Lebanon’s relatively brief history is littered with significant dates – an independence day, a massacre anniversary, a liberation, an assassination.
It no doubt speaks to something (the digital precision of today? an overcrowded calendar?) that the most recent outrage likely to live on in infamy may be remembered not as a date, but a time.
As the tickers of the video footage remind us, it was 6:07 p.m. when a fire billowing from Beirut Port on Aug. 4, 2020, ignited a quantity of ammonium nitrate and unleashed one of the bigger nonnuclear explosions to wreck a swath of city. That time has since become the title of a series of 15 short fictions now airing on Shahed, the streaming service of the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based network MBC.
Not to be confused with these fictions is “Beirut 6:07,” the latest documentary of veteran filmmaker Carol Mansour.
“Beirut 6:07” is of a piece with Mansour’s “A COVID-eo Diary,” completed in April and released as part of “Living in Times of Coronavirus,” a series of lockdown shorts by several Lebanese filmmakers, posted online by the digital media platform Daraj.
In its visual aesthetic, first-person documentary approach, and association with Daraj, “Beirut 6:07” looks very much like a follow-up to the earlier work. What makes it distinct other than its length (at 17 minutes, it’s about three times as long) is the emotion driving it.
Set among the cluster of friends and relatives with whom the filmmaker shared lockdown, the springtime work is tinged with sadness and fear. Driven by rage that mounts as the footage of smashed buildings and the stories of dead and broken victims accumulate, this autumnal doc is a cinematic curse. Its target is Lebanon’s political class.
The film begins and ends with sounds of broken glass. It starts with the camera operator’s footfalls upon a glass-strewn pavement and concludes with a scene of men in coveralls throwing window shards into a dumpster.
“Broken glass reminds me of the Civil War,” Mansour’s voiceover begins. She shares a couple of explosion anecdotes from 1975 and 2007 before replaying a series of port blast videos, shot from sufficient distance to show the dome of the shockwave expanding through the humid air. The first of several survival anecdotes follows.
Several more blast videos, shot from different perspectives, and survivors’ stories litter Mansour’s doc, playing out against her ruminations upon the dismal, catastrophe-riddled year of 2020.
“This is not the first time everything ended,” she muses in voiceover. “… but this time, with this explosion, I feel everything is really finished.”
“The number of times we’re expected to get up optimistically and rebuild,” a female voiceover remarks. “There’s something sick about that, when we should be feeling nothing but rage.”
Disembodied voices reflect upon the utter refusal of the ruling elite to make any gesture of consolation to the dead and missing, the injured and displaced. Their absence is juxtaposed with footage of the security apparatus’ energetic response to the first mass demonstration after the blast – their ecstatic use of batons, water cannon, teargas and whatever was dispensed from the shotguns some troopers carried.
“I’m sick of saying ‘thank god we’re still alive,’” Mansour says, anger palpable. “I don’t want us to be the people who pick ourselves up time after time. Damn the phoenix. I hate it as much as they’ve made me hate the word ‘resilience.’”