While we know for a fact that Lebanon has never actually won the World Cup, last month, the movie directed and produced by Tony ElKhoury and Anthony Lappé has been awarded “best documentary short” at Warsaw International Film Festival. The WIFF was initially established in 1985 as a meeting point for ambitious and passionate cinema students and has been expanding professionally ever since.
The short documentary stars two war veterans who, despite having shot at each other during the Lebanese civil war, meet over a World Cup game where they both cheer for the Brazilian team.
The film is a collaboration of Lebanese director and producer Tony ElKhoury and New York-based writer, producer and journalist Anthony Lappé.

The film’s trailer and other info can be found here.

We spoke with ElKhoury to learn more about backstage stories and the intentions behind the film.

What can you tell us on the collaboration with Lappé? Did you work on different aspects separately or was it a full collaboration on all levels?

In February 2014, my friends and I had the idea to collaborate on a documentary film about how Lebanese people celebrate the Fifa World Cup: we were a trio made by music composer Allen Seif aka OAK, and writer, researcher and journalist Bakhos Baalbaki.
A month later, Anthony was visiting me in Beirut. We had collaborated previously on several projects, including a global campaign to help launch VICE News. I pitched him the project and we felt its power and cinematic potential. That’s how we all jumped on board with each one of us bringing their skills, know-how and vision.

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Why did you choose a short documentary format?

Initially the idea was to make a feature length documentary, a sort of a portrait of Lebanon from the angle of the FIFA World Cup. Unfortunately we couldn’t raise enough funds on time since the World Cup was kicking off a couple of months later, so we set our sight on something more achievable, which was a shorter format.
We decided to find two former combatants from the Lebanese civil war who fought on opposite sides but who both loved the Brazilian team since the World Cup was happening in Brazil.

Which style would best describe your documentary?

It’s a film about war and football; it captures the intersection of sports and politics in a way that makes it fall into the category of a historic documentary but also a sports documentary.
But mainly it’s a character-driven documentary since we’re meeting and following two men who end up sharing their experience in the Lebanese civil war and telling us their stories.

What can you tell us about self-financed productions in Lebanon: do you encourage young filmmakers to do it?

Like everything else in life, when a risk ends up paying off, the mind tends to forget all the stress and the moments of uncertainty during the making process.
Investing in film is inherently risky since there are many factors that determine the success of a motion picture, and since it’s sometimes complicated for young and emerging filmmakers to get proper funding. Hence it becomes necessary to self-finance a project if one really believes in the idea and wants to bring it out. Passion dictates the amount of risk and involvement in a project. Although blind, I think passion goes a long way.

“When I go swimming I forget everything”; This sentence is some sort of a leitmotiv in the movie – do you think forgetting wars is the right way to forgiveness?

The phrase translates our protagonist’s view on life and his need to forget, even for a moment, an old trauma that still haunts him. It is not to be taken as if the film offers forgetting as a solution; On the contrary, the film goes into the direction of opening up the past and having the courage to face it. It’s sad that we still haven’t reconciled on a social level with the horrors of the Lebanese civil war even though it ended since about 25 years.

How did you find Edward and Hassan?

After deciding on the story and approach, we started looking for two guys who fought in the Lebanese civil war on opposite sides and who both shared a strong old connection with football and specifically the Brazilian team; We managed to contact the Lebanese political parties who were involved in the civil war through friends and acquaintances and got to Edward and then Hassan. We met them separately of course and we found that they were both interesting characters: They had rich backstories that added more layers to our narrative, and most importantly, they were eager to talk.

“Lebanon wins the world cup” – why this title?

I think it has a certain black humour to it: it states something that is unlikely to happen as a fact, which makes it intriguing.
Lebanon has never come close to getting qualified to the World Cup. Yet every four years, the enthusiastic fans keep cheering nations miles away; Some Lebanese are happy because their team won, others are sad because theirs lost… but at the end of the night, Lebanon Wins The Word Cup every four years.

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What do you think of the “war” thematic in Lebanese cinema?

It’s not necessary that all films coming out from Lebanon have to be about war. I believe in diversified genres as they bring richness and possibilities for a decent and active film industry; All art forms and film in particular are the proper tools to address major topics in order to create a healthy consensus in the collective consciousness of a nation… and since Lebanon is a society that still couldn’t and didn’t heal from a traumatic past and still facing uncertainty and violence, it is a must to create work in that thematic.

If you had one wish for Lebanon, what would it and how can you contribute to it?

I wish for Lebanon to win the World Cup one day hopefully, but for now I wish for consciousness, empathy, and a very high level of awareness, after all that’s happening I think we’re all game now…the country needs major efforts on all levels and a radical change of mentality if we are to save it and ourselves from total collapse.

Think of your next movie – what would it be about and did you start working on it?

There are a lot of topics that I feel an urge to research and document; There’s something about the Lebanese immigration flux that happened in the late 19th and early 20th century that really interests me, also the North of Lebanon attracts me as there are lot of tales from there that can be appealing cinematically. I’m also part of a collective called Still See a Spark Films and along with producer and composer Allen Seif (aka OAK), we have leads we’re chasing… this will also determine the next step on a path we started.

By Adonis Hakim