Alum screens award-winning film

April 03, 2022
Joining Northwestern Qatar for a community screening of her award-winning film, When Beirut Was Beirut, Alessandra El Chanti BSc ’19 and MFA ’21 discussed how it portrays the 1975 civil war in Lebanon and its toll on the Lebanese people who witnessed it and the generations that followed.
El Chanti’s animated documentary features a fictional dialogue between some of Beirut’s monumental buildings that existed before the civil war, lively and flourishing but are now abandoned and out of place, capturing the city’s thriving past and troubled present.
In a conversation moderated by Professor Sami Hermez, El Chanti, a Lebanese filmmaker, who was born and raised in Qatar, explained how the void the buildings now represent inspired her to create the film. “I resonated with these buildings because I felt like they have a void in them,” said El Chanti. “I shared the same void they felt—the void I have in me is the lack of having a strong connection to where I’m from, simply because I have never lived there.”
Growing up in the late 1990s, El Chanti was exposed to stories of the civil war in her home country throughout her childhood. “I grew up with people and my family members sharing their stories and their families’ stories about the war,” said El Chanti, who, in pointing to the effects it has on her identity, noted that “the civil war never ended; it is literally embedded in our identity.”

“Everyone in my family had their own side of the story,” added the filmmaker, who was inspired to pursue the film when she learned about the buildings during her visit to Lebanon in the winter break of her final year at Northwestern Qatar. El Chanti went on to film the documentary as part of her master’s program at Northwestern University in Evanston. There, she focused on documenting how the civil war affected the people who lived through it and also the generations that followed.

In highlighting the purpose of her film, which won the Badr Jury section award for best short film at the 2021 Ajyal Film Festival, she said she hopes it brings to light undiscussed aspects of the war while at the same time allowing her to discover other elements of her identity. “It is through my storytelling that I learn more about my identity,” said El Chanti. “I embrace my identity through research about Lebanon and through Lebanese cinema. They are a huge part of the stories I tell and the stories I choose to tell.

A double Northwestern alumna, El Chanti graduated with a degree in communication from Northwestern Qatar in 2019, followed by a Master of Fine Arts in documentary media from Northwestern’s School of Communication two years later. El Chanti recently returned to Northwestern Qatar as an admissions specialist, working with an expanded admissions team on recruiting aspiring storytellers, media professionals, and filmmakers from the region and across the globe, as well as designing and instructing pre-college programs tailored for high school students interested in media theory and production.