Film '74': When Lebanon's past and present are different yet the same

Marwa Morgan, Sunday 19 Apr 2015

Recreating the student occupation of the American University in Beirut 1974, film 74 (The Reconstitution of a Struggle) finds many parallels between the emotions and struggles of the 1970s and today's realities

Still from 74

The crowd marches along the streets of Beirut. Their shoulders are close to each other. Fists in the air. Voices shout “Occupy! Occupy.”

19 March 1974: a date that is repeated on several occasions in the movie also becomes the date that represents all other dates; all the days and years when frustrations and unfulfilled dreams resurface, even if wrapped in different geographical and socio-political contexts.

In 74 (The Reconstitution of a Struggle), directors Rania and Raed Rafei recall the memory of students occupying the American University in Beirut for 37 days, as a response to a 10% raise in tuition fees in 1974.

As a part of the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC) Film Week in Cairo, 74 was screened at Cinema Zawya and was attended by co-director Raed Rafei.

Rafei describes the film, which looks at the student movement in Lebanon during the 1970's, as being just as "difficult to fund as it was difficult to explain.” 74 also sheds light on bigger truths that span across time and space: revolutions, clash of ideologies, ambitions and disappointments.

"Originally working on a documentary about student movements, the 1974 occupation particularly provoked the directors’ interest," explained Raed Rafei, during the event, adding that despite significant parts of the footage coming from before the Arab Spring, 74 still resonates with questions that were raised during the uprising.

Classified by AFAC as docu-fiction, the film recreates an imagined narrative of the occupation through improvised dialogues between the protagonists, who are all activists in their daily lives.

“We did not build the characters alone,” Rafei continued. “We built the characters based on their [the activists’] inputs and their visions.”

By recreating the events described in documents from 1974, and bringing in the characters’ insights, the filmmakers managed to draw a subtle comparison between the past and the present. It is in the film’s conversation that the boundaries of time melt.

"Through the story of seven characters- the members of the student council heading the occupation- the film presents a side of the Lebanese socio-political context one year prior to the civil war, and reflects the different tendencies and frustrations in revolutionary groups, especially the left, in Lebanon and around the world," Rafei explained.

Over a period of 10 days, live discussions were filmed in an old monastery in a village near Beirut and edited. “It is very interesting to create some sort of detachment from reality and refocus on the big ideological questions,” Rafei said, adding that “though we don’t have an answer to why we fail, we’re living an experiment and maybe we shouldn’t draw a finish line to this experiment.”

In the words of one of the protagonists from 74 (The Reconstitution of a Struggle): "One might not call it a great revolution, but I am sure that I am living the revolution with myself!" This statement becomes an important reflection of the movie, one that remains as valid today as it used to be over forty years ago.

74: Trailer

Check the AFAC Film Week Cairo programme here

Ahram Online is an official media partner of AFAC Film Week in Cairo.


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