Documentary studies violence

«At first you kill unwillingly, then by the third and fourth time it becomes easier. After that, you enjoy it.» The cynical and detatched statement of an anonymous executioner at the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla’s horrifying massacre is shocking. Yet the shocking element was not what filmmakers Monika Borgmann, Lokman Slim and Hermann Theissen had in mind when filming their documentary. «Massaker» (Massacre), which opened at Athens’s Asty cinema last week, did not turn into a chronicle of horror, but instead became a study on violence. In September 1982, paramilitary troops invaded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Beirut, leading to one of the bleakest moments of history, which lasted two nights and three days. Most of the invaders, who carried out acts of torture, rape and mutilation against unarmed civilians, were members of a Lebanese pro-Israel Christian paramilitary group. Israel’s armed forces, led by the country’s current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had camped nearby and when nightfall came they would throw rockets to facilitate the group’s actions. Borgmann, who is German but now lives permanently in Beirut, was in Athens recently for the film’s premiere. She became involved with the film because of her experience as a journalist. In one of her first stories, she had managed to talk to a Lebanese sniper. Back then, she had wondered how anyone can reach that point, what it feels like and, above all, how one can continue with one’s life. Years later, in 1999, the documentary started materializing because of a chance meeting with an executioner at Sabra and Shatilla. «It wasn’t difficult to find the people and get them to talk to you,» she said at a press conference held in a hotel, as a guest of New Star company, the film’s distributor in Greece. «What was difficult was to create a kind of trust with them. It wasn’t easy; they had to feel that you don’t judge them.» As Borgmann explained, the six people who agreed to talk in the documentary go on with their lives today in Lebanon. The case did not go to court and a general amnesty was granted in 1991. Monika Borgmann came up with two striking conclusions, after three years of preparation and filming. The first one was the executioners’ desire to talk, «for the first and, maybe, for the last time.» The second one was her personal feeling that, despite the nightmares and the somehow vague expression of sadness (which only applied to one of them), she did not sense any genuine, or even feigned, remorse. Borgmann sees this inexplicable stance as a result of Lebanese society’s unwillingness to talk openly about these matters. Hence, the Berlinale award-winning film will not be screened in Lebanon; only a small private screening has been scheduled to take place in Beirut. «This is still a taboo issue. There are some people who believe that by looking back, you only stir up old passions. With our film, we say the exact opposite: You can only move forward by looking straight at the wounds.»