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The Daily Star
February 24, 2004

Lebanese environmental film wins prize at Tunis festival 

‘Cry Of The Mediterranean ' aims to increase awareness of dangers of pollution

By Tania Tavoukjian

A Lebanese film on environmental pollution called “The Cry Of The Mediterranean” has been awarded the prize for environmental film of the year at the Kirwan International Environmental Festival.

A total of 72 different films from 23 countries were entered in the festival, which took place in Tunis between February 8-14. 

The Cry Of The Mediterranean won the award for the best environmental film for the year 2004, the first time a Lebanese film has won such a prize. It is a great accomplishment for the seven students from Greenfield International College who made the film. 

The film started as a research project and turned into a 22-minute documentary. It uses sea creatures from Disney's Little Mermaid, who explain the obstacles they face living in Lebanese waters. 

The film was directed by Majdi Bou Mattar and animated by Elie Karam, and tries to show that improving the quality of water involves everyone. It also shows that many creatures are suffering because of people's ignorance. 

The last century has shown that environmental preservation is the responsibility of every man, woman and child on the planet. The damage we cause to it will take far longer to repair than the time it takes to inflict, if it can be repaired at all. The film says that it is obvious that humanity needs to understand the consequences of carelessly polluting its ecosystem. 

It is unfortunate that development, pollution from a variety of industries sewage canals and other wastes dumped into the sea, as well as ignorance are all threats to the health of our shorelines and water sources, not to mention to the health of human beings and wildlife. 

Unknowingly, many of our actions deplete or pollute ground water resources and affect surface waters - rivers, lakes, wetlands, streams and finally Lebanon 's picturesque Mediterranean Sea . 

Seven students from Greenfiled College Ilham Rida, Ali Kashmar, Mayas Msheik, Waed and Dima Hajj Sleiman, Abbas Kaakoush and Ghian Abas all aged between 15 and 17, began a research project to investigate the condition of Lebanon's environment called “Greenfield for Greenfields.” Their aim was to uncover the serious environmental threats affecting Lebanon 's environment. 

“We initially contacted the Green Line Association and explained that we were working on a theme related to pollution and required the recent research they had,” Nibal Hamdan, the academic supervisor for Greenfield College's Environmental Group told The Daily Star in an interview. 

“They informed us of a research project they had started in 1997, in which they took 100 water samples and discovered the extent of serious pollution in water in various parts of Lebanon,” she said. 

According to Hamdan, the group collected various research and footage from organizations such as Greenpeace, Green Line Association as well as the Environmental Health Department at the American University of Beirut . 

“We were stunned at what we discovered,” Hamdan said, explaining how appalling the extent of the contamination of the environment was. 

The next step was to gather information from various associations, magazines and television stations. However, he said, “some ‘people' were not too happy with our research, because a lot of hidden reports were resurfacing,” Hamdan said. After this work was finished, they had “The Cry Of The Mediterranean.” 

Hamdan, who also wrote the screenplay, said that the documentary took the group over one year to prepare and was then shown at an environmental exhibit held at UNESCO Palace in 2002. 

Mohammed Sirgi, one of the judges, encouraged Hamdan and her team to enter the documentary in the Kirwan International Environmental Festival, and to everyone's surprise, the film won. 

The documentary starts by showing toxic waste being dumped into the sea on one hand, while on the other people were sailing and children were swimming in the same waters. 

The introduction was followed by the king of sea creatures telling the story of how the pollution began back in 1987, when 15,800 barrels of toxic waste were thrown into the Mediterranean Sea. An unregistered company identified as Adonis Production and owned by Armand Nassaf imported the shipment from Italy 's Jelly Wax factory. 

Once the media uncovered the incident in 1988, the Lebanese government demanded that the barrels be returned. 

Although the Italian government said they were returned, only 5,500 barrels were actually accounted for. The remaining 10,000 barrels, as well as some 20 containers that were also shipped back, mysteriously disappeared somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. Greenpeace claimed the ships had been sunk. 

What's more, this hasn't been the last incident of its kind. Such reports have surfaced repeatedly since that time. 

The documentary also included a narrative about the death of two lovers, a Lebanese fish, Salma, and a French fish, Jean Pierre, that were buried under tons of rocks thrown into the Mediterranean in 1995. 

The sea creatures all complained that something had to be done, and considered migrating. They said “We hate this sea; let's go somewhere else.” But the king of the sea insisted that they needed to keep their Lebanese spirit and focus instead on finding a solution. 

The documentary shows a map of the Lebanese coast and highlights 15 contaminated areas on it, including Abdeh in the north, Selaata, Zouk, the Antelias coast, Beirut, Ouzai and Sidon to name but a few. The sources of the contamination are various, coming from various dumps, sewage canals flowing into the sea, industrial factories, oil spillage and the like. 

The documentary tries to show people that preventative measures are much cheaper and more cost-effective than actually cleaning up an area after it is polluted. 

For environmental and financial reasons, Lebanon needs to be conscious of its habits and attitudes towards how it cares for its waters and shorelines. We are all responsible for our water quality; let's keep it clean for future generations to enjoy!