"We Know So Little of Each Other"
Having being discovered at last year's Berlinale Talent Campus, Myrna Maakaron was given financial and practical support to complete the film project BerlinBeirut. The young film-maker was born in Lebanon in 1974. She completed her diploma in communication studies and film at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts in 1997. She left Lebanon in the year 2000 to read theatre studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, and has been living with her German husband in Hamburg since 2002.
You launched your artistic career at a very early age. How did it all begin?
Myrna Makaroon: My grandfather was a film distributor and our family opened one of the very first cinemas in Lebanon. I remember watching films projected onto a wall at home at the tender age of three. The projector went "brrrrrr" the whole time. I grew up in this magical atmosphere that comes with films.
When did you get the idea for the film BerlinBeirut?
Makaroon: I discovered huge similarities between the two cities on my very first visit to Berlin. The similarities are much greater than between Paris and Beirut. Maybe it's the traces of the war that are still so visible in both cities. Like the bullet holes in the walls. You discover things like that when you walk around Berlin. What's more, there are clean, new districts, and a few miles down the road everything is grubby and old. For me, the two cities have the same texture. Even though, of course, there are a lot of differences; like when and why the cities experienced war, and so on.
BerlinBeirut is a short film. In fact it's only 22 minutes long from start to finish. What is the storyline?
Makaroon: It's a short, very personal, subjective view of the two cities. As a matter of fact, I use Berlin to show Beirut. I walk through the streets in a beautiful dress, carrying an umbrella from the eighteenth century. An East German bicycle also plays a role in the film. My story has a fairytale-like quality to it. There are melancholy moments, and dramatic ones too, but the story ends optimistically all the same.
Was your German husband also involved?
Makaroon: Yes, he wrote the music. There is a lot of music in the film and, as the narrator, my voice can be heard over it.
... which must give the film a poetic aura.
Makaroon: A little bit. However, this poetic, artificial language isn't really important to me. I approached the whole thing rather naively. The film was born out of an unbiased, spontaneous glance. I'm no classical intellectual. The references are more surreal than anything else.
I bring the two cities together in a surreal way. There is, for example, a scene in which I get into a taxi in Beirut that takes me directly to Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Or I'm in a cellar in Berlin, which symbolises protection against bomb raids in Lebanon.
Did you work with the same crew in Lebanon and Germany?
Makaroon: Yes, it was a very small crew; for financial reasons, of course; but also because it worked better that way. We had to work in a small team in order to be mobile.
The aim was to keep the film open and very spontaneous. If something suddenly caught my eye, I wanted to be able to integrate it immediately. Something unexpected always happens in these two cities; in this way too, Berlin and Beirut are very similar.
What was your goal in making this film?
Makaroon: I wanted to open a door a little bit. We know so little of each other. Here in Germany, people ask me whether there is a desert in Lebanon, or whether the women there wear the chador. All these naive, simple questions show just how little we know of each other.
Are young people in Lebanon interested in Europe?
Makaroon: Yes, of course. Naturally, there is a huge focus on the USA. I think there are more American films showing in Beirut than in Berlin. I would say that the western part of Beirut is more American, and the Christian eastern part of the city more European. But basically there is a little bit of everything everywhere. When you talk to people, you can see both the American and the European influences.
Do you belong to any particular religious denomination?
Makaroon: Yes, I'm Catholic. My mother is Orthodox; my father is Catholic. But religious denominations don't play as great a role for me as they do for my parents. I belong to a more open generation. This is also the case in Berlin. There is an East-West divide, but happily, for the younger people it is less and less important from which part of the city someone comes.
Interview: Ariana Mirza
© Qantara.de 2004
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Ariana Mirza is a free-lance journalist, specialised on film, currently living in Berlin.