Expired May 22, 2023 3:59 AM
Already unlocked? for access

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.

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

Synopsis: During the civil war, some Lebanese fled to Europe, leaving their large apartments, luxurious houses, and their servants: Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Egyptians “imported” to serve by the thousands. These and many more must deal with the maverick who controls the building, its occupants, the neighborhood, and a few areas of the city. Their lives intersect: the young Muslim militia fighter, the Christian maid, the middle-class woman who has returned in search of her lover, and the Beirut cats and their “treacherous life.”

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