PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Eighteen months after the outbreak of Israel’s war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, filmmakers from both countries have brought movies conveying frustration over the conflict to the Sundance Film Festival.
Israel’s “Strangers” and Lebanon’s “Under the Bombs” are vying with 14 others for best world dramatic film at Sundance, the top U.S. independent movie festival and a growing influence on world filmmaking. Awards will be announced on Saturday.
While “Under the Bombs” puts the conflict at the forefront of its story, with a woman searching for her son amid the rubble of southern Lebanon, the war is the backdrop of a love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian in “Strangers.”
The Israeli directors were filming their love story during the 2006 World Cup soccer championship in Germany when they heard two Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped by Hezbollah.
Israel began bombing southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded with rocket attacks on Israel, and the directors went home briefly to take stock of the new situation.
The war lasted 34 days and killed some 1,200 people, the majority of whom were civilians in Lebanon.
“It completely changed our plans and the second part of the movie was the war,” said Guy Nattiv, who co-wrote and co-directed “Strangers” with Erez Tadmor. “But it was important for us to maintain the love story.”
Much of “Strangers” takes place at the Palestinian woman’s home in Paris where her Israeli lover finds hostility among her friends to his presence and his country’s bombing of Lebanon.
He is drafted into the war and must decide whether to return to Israel or pursue a relationship fraught with obstacles.
For “Under the Bombs,” Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi shot a day of footage of the bombings before evacuating from Beirut with his family on a French ship.
“I was feeling anger and hatred and I needed to not fall into that, but transform this into a creative act,” Aractingi told Reuters. “It’s a tough, dramatic film, and not funny, but it is still a positive response.”
He returned two days after the cease-fire was declared with a film synopsis and a handful of actors. He relied heavily on improvisation and local people to tell the story.
His movie opens with a wealthy woman returning to Lebanon and hiring the only taxi driver willing to travel to the country’s southern region to search for her sister and six-year-old son.
They encounter bombed out roads that make them take circuitous routes, finally ending up in her birth village where many have died and few homes are standing. They pick up a few murky clues to her son’s whereabouts, which keep her wavering between hope and desperation.
Slowly, the woman and taxi driver grow closer and comfort each other despite class differences and her initial aloofness. They cry in a cemetery about the personal costs of wars that have plagued Lebanon for more than 30 years.
“Under the Bombs” won a human rights award at the Venice Film Festival, which Aractingi says validated it as a “human film, not a political one.”
The Israeli directors of “Strangers” also expressed the need to make their film more human than political.
“The new generation of filmmakers wants to reconcile and solve problems,” said Nattiv. “We are not left and not right.”
And like Aractingi, Nattiv and Tadmor said putting the conflict on film was cathartic. “It is hard for us, but we deal with it with cinema,” said Nattiv.