Director’s statement [extract]
March 2020, the Great Lockdown. Louise, French-Lebanese expatriate in London rejoins her family home in France. One afternoon, she plunges herself in a nostalgic frenzy, watching home videos with her parents.
One of them catches her attention. Murr TV Studios in Naccache, Beirut, September 4th 2002. A 6 minutes recording of her 5-year-old-self participating in 90’s MENA’s leading kids show; Mini Studio. Filmed sneakily backstage, this short life extract triggers an observation by her parents. “You know this episode never made it on TV, right?”
A minute comment that will settle Louise on a quest to find out about what happened to this episode’s tape and why it never got broadcasted.
My starting point ‘came to me’ as an epiphany of awakening. Striking me like thunder, I couldn’t get past it. The image is this: a TV broadcasting set, filled with Lebanese kids aged 5-12, in MTV Lebanon (Murr Television, not to be confused with MTV us/uk) studios in Beirut’s outskirts.
The red hue of Mini Studio’s logo fills in the room. The backdrops, the shirts all the kids are wearing. The exact instant a kid is pointed at intensely by a cameraman. The lens almost touches his face as the technician gets an extreme close up of the kid smiling and singing. Next to him, there’s me, aged 5, visibly confused and fascinated by the situation.
This is this exact instant, this flash of event, that I saw as I was waking up.
This ‘archive’ footage I’m describing here sits between the public and private sphere. My familial context and the more global societal, historical context in Lebanon.
“How?”, you may ask.
The following day at 5pm, MTV studios was raided by the Syrian army and Lebanese police. All journalists and staff got kicked out, live on television. Accused of “illicit propaganda” and “disturbing the relations of Lebanon with a brother country (Syria)”, this independent channel was “closed permanently” until 2009. These accusations were the result of MTV’s documentation and broadcast of protests against the Syrian regime earlier in 2001/2002.
WHO AND WHY?
As a kid (in the early 2000s), I participated in the Lebanese kids show Mini Studio, broadcast from Murr TV (MTV) Studios in Beirut. Thinking back about this show, I became interested in its particular identity: a 30 year-old programme from Beirut, accessible to children in all the MENA area and around the world thanks to satellite television, along with the use of 3 interlaced languages (French, Arabic and English) in broadcasts.
MiniStudio is also 22 musicals, 300 characters, 220 songs, summer camps, shopping mall activations, parties… It was a ‘first' in the Middle-East, a cultural anchor for kids in the region, including the kids who were part of its diaspora. Appearing just after the war ended in 1990, the shows birth was more than unlikely. How do you address an audience of children who are potentially traumatised and/or growing up in conflicting geopolitical situations?
The ‘subject’, Mini Studio, is part of a collective memory. It does not belong to me. It doesn’t even belong to its ‘creator’, who, over time, has lost all copyright. It became part of a shared experience. Legitimatised by the fact that this was a kids show, a public service broadcast for the masses.
Starting from this archive, the idea for this short experimental documentary was then born from a personal and professional inquiry triggered in my practice: “Where do I belong?”
WHAT AND HOW?
I have put together an archive around Mini Studio’s story, focusing my research between 1992 and 2002. Many of the recordings from that period were lost, erased or destroyed with MTV’s forced shutdown in 2002*. The archival material is sparse and full of gaps. I nourished it with testimonials from people who were creators and/or viewers of the program, documentations of the geopolitical context surrounding it, along with exchanges around Arab Futurism (imagining speculative narratives for a generation seeking out a “better life”). Through this investigation, I attempt to tackle the subjects of diasporic identity construction and censorship/tensions in children’s TV.
After amassing this data, I decided to work on a short experimental documentary to transpose this research. By using nostalgia as a universal thread for sharing this story and Mini Studio as a case study to catalyse my inquiries, I attempt to instigate a conversation rather than putting a specific show ‘on trial’.
*(until its reopening, only 7 years later in March 2009, after complicated political discussions and parliament votes).