Montreal Gazette

Montreal Gazette, Blogs , Arts, The Cine Files
November 16, 2013

By Liz Ferguson

RIDM  (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) 2013: A documentary reveals forgotten history of The Lebanese Rocket Society

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Lebanon once had a space program.
Who knew?

That’s what The Lebanese Rocket Society is about – the program itself and how it came to be forgotten, considering that it was such a big deal at the time, was covered by newspapers and TV and was even honoured on Lebanese stamps.

After quite a bit of research, and a trip to Tampa, Florida, filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discover that in the late 1950s, Manoug Manougian, a professor at a small Armenian-language college in Beirut, started a rocket club as a way to make science appealing to his students. Their first “baby rockets” were launched (or not, sometimes they just fizzled) in the mountains above the city. But after a rocket almost hit a church, the military told them when and where they could operate.

Soon, members of the military were helping in various ways, and the government was funding the project quite generously, though Manougian remained in control. His interest was purely scientific – he did not want to make a weapon, though the army guys certainly did. As a small country surrounded by larger, more powerful neighbours, Lebanon was in a vulnerable position. On the other hand, precisley because Lebanon was small, a rocket could more easily reach some of those neighbours – a fact that was not lost on them.

The Lebanese Rocket Society (the film) mixes history, humour, tragedy and espionage with generous helpings of “what if?”

I quite liked it myself, though I now see that there are several unenthusiastic review on the Internet. I’m glad that I did not see those reviews sooner, since they might well have scared me away from watching the film.

The Lebanese Rocket Society, directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, is 95 minutes long, in French, English and Arabic, with French subtitles. Director Khalil Joreige will introduce the films and answer questions after the screening, Saturday, Nov. 16, 3 p.m. at Cinema du Parc. It’s being shown as part of RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.

There will be a free reading in connection with the film, at 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16, at the festival’s headquarters, 3450 St. Urbain St.

RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs until Nov. 24, 2013. For more information about the festival, its films and guests,

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