Monika Borgmann's telephone has been ringing off the hook since she ignored a Lebanese ban to show an Oscar-nominated film made in Israel about the Jewish state's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
"There is a real interest in this film," said the German-born Borgmann, who recently held a private screening of "Waltz with Bashir" for about 90 people at the southern Beirut production center she co-founded with her Lebanese husband, Lokman Slim.
The couple only invited 40 friends to the screening Ñ not looking to attract attention Ñ but others tagged along. "People were really touched by the movie," said Borgmann, who has been fielding calls from even more people who want to see it.
Israeli army veteran
The film centers on an Israeli army veteran who interviews fellow soldiers to restore his cloudy memory about the invasion and the massacre of hundreds of people in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied with Israel. The war and subsequent 18-year occupation killed thousands of Lebanese civilians and evoked comparisons in Israel with America's ordeal in Vietnam.
"I think it is important to see this film," said Borgmann, who brought the movie to Lebanon from Germany. This film deals "with a kind of common history and the massacre of Sabra and Chatilla is a common history for Lebanon, the Palestinians and Israelis."
But many in Lebanon may never see the movie, which won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film and has been nominated for an Oscar in the same category. Lebanon and Israel are still officially at war and all Israeli products are banned in the country. Lebanese citizens are also banned from traveling to Israel or having contact with Israelis.
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the stated intention of driving Palestinian guerrillas out of south Lebanon. But then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon took the military much further, battling halfway through the country into Beirut, engaging the Syrian army and occupying south Lebanon until 2000.
Attacking and carrying out air strikes on guerrillas in heavily populated areas, Israeli forces killed nearly 20,000 people, mostly noncombatants, and displaced 800,000, according to Lebanon's government and international organizations. While Israeli soldiers were deployed outside the Sabra and Chatilla camps, Lebanese Christian militiamen entered and massacred around 800 Palestinians.
The massacres shocked the Lebanese people and led to Sharon's resignation as defense minister after an Israeli government-appointed commission found him indirectly responsible for the killings. Many Lebanese were surprised when Sharon became Israel's prime minister in 2001.
The Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps are only about a mile away from Haret Hreik, a stronghold of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah that emerged in the 1980s in response to the Israeli invasion. The Beirut suburb once housed Hezbollah's headquarters, which was heavily bombed during the month-long war between the militant group and Israel in 2006.
The film's director, Ari Folman, said he was happy his work was shown in Beirut.
"The movie may have no effect on the decision makers, but 90 people saw it in Lebanon and that is wonderful," the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Folman as saying. Borgmann said she was not especially concerned about reprisals from the Lebanese government or Hezbollah for showing the movie. "I do not see why there should be a reason," she said. "I mean we did not organize a film festival where we screened this film. It was a private screening for some friends."
Information Minister Tarek Mitri, who is a strong opponent of censorship, said it was officially illegal to show the movie in Lebanon but acknowledged people could still download it from the Internet.