Jocelyne Saab – A Woman of Grit, A Filmmaker of Substance

Aditya Thursday January 17, 2019

Well known Lebanese filmmaker Jocelyne Saab who was born in Beirut on 30 April 1948 died of cancer on January 07, 2019.

Jocelyne Saab
Jocelyne Saab (1948-2019)


Jocelyne Saab, widely considered one of the most important contemporary Arab filmmakers, passed away after a brave and difficult battle with cancer on 7 January. Although death had long been hovering, many of us in contact only through texting or phoning, were taken by surprise, as the usual season's greetings had been exchanged with no hint that this beloved member of our film community would leave us within a week.

She was a senior member of NETPAC, which she joined in 2002. I had met her a few times, our last meeting being in New Delhi. She had participated in NETPAC Juries in Kerala (2007), Jeonju (2009), Vesoul (2011), Abu Dhabi (2011) and Bengaluru (2012). She also the director of the Cultural Resistance International Film Festival in Lebanon which began in 2013, but was able to organize only a few editions.

Journalist, war reporter, filmmaker and photographer, Jocelyne Saab directed about 30 documentaries and three feature films shown worldwide by French and European channels, and by NBC in the United States and NHK in Japan. She shot in Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Kurdistan, ex-Spanish Sahara and Vietnam. She scripted all her films herself, although A Suspended Life was written by Roman Polanski’s screenplay writer, Gerard Brach.

Selected filmography:

1975 - Lebanon in Turmoil documentary feature (75 mins) released in cinemas. Arab Critics Prize of the year

1976 - Children of War Catholic Jury Prize at Oberhausen.

1978 - The Sahara is Not for Sale documentary feature (75 mins) released in cinemas.

1981 - Assistant director on the film Circle of Deceit by Volker Schlondorf and director of second film unit.

1982 - Beirut, My City Golden Spike at the Valladolid International Film Festival, Spain. First Documentary Prize, Oberhausen.

1985 - A Suspended Life (30 mins), her first feature film written by Gérard Brach with Jacques Weber and Juliette Berto released in 1987. Selected for the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes (1985)

1991 - Worked with the news team of Le Monde - MK2 and directed a documentary on in vitro fertilisation for Envoyé Spécial Fécondation in vidéo, City of Biarritz Award. Best Medical Film Award by the city of Montpellier. Scientific Scoop Award at Angers.

1992 – 1994 - Directs Once Upon a Time: Beirut 35 mm produced by ARTE Strasbourg. It was dedicated to the anniversary of the century of the cinema. Parallelly, she was also the initiator and project director of Beirut, A Thousand and One Images, a project about the reconstitution of the Beirut Film Archive.

1996-1997 - Directed in Vietnam a 60 minute documentary The Lady of Saigon for France 2

2003 – Directed Paris in Love, a 10 short films series on Paris in collaboration with Francis Lacloche - Films Inédits.

2005 –Dunia – Kiss Me Not on the Eyes – 35mm Nominee at Sundance Film Festival

2006 - Short film Broken Bridges on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 Selected Art Exhibitions

2006 - Strange Games and Bridges at Singapore National Museum on the theme “Awareness of War”

2007- Exhibit Art Fair Dubai with Gallery Agial

2008 –November –Sense Icons and Sensitivity - 100 photos at Planet Discovery, Beirut

2008 November - Sense Icons and Sensitivity at Gallery Agial

2008 November –Florence Festival Imagini di donna

2008 - November Art Fair Abu Dhabi with Gallery Agial

Jocelyne Saab started her career with the hosting of a pop music programme called ‘Marsupilami Got Blue Eyes’’ on the national Lebanese radio and from there moved on to become a newsreader for television. Civil war in Lebanon threw her into the front line as a war reporter. She covered the war in the Middle East and Iran, and the Polisario war in the Maghreb. Her independent films received numerous international prizes. Later, in post-war Vietnam, she made the beautiful portrait of the Lady of Saigon for which she won the best French documentary prize. In 1981 she landed a job as second unit director on Volker Schlondorff's movie about the Lebanese civil war, Circle of Deceit. In 1985 her first feature film, Suspended Life, shot in Beirut during the civil war, was selected for the 1985 Cannes Film Festival. She commuted between Beyrouth, Paris and Cairo where she wrote, directed and produced the feature film Dunia - Kiss Me Not on the Eyes, which was selected in the world competition section at the Sundance Film Festival. In time, Jocelyne Saab turned to photography and plasticine. She presented her first collection at the Dubai Art Fair after having made an installation called Strange Game and Bridges at the Singapore National Museum.

NETPAC pays tribute to a passionate, resolute and intrepid filmmaker.

