Tuesday, July 6, 2021 at 7pm
Christian Ghazi's A Hundred Faces for a Single Day

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Kaleem Hawa

A Hundred Faces for a Single Day, Christian Ghazi, 1972, digital projection, 64 mins

In his last transmission to the world before his assassination earlier this week, Nizar Banat did what had become habit for him: He criticized the Palestinian elite. The missive, filmed on a cellphone and released on social media, excoriated the Palestinian Authority for their recent failures to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Calling them “experts in corruption,” Banat added that betrayal and theft were historical habitats of the Palestinian upper classes, who have always sided against their people and the Arabs who support them. He cited as an example the story of Nasser Al Saeed, a critic of the Saudi Arabian monarchy who was abducted in 1979 from Beirut’s Hamra Street by a corrupt Fatah official and handed in to the Saudis for “some dirhams,” or a few dollars. Angered by Banat’s activism, the Palestinian Authority, in coordination with the Israeli state, arrested him from his home in al-Khalil, later claiming that his health “had deteriorated” in their custody, after he turned up dead.

Like many before him, Banat had identified what Kwame Nkrumah has theorized as the “semi-independent state” condition in neo-colonial projects: in effect, the Palestinian Authority, designed by Oslo to be an arm of the Israeli government, has become its most effective enforcer, a cabal of Israeli wards deputized to arrest and torture the Palestinian working classes with financial abetment from the West. For a Palestinian people besieged on all sides, the Palestinian Authority has become a logical target for revolutionary insurrection; this week, thousands took to the streets across occupied Palestine, agitating for the removal of the president and his band of traitor-collaborators.

There is no better time, then, to revisit one of the most searing indictments of the Arab bourgeoisie: A Hundred Faces for a Single Day, directed by Beirut filmmaker Christian Gazi. An experimental documentarian and spiky Communist, Ghazi (b. 1934) grew up in Lebanon, ensconced in a country whose elite predations rival pretty much any in the world. (More buildings were destroyed by prime minister Rafic Hariri’s neoliberal rebuilding project in downtown Beirut than in the almost twenty years of civil war that preceded it.) Commissioned by the Lebanese Information Ministry in 1964, Ghazi produced twelve documentaries about Lebanon; in one, he overlaid scenes of the monied Beirut classes in the Casino du Liban alongside audio recordings of peasants in North Lebanon, in a wicked subversion. These earlier films were ultimately banned and burned by the Lebanese authorities for their sedition, including a 1967 adaptation of a Bertolt Brecht play.

Disgusted by Lebanon and energized by the 1967 Naksa (the Palestinian Setback), Ghazi joined the Palestinian liberation movement, taking part in covert military efforts inside the occupied territories, and filming the labors with a handheld camera. The resulting films possess a nationalist fervor, and perhaps a lack of critical distance; some of Ghazi’s films in the ‘60s and ‘70s were produced under the auspices of the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), which firmly places him in an avant-garde secular tradition that includes figures like the Iraqi filmmaker Kassem Hawal, whose Back to Haifa (1982) remains one of the most important Palestinian films ever made. Ghazi paid a high price for his project: In 1988, his home was destroyed and again all of his film negatives were burned, including Death in Lebanon (1976) and A Fighter in the Rain (1983). In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, Ghazi recalls the day they ruined his life’s work: “They destroyed me, but I continued.”

Throughout his films, Ghazi was committed to the dispossessed and peasant classes, highlighting the stories of tobacco farmers in southern Lebanon and Palestinian refugees in Beirut and factory workers in Jordan. Of particular interest was the degradation of Palestinian organized labor by the Palestinian upper classes, in a multi-decade effort concomitant with Zionist attempts to destroy the Communist Party in Israel. (The result is today’s reality: A united front against the working classes from the river to the sea.)

The only remaining film from his early career, A Hundred Faces for a Single Day is Ghazi’s “cinematic manifesto,” long-thought to be destroyed, but rediscovered in Damascus by Lebanese filmmaker Rami Sabbagh. The film slowly unravels the logics of elite capture, exploring timeless themes of political insularity, apathy, and deceit, while staking out new surrealist audiovisual territory for Arabic cinema. Part documentary, part discontinuous narrative feature, Faces is unlike anything I have seen from this period: A reinvention of militant cinema, a stunning attack on bourgeois Beirut, and, somehow, a depiction of their mutually-reinforcing duality—the revolution and its pallbearers.

- KH

Kaleem Hawa writes about art, film, and literature.

Tickets - $8, available at door, cash and cards accepted. Box office opens at 6:30pm.