadjithoman eventually met together with her friend years after losing contact and exchanged all the cassette tapes and notebooks.
“It was very strange to look back at the cassette tapes and notebooks. My daughter wanted to read them when she was the same age as me when I started writing, and that’s how Khalil and I got the idea of the film,” the director said.
Memory Box was a long process, according to Hadjithoman. The shooting took place in 2019 in two different countries, Canada and Lebanon.
The film is more than just an art piece. It represents a personal sentiment to Hadjithomas and Joreige, as Joreige also used his personal photography to add a stunning cinematic element to Memory Box.
Yet, Hadjithomas would not describe the film as a documentary. “It’s a fictional story that’s accessible and emotional to different generations.”
“If you read those notebooks that I wrote, you wouldn’t really understand what was actually happening outside. I was five when the civil war started and it lasted 15 years,” she said.
“The notebooks represented our daily life during the civil war, the way we wanted to live, love, go out, and the fights that happened with our parents… It came out of an impulse for life,” Hadjithomas added.
When asked about how the director’s journey with film and cinema began, Hadjithomas noted that she and Joreige did not actually study film, but they found it as a necessary mean to let out built in rage after the Lebanese civil war came to an end.
“We couldn’t accept some things, and we had a lot of questions,” she told us. “Film came to us in a very organic way, without any strategy.”
“We didn’t know what we were doing at first, but we did it in a politically engaged manner combined with a real will to bring about change or to contribute in a symbolic way,” the director added.
Memory Box will be first released in cinemas, and then it will be available on streaming websites while the Berlin International Film Festival will begin on the first day of March.