Kama fissamaa’ kathalika ala al-ard

As Above So Below
Sarah Francis
Lebanon 2020

23.02.2020 16:15 Eng. subtitles Zoo Palast 2
24.02.2020 16:30 Eng. subtitles Delphi Filmpalast
28.02.2020 13:00 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1
01.03.2020 15:00 Eng. subtitles Werkstattkino@silent green

70 min. Arabic, English.

A group of people wander over a field at the foot of a cloud-covered mountain range. Here and there, swings have been set up in the broad landscape and the people queue up obediently to sit on them for a few rounds. Sarah Francis returns to this scene again and again. In between, we follow a creation story from the beginnings of humanity to the establishment of religion, culminating in digital clouds that weave together facts and myths surrounding the moon. The moon is the quiet centre of this system; it floats over the people as their constant companion and at the same time becomes their property. From the first lunar landing via territorial partitioning to space as the “final frontier,” the same discourses of power, ownership, territory and nationality that determine life on earth also shape this celestial body. Kama fissamaa' kathalika ala al-ard is a quiet, understated essay that weaves together images, texts and sounds into a dense mesh of signs. Humans may be at the centre here, but, as part of the universe, they are also infinitesimally small. (ab)

Sarah Francis grew up in Beirut and studied at the Institut d’études scéniques, audiovisuelles et cinématographiques (IESAV) of the Saint Joseph University of Beirut. Since 2005, she has been working freelance as a film director for regional production companies, and as a researcher for museums. As Above so Below is her second feature-length film.

A little story about the moon

A few years ago, the image of adults on a swing moving back and forth and side by side started to roam in my mind. They somehow embodied the idea of instability, imbalance, impermanence; they oscillated in a binary repetitive movement, like a pendulum, each at their own pace, but never really met. This repetitive movement somehow corresponded to their internal state, always fluctuating, never anchored, never completely still. I became interested in the relation between physical mobility/stillness and internal fluctuations.
To me, swings mainly evoked the playfulness of childhood, the impetus of new possibilities… and it suddenly occurred to me that we simply stop using some body postures as we grow older. It was as if losing touch with the ground even for a few seconds, for non-practical purposes, was utterly futile and odd. I wasn’t sure if adults on a swing would convey genuine joy, evoke impulse/propulsion, or a regressive behaviour. Or if the repetitiveness of their gestures would suggest being stuck in limbo. Probably a mix of it all. For anthropologist Marcel Jousse, rocking refers to the primary movement experienced by a baby as it rocks in its mother’s arms, which might partly explain the ambiguous feeling we get.

Like Noah’s ark passengers
The experience of making a film and the film itself were indissociably linked. I did not have a rigid plan in mind ready to be implemented – and this is the joy I find in filmmaking. The only way to approach this project, also considering the shooting time and budget restrictions, was to embrace the organic process as an inherent part of the film, to trust it, and let the film reveal itself progressively.
The idea of a proper casting here seemed to me like a somewhat inappropriate and strange concept. Instead, I wanted the group taking part in this film to be made up of random people. They would be like Noah’s ark passengers landing in this land, ready to start a new world or to perpetuate the old one. (They wouldn’t even come in pairs, or represent any group; they would just be people who got there as randomly as possible.) When the bus arrived at the location, I met with the cast for the first time. I had only seen small pictures of them prior to that moment and I had no idea who they were – there’s a thrill in transitory encounters and in transitory spaces that I wished to preserve. The man who built the swing for us, the driver of the bus, as well as members of the crew, ended up joining the cast. We were all there under the sun, roaming in this open piece of land for a while.
I’m often interested in breaking up event-based narration, in decomposing and recomposing elements that make up the world as we perceive it, in the hope of exploring new grids of approach. Once the setting was established, anything could happen freely inside or outside the frame. I already knew that I wanted to explore the navigation and creation of new territories – on that topic, the writings of Mircea Eliade often came to mind. I also knew that I wanted to render the perception of the journey rather than an event-based narration. Soon, mapping an inner territory and a physical one overlapped: the inner emotional landscape would be transferred/projected on a physical land, and man’s footsteps would explore it like a stethoscope. I knew that soundscape would allow me to cross geographies, as I looked for an impressionistic rendering of space and experiences in accordance with the way we perceive an experience rather than how it is commonly narrated. The spectator would also be able to participate in the process of creation: as chaos and constructions alternate, we would all be invited to explore the landscape of the mind.

A new territory to be colonised
The moon was revealed to me later, in the editing room, while I was playing with the rushes on my timeline. Suddenly, the man handled his flashlight like an explorer and its light looked like a moon. I liked the ‘gadgety’ feel of my moon! The magnificent moon has inspired so many beliefs, myths, literature, and arts throughout the history of humanity, and inhabited our collective imagination for thousands of years. Yet, it has now become a new territory ready to be exploited, colonised, and annexed to our globalised capitalist planet. My moon was made out of a flashlight. The young man playing with it sometimes looked like a thief, and sometimes like a child inventing all sorts of stories in a Chinese shadow show. My moon was mysterious and futile, appearing like a toy on which we projected all of humanity’s grand schemes, or its petty personal stories.
In Arabic, “artificial satellites” literally translates as “artificial moons”. It was strange to realise that as our obsession to accumulate information, memories and self-definitions grows and weighs on us, we create our own moons to unburden ourselves. Somehow, by uploading information, it’s as if we lifted the weight up, rather than putting it down, almost like a plea to a higher entity. Moons as mediators, clouds as attics, all our avatars needed to be reachable but still kept at a reasonable distance. The more the globalised world dominates our collective psyche and the fate of our planet, and despite being asked to tune into a single story, the series of symbols and codes that we collectively or individually agree on remain ungraspable at times. It still feels to me that the closer we get to a story, the faster it loses its consistency and multiplies.
In this film, I tried to make a little story about the moon, and for that, I had to carry my flashlight and look for the elements that agreed to be revealed to me, progressively – to navigate the unknown like I would navigate an unknown territory. Just like the characters trapped in the repetitive landscape seemed to at once embody the beginning of life and its ending, I was also not sure where anything began or where it ended, and constantly oscillated between the magnificent and the futile. It is only in that perspective that it all made sense to me. From a distance, and from as close as I could get, all sorts of realities seemed impressionistic, fragile and strangely entangled. (Sarah Francis)

Production Sarah Francis. Production company Sarah Francis (Beirut, Lebanon). Written and directed by Sarah Francis. Cinematography Bassem Fayad. Editing Sarah Francis, Zeina Aboul Hosn. Sound design Victor Bresse. Sound Tatiana El Dahdah, Victor Bresse. Casting Roula Sawma (P.Y). Production manager Jinane Chaaya. With Naji Adwan, Ali Ibrahim, Abed Abdallah, Chakib Nassif, Charly Kamar, Denise Roukoz, Jocelynn Karam, Suzy Kerchian, George Yaacoub, Micheline Raad.

World sales Sarah Francis

Films

2013: Toyour Ayloul / Birds of September (99 min.). 2014: Tukoos Nawal / Nawal's Rituals (20 min.). 2016: All the Temporary, Quick Notes from Home (7 min.).