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INTERNATIONAL TRIBUTE: Ghassan Salhab

Although he was born in Dakar, Senegal, Ghassan Salhab also has lived in Lebanon and France. This implies three cultures, three languages and, of course, three cinemas that influenced the creation of a unique style. His life experience reflects in his art, with which he offers us a vision of permanent estrangement. The humanitarian tragedy of Beirut has nurtured its sensitivity. This city made him feel something strange from the beginning; he was soon fascinated by its inconsistencies and the conflictive relationships that occur among its citizens. The atmosphere of the Lebanese capital stimulated in his imagination the possible scope that a context such as this could have within cinema. Phantom Beirut (1998) was his first feature film. It is a narrative singularity in which Salhab tells the return of a man who was dead to his friends and family after participating in the civil war. The director is not limited to traditional drama, but explores the limits of film itself with a semi-documentary style, questioning actors about the conflict and what it represents in their lives His insistence on narrate what happens in Beirut proves that, from his perspective, the place where a story takes place is not mere decoration, but an expressive element as important as any other. This perspective would be materialized again in his second film, Terra Incognita. Four years after his debut, Ghassan does not allow himself a distant view of the Lebanese conflict. In Terra Incognita we see people who return to their roots despite having burned bridges of fraternity and being reminded of the reasons that made them flee. Salhab would return to the big screen six years later with a bold project. Although he had already made clear that conventions were not a part of his style, with 1958 he bet on an even more individual way of storytelling. Two crucial events for the filmmaker took place in 1958: his birth —which is told through the anecdotes of his mother— and the beginning of the crisis in Lebanon. The film shows a fiction about a soldier and archive footage mixed with narrations that seek to make sense of a date. 1958 is perhaps the most personal film of his entire filmography. The valley tells the story of an anonymous character who arrives into a community without knowing who he is or why he lost his memory. The only thing he remembers is the vague notion of a car crash. The community slowly begins to feel tension regarding the mysterious stranger. In The Valley, Salhab applies the biological concept of an invading body that threatens as well as is threatened. The work of this multicultural filmmaker throws a look of enormous value on the conflicts of a nation deeply damaged by sectarianism. His capacity for inventiveness and the ludic spirit with which he tackles narrative structure produces intelligent questions about permanent themes such as identity, geography and transience, while trying to renew its expression. The Guanajuato International Film Festival is honored to reward Ghassan Salhab with the Silver Cross, recognizing his contribution to build a cinematographic endevour closely linked to the harshest realities of human condition while challenging the limits of what can be done with film narrative.