Bridging two cultures: Filmmaker Maryanne Zhil tells stories from the inside

April 04, 2013   |   posted in


In 1982, Maryanne Zéhil was a 12 year-old girl in Lebanon. That’s when Lebanese Christian militiamen entered Beirut's Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps, raping and killing hundreds—possibly thousands—of innocent civilians. It is considered the bloodiest single incident of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

That brutal event was one of “the too many horrible events that punctuated my childhood in Lebanon during the war,” says Zéhil. Years later, in 2001, a friend attempted to prosecute the criminals, and Zéhil decided that she would film the process for a documentary. But circumstances and political pressure won out, and the case was dismissed.

Since she had already pored a lot of time and effort into her film project, she “became very passionate about the subject; it was not an option for me to let go of it.” She decided to fictionalize the story and make it into a feature film. “Because all the victims of the massacres were denied justice, I thought maybe by telling this story, I … could share in the recognition of their suffering and [offer them] hopefully solace for their legitimate frustrations,” she says.

Her film, “The Valley of Tears,” is the story of a 12 year-old boy who survives the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon.

Zéhil, who now lives in Canada, knows both Middle Eastern and North American cultures. “Since I lived in both societies … I modestly believe that I can be a bridge between them … like telling the story from the inside.”

And so far her audiences have truly related to her inside story. The film has screened at several festivals to sold-out audiences. “I was overwhelmed by the reception and the reaction that [the film] has provoked,” she says.

One story that sticks in her mind occurred at the Dubai International Film Festival. A Palestinian woman came up to her after seeing the film. She was crying while telling her that “The Valley of Tears” is “the most deeply moving film about Palestinians she ever saw.” Zéhil recounts. “I had to repeat twice that I was not Palestinian, because for her, I was ‘one of them’ since I could understand deeply … what they have being through.”

She says that she is “blessed” by all the poignant reactions to her film. That is “the most rewarding thing in life.”

Zéhil hopes that “The Valley of Tears” will entertain audiences as much as it will “bring to your heart some of my understanding of the Middle East.”

– Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo by Bob Reiland

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Related Screenings:
04/04/13 @ 9:20 PM – The Valley of Tears
04/05/13 @ 4:05 PM – The Valley of Tears
04/06/13 @ 11:00 AM – The Valley of Tears

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