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’It took months for the glass to leave her body’: making Memory Box and surviving the Beirut blast

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’It took months for the glass to leave her...

’It took months for the glass to leave her body’: making Memory Box and surviving the Beirut blast

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    Lebanese film-makers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige explain how their experiences of war shaped their new film – and how art freed them

    On 4 August 2020, a catastrophic explosion ripped through Beirut’s main port and into the city. In total, 218 people were killed. At the time, around 6pm, the artist and film-maker Joana Hadjithomas was in a cafe with a friend, around the corner from the studio she shares with her husband. The first thing she heard was a strange sound. “My friend and I just looked at each other. Instinctively, we went underneath the table. I curled up and protected my face.” As a teenager, she had lived through Lebanon’s civil war; taking cover was second nature, a survival reflex. Then came the massive blast.

    Afterwards, walking back to her apartment, she had no idea what was happening. An attack? An explosion? It was beyond comprehension. People were covered in blood; there was dust and rubble everywhere. “Wherever you looked, everything was destroyed. The scale was terrifying,” she says. In a state of shock, Hadjithomas had left her phone behind. When her husband, Khalil Joreige – frantic with worry – telephoned a couple of minutes later and a police officer answered, he feared the worst. Joreige tells the story with a shrug of helplessness, his face crumpling at the memory.

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