THE STRANGER´S CEMETERY is a story about a Lebanese village where cancer spreads from toxic river water while
government authorities put blame on refugees living along the river banks. It's a documentary film about nature, community and death.
I filmed and directed The Strangers’ Cemetery while living and studying in Lebanon for one year. It was the year leading up to the revolution and before the disastrous explosion in the port of Beirut. Albeit my heart is with the Lebanese people, this is not a film about these very significant events. Other filmmakers, much more capable and relevant than a white European male such as myself, will tell the stories that need to be told.The Strangers’ Cemetery evolved for me from two quite simple but horrifying realisations: That the destruction of the Earth’s nature and environment is also a destruction of memory, hope and belonging; and that this destruction is not equally divided around the world.
I came to realise that those whose destiny is most linked to environmental destruction are those "who are turned away, deported, expelled; the clandestine, the “undocumented”
Hauch al-Rafaq is a small village located in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley, an area controlled by Hezbollah. It's an area marked by exclusion from the political system and poverty - not least since the devastating economic crash in the country. A bookkeeper welcomes us. He's making little money on his goods with the inflation - and he links the polluted Litani River to a curse running through the entire country. A pollution of body and society.
While villagers fear who cancer might hit next, Dr Sami, head of the Litani River Authorities, follows his own logics combatting the rapid spread of this disease. Unable to touch the old plastic factory leaking chemicals into the Litani, he's instead bulldozing refugee camps near the river, exploiting an air of xenophobia. And promoting himself as a hero.
Nature and death intertwine at the Strangers' Cemetery, where a gravedigger tries to keep up ancient Islamic traditions while others are trying to make money on the dead. With closed borders and no end in sight to the downward economic spiral, the caretaker remembers the decaying corpses of the last civil war and wonders what might come next.
- the intruders and castoffs from humanity that we want to get rid of because we think that, between them and us, there is nothing worth saving, and that they fundamentally pose a threat to our lives, our health, our well-being” (Achille Mbembe).Western media- and political narratives frustrate me; both on the so-called Middle Eastern region — and on the topic of refugees in particular. By contrasting death and nature, refuge and belonging, I invite the viewer to explore other narratives than those presented by the media — with the hope that it may transpire ideas and imaginings of a more positive future.