The Lebanese Rocket Society
A compelling story of middle-eastern space exploration slightly undermined by a scrappy structure
Fascinating questions about history and shared memory are asked in this personal and ultra-low-budget documentary from established Lebanese filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. It begins with a mystery: an image from the 60s of a space rocket liveried in Lebanese colours – the first rocket in the Arab world. From the directors’ shared voiceover comes the question: ‘Why do we know nothing of this? Why has this story been lost?’ Their film is an investigation into this lost piece of history, as well as an attempt to bring it back into their country’s collective consciousness.
The filmmakers drop the ball somewhat after this compelling introduction. They dwell on reflective narration and clunky visual segues instead of cutting straight to their most valuable asset, an in-depth interview with the splendidly named Manoug Manougian, the university professor responsible for the Lebanese space rocket project. Once he is on screen, along with brilliant archive of his various students’ rocket-building attempts, it becomes clear why this story is so important to the filmmakers. It shows that back in 1960, Lebanon was a pioneer in the Middle East – the country had a rocket, a dream and a vision, before Israel.
In the second half, Hadjithomas and Joreige’s focus shifts to become more about the process of making the film itself, detailing the various bureaucratic hurdles they encountered and the fear and nervousness surrounding anything to do with rockets in Lebanon. As one of the crew notes, ‘You can’t not be afraid – you’re in Lebanon.’ The film’s scrappy structure is a persistent problem, though, as questions and themes bounce off the central subject of the 60s rocket project but are not ultimately tied together. But the filmmakers end strongly, with the thought that cinema is a place where dreaming is still possible, even in relation to their beloved and troubled Lebanon.
Limited release from Fri 18 Oct.