BEIRUT: As an investment banker and former mechanical engineering student, Nadim Lahoud may not seem the most likely creator of last year’s hit web series, MAMNOU3, a mockumentary poking fun at Lebanon’s censorship bureau. The 10-part series, which was funded by the European Union and created with the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, proved so popular that a second is underway.
At a talk by the Samir Kassir foundation late in 2011 on the issue of censorship, Lahoud listened to a long list of movies which had been banned, along with the official reason.
“Some of it was so utterly ridiculous that the whole conference room was bursting out laughing. But I then thought to myself: How can something so ridiculous be going on without anyone stopping it? Without someone making fun of it?”
The series looks at the farcical daily goings on at General Security’s censorship office, and how individual preoccupations can affect which movies make it onto Lebanon’s big screens, and the mad bureaucracy which even student playwrights must go through.
The issue piqued Lahoud’s interest as, he says, “Censorship becomes even more dangerous in a country like ours, still reeling from the wounds and hatreds of an all too recent civil war. Art, and particularly film, has a critical role to play in reconciliation efforts.
“Post-apartheid South Africa is a popular example of this. In Lebanon however, this role is being blocked by censorship authorities in the name of the ‘preservation of civil peace.’”
Lahoud, who is a founding member of Tajaddod Youth, a burgeoning secular political group, took a sabbatical from his job in London to create the first series, but will likely monitor the second from afar.
He might consider a permanent return to Lebanon, should opportunities to provoke change arise, opportunities which, he says, can quickly snowball.
“These are not as rare as you might think and one opportunity can quickly lead to another, which is why I return quite frequently.”
However, he adds, “these opportunities rarely present themselves on a silver plate. Like MAMNOU3 they have to be built before being explored and there are inevitable obstacles that must be overcome.”
He will next return to Lebanon should the elections go ahead. “It will be the first time I am of age to vote and I intend to put the Lebanon I want to see in the ballot box.”
After the second series of MAMNOU3 is completed, Lahoud is keen to tackle other Lebanon-specific issues in a similar way.
“No one is immune to ridicule – I intend to prove that and to produce some good comedy in the process.”
In terms of challenging the existing order of things in Lebanon, Lahoud believes that, “We must not be afraid to attack the status quo directly and call it out for what it is: totally unacceptable – or in the case of censorship: totally ridiculous.”
But it’s also crucial to develop an idea of the Lebanon to come. “Naming and shaming will only take us so far. It is also important to have a clear idea of the republic we want to build,” he says.
“The current establishment has shown that it is incapable of reforming itself so we cannot shy away from pushing agendas forward ourselves.”