Lebanon: The Youth Roll is a participatory arts project exploring the multiple and often competing ways in which the legacy of Lebanon’s civil war continues to impact society today. The civil war lasted for 15 years, between 1975 and 1990. It was a hugely complex conflict, involving shifting religious and political alliances and causing widespread displacement of the population, with Lebanon providing the location for a conflict that spread far beyond its borders, a product of tensions in the geopolitics of the Cold War, on the one hand, and their particular manifestations in the Middle East on the other.
The focus of our project is on how this legacy is experienced by diverse communities of young people in Lebanon today. This is a generation that might have no direct knowledge of, or contact with this war, but who live in a society that has been fundamentally shaped by it. The project’s title draws on filmmaking terminology. In order to make a good film that tells a fully-rounded story you need different type of footage, generally termed ‘A Roll’ (or the main footage) and ‘B Roll’ (or supplementary footage that helps to enhance the story being told by the ‘A Roll’). In our project we’re looking to bring in a new dimension to the story of Lebanon’s troubled past that will raise awareness of questions the participants feel have largely been ignored by the mainstream media. Hence our project focuses on generating ‘Youth Roll’.
This project, in turn, is part of a wider group of projects that form the Open World Research Initiative (OWRI) project Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Communities, led at the University of Manchester by Professor Stephen Hutchings. In particular Lebanon: The Youth Roll supports the Transnational Strand of this project, co-led at Durham University by Professors Andy Byford (MLAC) and Anoush Ehteshami (SGIA). The starting point for The Youth Roll was earlier work carried out by the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures for this OWRI project on how changes in the production, distribution and consumption of audio-visual texts have created opportunities for ‘subaltern’ voices to express their cultural and linguistic identity, acknowledging the influence of global north cultural conglomerates in shaping who can be heard. In this subsequent project we want to explore how digital media can be used to investigate the plurality of conflict landscapes in Lebanon, and the ways in which young people might co-create new narratives through creative practices that can challenge dominant discourse of war and silence.
The filmmaking part of the project began with a workshop where the young people involved were introduced to the principles of video production. Here's a short film giving some initial thoughts from the project team about how the week went. This film was shot and edited by the media students of the American University of Beirut.
The first purpose of the films was to generate dialogue across the group, to help people reflect on the different experiences of past conflicts that co-exist in Lebanon today, how these experiences are inflected by different community perspectives and what we can learn from each other. This project, and the insights learnt from the work it has produced are also feeding into the British Council's ongoing reflections about how it supports young people to become Active Citizens in and beyond Lebanon.
Some of the films were also selected to be shown as part of the Changing the Story international film festival. This also gave a platform for some of the filmmakers to introduce their work to an international audience, and for one person to take part in an international Q&A with other filmmakers working on similar projects around the world.