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A key figure in Lebanese cinema, as both a documentary filmmaker and a director of fictional narratives, Randa Chahal Sabbag was born in Tripoli, Lebanon in 1953, to a Christian mother and a Sunni Muslim father, both militants involved in the local communist party. It was her father who introduced Chahal to the cinema, at Tripoli’s ciné-club. She left Lebanon for Paris in the early 1970s to pursue her studies in film at the prestigious École Louis-Lumière – a highly unusual move for a young woman from a conservative city. When the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, she returned to Lebanon, where she tirelessly documented the war.

Chahal’s earliest documentary, STEP BY STEP (1979), attempted to grasp the causes and ramifications of the civil war in Lebanon. In OUR HEEDLESS WARS (1995), a work that Jean- Luc Godard cites in his HISTOIRE(S) DU CINÉMA, the filmmaker turns the lens towards her family, whom she had been recording on video since 1983. Her last documentary, SOUHA, SURVIVING HELL (2001), is a portrait of Souha Béchara, a young Christian woman who was imprisoned and tortured after she attempted to assassinate General Lahd, the head of the South Lebanon Army, an auxiliary of the Israeli Army.

Chahal was also an exceptional storyteller, using humor as a means to deal with the absurdities of the war. In her fictional feature CIVILIZED PEOPLE (2000), she portrays the brutal absurdity of the urban warfare of Beirut during the 1980s, when many Lebanese fled the country leaving behind their empty apartments along with their domestic workers. The original version was heavily cut in its initial release thanks to what the Lebanese censors considered to be inflammatory insults against religion. Her last feature film, THE KITE (2003), about a fifteen year-old Lebanese girl from a Druze community who falls in love with an Israeli soldier, won the Grand Jury Prize (Silver Lion) at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival, among other Prizes.

These films should have been just the beginning of the career of a filmmaker who left the world too soon, at the age of 54, after a long battle with cancer. Writing in The Guardian in 2008, in response to her death, Olivia Snaije observed, “Chahal’s premature death leaves a void in the Middle Eastern world of film, where freedom of expression requires boundless courage and Tenacity.”


Step by Step (Pas á Pas), Lebanon, Randa Chahal Sabbag, 1979, 80 min.

Sand Screen, Randa Chahal Sabbag, 1992, 90 min.

Civiliszd People (Civilisėes), Lebanon, Randa Chahal Sabbag, 2000, 97 min.

Our Heedless Wars (Nos Guerres Imprudentes), Lebanon, Randa Chahal Sabbag, 1995, 68 min.

Souha, Surviving Hell (Souha, Survivre á L’enfer), Lebanon, Randa Chahal Sabbag, 2001, 57 min.

Step by Step (Pas á Pas), Lebanon, Randa Chahal Sabbag, 1979, 80 min.

Synopsis: This film is the result of two years of work, from February 1976 to March 1978. Through its analysis, and through certain documents, it looks beyond the period to grasp at the remote causes of the conflict. It attempts to draft a timeline of events: the dismemberment of Lebanon, the liquidation of the Palestinian movement, the new balance of powers in the Middle East under U.S. rule. The events that resulted from the Israeli occupation of part of Lebanon, and the intervention of the United Nations confirm this. In this sense, the film is not finished, as it endeavored to reflect the ever-evolving reality of a country, and the suffering of a people.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    80 minutes
  • Country
  • Filmmaker
    Randa Chahal Sabbag