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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.

Sand Screens (Ecrans de Sable), Randa Chahal Sabbag, 1992, 90 min.

Synopsis: A city emerges in the middle of the desert and dies in its richness. Women are doubly veiled, and freedoms are even more threatened. Sarah was born the day after the oil boom. She is part of the generation that believes it can get anything with the power of money, and that simultaneously sees its every desire thwarted when it conflicts with the strict laws of its country. She is unsettled by the triviality of her life and unsettles others through her beauty, and her will to push everything to its extreme. She fears not the desert, not the wind, nothing. Her thirst lies elsewhere: to leave the desert, which she hates, and in which she is kept against her will. She wanders the empty streets in her limousine, killing time on the phone, provoking strangers. Gradually, tensions arise in this desert, instilling a latent anguish interrupted by bursts of happiness, of ecstatic laughter, and of sensuality, until everything comes to a head.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    90 minutes
  • Country
  • Director
    Randa Chahal Sabbag
  • Filmmaker
    Randa Chahal Sabbag