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Samuel Moaz, director of Lebanon
With S. James Snyder
In recent years, an escalating number of Middle Eastern filmmakers have released works focusing on the 1982 Lebanon War, reexamining an invasion, and an occupation, that many failed to fully comprehend as younger members of the Israeli military. The latest example, Samuel Moaz's Lebanon, tells the story of a tank crew rumbling across the Israel-Lebanon border as part of the first wave of the invasion, drawing upon Moaz's own experiences as a terrified and traumatized tank gunner in creating a harrowing vision of a what it was like to find oneself on the war's front lines.
Why did you decide it was finally time to tell your story?
It was a need, really, a need to unload, to expose the war naked, without all the heroic stuff and all those other clichés. It was probably a need to forgive myself as well. I realize it was part of my destiny, to be part of the war, but I was now in a situation where I could take responsibility for my part in all that went on.
You were a tank gunner, and the tank gunner in the film has a full-out breakdown in this movie. He's totally devastated by what's going on, and seems shell-shocked from the very first time he has to fire a round...
The gunner in the film is named Shmulik, and that's actually a nickname for Samuel. I reacted much the same way he does, though for me it was probably more on the inside than the outside, like you see in the movie. It was horrifying.
He sees some horrible things in this movie, through his gunner scope.
All of that, though, is less horrible than what really happened. On our editing room floor, you would find a scene that in the end I decided to cut out of the film because I knew that it would be just too much. In the case, it was probably more smart than right, because these are things I have seen, the worst things I've ever seen in my life.
What influenced you to show the conflict this way? Since we only see what the gunner sees through his scope, it almost felt like a Hitchcock movie, with the fixed point of view.
It's not supposed to be an objective point of view. The concept was that the entire film should take place inside a tank, and the war is seen only through the gunner cross. The intention was that I wanted to use only my subjective memories, and tell the story of an injuring of the soul. And I realized that you can't tell that sort of emotional story in a classical cinematic structure.
I didn't want the audience to understand. I wanted them to feel what these young boys were feeling, and to totally identify with the characters, trough which you would experience and begin to understand what it's like.
What is it about the Lebanon War that has led to so many recent films?
As a conflict, this was just chaos. And I believe that's what makes the Lebanon War analogous to Vietnam, this blurring of the civilians and the armies. This wasn't the 6-Day War, following the rules of the game, if you will. There weren't two armies wearing uniforms. In Lebanon these rules didn't exist. The war took place inside neighborhoods, and because of that, this is a story that needs to be examined.
How have the audiences in your homeland responded?
It's hard because in my time, if you weren't a fighter as a young man you had to walk home everyday through the backyards because people would see you on the street and if you didn't have a gun they would look at you. It was a thing you were supposed to do, be the big boys on the playground, and when you're in battle and shoot something full of gasoline it almost felt like you were watching fireworks.
We had a private screening of the film, and I was worried about being called a traitor because I showed these soldiers crying. But instead this woman came up to me after and said "Until now, it was just my own opinion about war. But now I'm starting to think a little differently about my two little kids and my sister's boy who has to go into the army next year. I'm started to reconsider my priorities." Here was a woman on the right side of the political map, but a movie changed her priorities. That gave me a serious sense of achievement.