Lebanese director Carol Mansour uses her phone to film while wearing a face mask and standing by graffiti reading in Arabic “power to the people”, in Beirut. –AFP

Prize-winning Lebanese documentary filmmaker Carol Mansour fears the world has learnt nothing from the novel coronavirus shock and will go back to square one or worse when normal life returns. The director, who lost her father living in Canada to the COVID-19 disease, admits “what scares me the most” is that mankind has learned nothing from this crisis. “Maybe the skies and the rivers have cleared up a bit, but if the coronavirus crisis can’t change us, I don’t know what can,” she told AFP in an interview on Zoom. “I am very afraid of what will happen after the return to normal” because the crisis “apparently did not teach us anything”.

“I think that we will quickly return to where we were and perhaps worse,” with “three percent of the world population” remaining in charge of the planet. In her own world, Mansour said the curbs linked to the pandemic have brought out “a personal dimension” in her work and pushed her to look differently at her city, Beirut. As for her media, the future of cinema remains in suspense, although she has stayed creative in lockdown. It’s as if “we pressed a stop button” since the virus swept across the globe, said Mansour, who lives in the Lebanese capital.

In collaboration with Daraj.com, an independent media platform, Mansour has produced two short films on the epidemic, including one on her father. “Every day we hear about... the number of people who have died from coronavirus but I never imagined that my father would be one of those figures,” she says in the film “My Father, Killed by Covid-19”.

‘Has Beirut become beautiful?’

In a second video, Mansour focuses on contradictions in “her plans, hopes and concerns” for Beirut in the era of coronavirus. “Beirut is ugly,” she said, “because of the indiscriminate construction, the proliferation of huge shopping centres and the continued demolition of old buildings.” But that has been cut short by the epidemic and stay-at-home restrictions. She explained that she could now walk in usually crowded streets, “alone among cats” because with confinement, Beirut “has become a city of cats”. “Has Beirut become beautiful or has calm embellished it?” she mused.

The Lebanese director of Palestinian origin has won several international awards, including the 2018 prize for best documentary at the Delhi film festival for “Stitching Palestine”. Under confinement, Mansour also decided to make another “very personal” film about her mother who fled to Lebanon in 1948 from Jaffa in present-day Israel and died in 2015. The film addresses her mother’s discussions “on Palestine” while she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. “I was filming it without intending to collect these videos to make a film,” she said. 

Coronavirus has come at a time when we had already grown familiar with “new ways” of seeing and photographing. “With ‘Stitching Palestine’ we shot segments via Zoom with 350 participants from 20 different countries,” she said. “We watched the film, then a discussion took place. In this area, there has definitely been some change.” As for Mansour’s private life, with the coronavirus, “I’ve discovered things about myself... I speak (more) now,” she said with a laugh. She has also grown to appreciate the merits of a simpler life. “I only yearn for friends and hugs.”—AFP