-- Ashley Ratnavibhushana

I don't even remember when I first met Jocelyne. She was a part of my life for so many years that I don't recollect when it began. I was living in Paris. We met frequently. We were both so involved with the hectic film life in Paris in those days. I saw some of her films. I loved her superb photographs. Then I moved back to India, started Cinemaya, started Cinefan where of course she was invited. We kept in touch regularly. I went to Paris almost every year and met her often. Then, amazingly, she started the festival in Beirut where we were all invited. To my great surprise and honour, she started an award in my name. She called it the Aruna Vasudev award for Best Writing on Cinema. I couldn't believe it. When she called me on stage to present the first award, I was more or less in tears. How can one dream of a greater honour? On the travel through Lebanon where she took us - as Philip has described - it was a memorable and wonderfully happy trip. So many lovely memories......That is life. It comes and goes. But when it goes with a wonderful friend, one keeps asking oneself "What is this all about?" Goodbye my dear dear Jocelyne. I hope we meet again in another lifetime.

Always your

Aruna Vasudev

A Woman in Red!

"You are very sexy!" And we all laughed when Aruna told Jocelyne for her nice red suit in Ahvaz, where we could gather for the 1st Ahvaz Science Film Festival. She became a woman in red in my mind, a great artist whose obsessions to people and society was very much respectful. She was running Cultural Resistance Film Festival in Lebanon and she was to hold a special section on Iranian cinema. "Let's do it" and she was there, enjoying the event and hanging out with Arab-speaking Ahvazis, a new discovery. She enjoyed her stay in Khuzestan and had a great time with all her friends, she told me so at Ahvaz airport, for that long long delayed flight to Tehran. Wish she could delay her trip and I am sure she did her best.

Mohammad Attebai

I still hang on to her light, her passion, her verve, her contributions to political justice. Most of all, her all encompassing love that we all feel regardless of the sting of her physical passing on earth.  

Jeanette Hereniko

Unaware that she was a NETPAC member, I first contacted Jocelyne after she made Dunia Kiss Me Not on the Eyes (2005), an elegant and poetic but highly controversial film dealing with female circumcision. Dunia, probably her best known fictional feature, had nominations and wins in festivals from Sundance to Kerala, but the film also brought death threats from fundamentalist Egyptians. (Jocelyne, however, as Philip notes, was no stranger to harassment in relation to her filmmaking.) I emailed her very briefly and informally to ask to screen the film. Later I was embarrassed by this, but when I finally met Jocelyne as a fellow juror at the festival in Kerala a few years later, she told me that this informality was exactly why she agreed!  Over the years as we grew closer and I saw her many times in India, also in Beirut and Ahvaz, on the occasions described here by Mohammad and Philip, and indeed in Australia, I came to love and admire her indefatiguable passion and her mode of operation - resistance to all forms of injustice. Also her ability to make everyone feel so special.

Anne Demy-Geroe

We were crossing the moutains of Lebanon in 2013. Jocelyne Saab was driving slowly, terrified of driving over the sheer cliffs. I was struggling to stay awake while Jocelyne was telling me stories of how depressed she was 30 years ago when the French intelligence kept interrogating her over the films she was making about the Lebanon War (1975-90). One night after Christmas she was thinking how everything was going nowhere and that she didn’t want to struggle anymore. Her death wish was nearly fulfilled when she fell into the icy Seine River. Someone jumped in to rescue her and in those minutes when death was so close, she found her will to live again. Death and live has imbued her work, and much as life ad death has seeped through Lebanese history. That strife perpetuates eve today with the Syria War (2011 - ) whe refugees flooded into Lebanon.  But Jocelyne’s sense of purpose has never been more focused. She set up the Cultural Resistance International Film Festival in 2013 where Ing K’s Shakespeare Must Die won Best Asia Feature. She has even finished a book and a brand new short film last month. If culture cannot save the world it can at least resist the madness. We crossed the mountains safely. Death still followed us. But we were no longer afraid.

Philip Cheah

__Image Woman in Red in Kerala __


International Women's Day

We are pleased to bring to you, for the second year, our International Women’s Day screening!

Free online screening | 8th March

IWD theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge. A challenged world is an alert world. From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge - Ubolsyn herself completely embraces the theme!

This year we invite you to a special free online screening of ULBOLSYN from director Adilkhan Yerzhanov. Our sincere thanks to the producers, Guillaume de Seille and Olga Khlasheva, for their generosity and their efforts in facilitating the screening.

Ulbolsyn Source Poffdotee

The film tells the story of a girl named Ulbolsyn (Kazakh for ‘let there be a son’) whose little sister Azhar is kidnapped by the regional mayor’s brother Urgen for marital purposes and taken away to his village. Ulbolsyn wants her sister to be free and to enter her into a foreign university so that she can pursue a future career. As soon as she learns about the incident, Ulbolsyn decides to fight for her sister and face down the patriarchal world of the people living in the Karatas village.

The film is the recipient of the NETPAC Award in Tallinn Black Nights and TRT award in CineLink Sarajevo WIP 2020

Watch MOVIE English | French