Myra Abdallah

Love & War on the Rooftop - the Documentary

The cast and organizers of "Love and War on the Rooftop." (Courtesy of Lea Baroudi)
"Love and War on the Rooftop - the Documentary" will screen at Centre Sofil from 10-12 November at 7:30 PM. (Courtesy of Lea Baroudi)
The cast and organizers of "Love and War on the Rooftop." (Courtesy of Lea Baroudi)
"Love and War on the Rooftop - the Documentary" will screen at Centre Sofil from 10-12 November at 7:30 PM. (Courtesy of Lea Baroudi)

“Love and War on the Rooftop” is a Tripolitan tale that tells the story of youths from Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, who met directly after the clashes between the two areas ended. Lea Baroudi, a founding member of the MARCH organization, developed the project to break the ice between young people between 16 and 25 years old who fought each other during the clashes in Tripoli. These youths got together and created a play by the same name, rated a massive success.


Baroudi felt, however, that the audience needed to know more about these people than what the play revealed in and of itself. Thus “Love and War on the Rooftop – The Documentary” was born. The film, directed by Samer Ghorayeb, explicates the process the actors went through before they began to tolerate one another and become friends. NOW sits down with Lea Baroudi learn more about the play and the documentary, which will be screened on 10, 11 and 12 November at 7:30 PM.



NOW: Tell us more about what led to “Love and War on the Rooftop” the play?


Baroudi: In February 2015, a month after the security plan started to take place and the situation in Tripoli calmed down, we went to Tripoli to see how we could implement the project we’d had in mind for a while. We did a lot of castings and auditions there to get 16 young people aged between 16 and 25 years old, half of them from Jabal Mohsen and the other half from Bab al-Tabbaneh. We wanted them to act in a comedy play inspired by their lives. Most of the people who joined the project had participated in the clashes against each other. All of them were unemployed and the majority of them had left school at an early age. We got Lucien Bourjeily on board with us, who agreed to write and direct the play and started theater rehearsals with them — team building, communication, leadership skills and other training.


We performed the play in June 2015 in Tripoli. Half of the audience was from Jabal Mohsen and the other half was from Bab al-Tabbaneh. The play is a comedy because the people who participated were fighting their miserable conditions and they want to enjoy life. We had a lot of funny moments while preparing for the play, so it was automatically a comedy that had to be done. It is a play within a play. It is a story of a theater director from Tripoli that has to do an adaptation of Romeo and Juliette but a Jabal Mohsen vs. Bab al-Tabbaneh version. The whole play is about the rehearsals for the performance.



NOW: How long did you work with these young people and how hard was it?


Baroudi: We worked with them for five months. In the beginning, some of them would come to rehearsals with their weapons, ready to start fighting. Many others did not want to come, especially that they were not paid. They didn’t take it seriously in the beginning. We knew later on that they agreed to join the project because they were pressured and motivated by the community leaders and local organizations we reached out to for help recruiting these people.


The first few days were very hard. A lot of them came late or did not come at all. But when they knew what the project was all about and that the play would be inspired by their lives, they started to come and share their stories with others. When they started sharing their stories, they realized that they were alike — they had the same problems, the same fears. They loved in the same ways, they have the same miserable living conditions, etc. This is when they started to bond and become friends.



NOW: What’s the core message behind this project?


Baroudi: First, what we were trying to do with this project was to highlight the root cause of the problems in Tripoli that are not ideological or sectarian but economic. The main problem is the lack of development, job opportunities or any life opportunities, which pushes the fact that these people are being manipulated and led to use violence. The second message is to highlight the fact that we always have an image of other people and we consider them monsters and not like us. What we wanted to show through this project is that the other whom we label is exactly like us, just another victim of circumstances. If we are put in the same conditions as the others, God knows how we would become.



NOW: Was Zeina Daccache’s use of drama therapy with vulnerable people an inspiration to you?


Baroudi: I was definitely inspired by Zeina Daccache’s work. She uses art and drama therapy for rehabilitation and I fell in love with her work, especially the documentary “Twelve Angry Lebanese.” Since I also work on conflict resolution and I always believed that art can solve problems, I wanted to apply art to conflict resolution as well, and not just rehabilitation. The choice of Lucien was because he is specialized in improvisation theater and we wanted the people acting in the play to be themselves while doing it — to bring out their own personalities.


We chose Tripoli because it was a place of conflicts where two ideologies were fighting each other. It was a place where we could mix art and conflict resolution methods at the same time. I was also inspired by a documentary that was done in Palestine, and unfortunately the guy who started this project was killed later on. In terms of conflict resolution, this documentary was highly inspiring to me.



NOW: How did you get the idea for the documentary?


Baroudi: When we were preparing for the play, we realized that the people we were working with are very talented, but what people couldn’t see in the play is the hard work these people did and where they come from. This is why we decided from the beginning to film everything that we did — the casting, the rehearsals, the interviews with the young people in their homes, etc. We did that to help the audience look behind the scenes and to show not only how these people became friends — which became easy the second they started to know each other in an environment that is not similar to theirs – but also why these people got to where they were and why they were using violence, especially that some of them reached a certain level of extremism were thinking of joining the Nusra Front at some point. We also wanted to highlight the ease and the rapidity at which these people became friends, changed their mindset and reconciled. That was scary at the same time because the opposite is also true.



NOW: What sort of feedback have you received since the launch?


Baroudi: I am amazed with the feedback I received. I worked very hard on this documentary — I was very involved in every part of it, even in the editing process and direction. Because I worked on this project since day one, I was scared because I did not know how people would react to it and whether they would relate to it or not. It was amazing to see people who were watching it laughing and crying at the same time.



NOW: What are your future projects?


Baroudi: We never stopped working with this group of people. We enlarged the group and now we are teaching them how to write and produce and direct their own sketches and plays. In fact, before we screened the movie, they did a small sketch on their own to talk about the process that led to the play — from the first phone call they received to attend the casting.


I wanted to do something sustainable for them, so we’re opening a cultural café exactly on the frontlines between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen. They will be working to paint it and install electrical wires since they know how to do it. The main goal of the café is to create a space for people from both areas and work together; where they can write and perform their own plays and shows. It will be a place that will provide them with a little bit of money from selling coffee and other beverages and will be a space for them to express themselves.


We are always scared of clashes but this will not stop us from going on with our projects. Even the participants are receiving a lot of threats for talking to each other and they are being treated as traitors, but they are still planning to go on with their projects.


We are planning similar other projects, but we still need time to elaborate on them. These projects might take place, for example, between Arsal and Labweh or between Dahiyeh and Tarik al-Jadide.


NOW: How important is it to use the arts as a means of serving society?


Baroudi: I think arts and culture are the solution for all social problems. It is very important that art becomes accessible for everybody. It should not be elitist. From what we have seen and the results that our project is giving, I think art should become more popular because it is the only tool that we have today in our hands and that we can use against violence and weapons. Art is not only about development and investments but it is also our tool as individuals to improve our society.


Myra Abdallah tweets @myraabdallah

The cast and organizers of "Love and War on the Rooftop." (Courtesy of Lea Baroudi)

What we wanted to show through this project is that the other whom we label is exactly like us, just another victim of circumstances. If we are put in the same conditions as the others, God knows how we would become."