Award-winning Lebanese-Palestinian documentary filmmaker Carol Mansour had spent years painting houses, selling popcorn at a movie theatre concession stand, and bartending before her friend called to convince her to register for a filmmaking workshop in Montreal at 31. She had always been intrigued by filmmaking but had not considered that she might want to pursue it, or that it was even a viable career option.
However, the nine-month-long course cemented her interest in the field, and she fell in love with it. After the course ended, Carol went on to film and edit her brother’s wedding video, and found that she enjoyed the process of making it into an “out of the box” wedding video. She continued to follow her passion and flew to Cairo, Egypt to complete a two-month course in special effects and video editing, but she jokingly notes that she ended up teaching the teacher.
Carol then joined a Lebanese free-to-air television network, Future TV, in 1992 where she produced, directed, and hosted multiple live programs; she believes that is where she learned everything about filmmaking, calling it a “good school”. She left Future TV in 2000 to found her own production company, Forward Film Production, in Beirut, Lebanon. Since then, Carol’s films have garnered international attention, with over a hundred film screenings and official selections at numerous festivals across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Her films have won many prestigious awards, including the Best Documentary Award at the Delhi International Film Festival in 2018 and the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the Boston Palestine Film Festival in 2017 for her film Stitching Palestine, which she considers her favorite project because it is deeply personal to her since both of her parents were Palestinian. Most recently, Carol won the Best Short Documentary at Rated SR Festival 2021 in New York and the Prix Spécial du Festival at the FIFOG 2021 Festival in Geneva.
She has also been awarded the Best Documentary Award at the Al-Ard Film Festival in Sardegna, the Women Film Critics Circle Award at 2015 Rated SR Festival in New York for her documentary film We Cannot Go There Now, My Dear, the Best Documentary at the 2014 Rated SR Festival in New York, and the Jury’s Special Mention at the FIFOG festival in Geneva for Not Who We Are (2013). Her film A Summer Not to Forget (2006) received Best Short International Documentary at the New Zealand Festival. She has also won the Jury’s Prize at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and Best Documentary at the Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam.
Over the past 20 years, Carol’s documentaries have covered the region Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan to name a few. However, she says this is not as fun or prestigious as it may sound; “It is a very tiring job. I have to spend editing a short film, or cutting down an interview from two hours to six minutes, listening to and watching the same footage over and over again. It can be very challenging. However, it is a great feeling when the movie is out.” While she doubts herself and her work every day, she believes the anxiety that comes with not being sure if the work is good has made her a better filmmaker.
Carol’s work reflects her concern for human rights and social justice, covering issues such as migrant workers, refugees, environmental issues, mental health, the rights of the disabled, war and memory, the right to health, and child labor. She says the most important part of the job for her is to be able to use her platform and medium to give people a voice and to make relevant art. “Sometimes people ask me why my film subjects are so harsh, but the people I am filming lead harsh lives. It is not about me, and I really try my best not to make it about me at all. I see myself as a human being trying my best to make films that can influence change in society.” Carol did not particularly enjoy being on screen, “it was overwhelming,” and much preferred being behind the camera.
She believes documentaries are very important, especially those that carry a message. documentaries to their curriculums. Two of her films, Maid in Lebanon (2005) and Maid in Lebanon 2 (2007) both documentaries that follow migrant workers in Lebanon, are still shown at several schools across Lebanon today and have a very large influence on young children. Carol also says it is important to watch out for what media is shown to children because everything is very accessible these days.
Carol believes that tough situations present us with an option to either act or remain silent and passive. To her, success comes when you act in the face of injustice doing your best to play a role in change. In the face of recent adversity, and after the Beirut Blast tore through Lebanon’s capital, she went down to the streets and started filming, refusing to stay at home. She has also produced two short videos during the COVID-19 pandemic including one dealing with losing her father to the COVID-19.
“The most important thing is to find something you like to do, something you are very passionate about. Do not give up just because the first time does not work out. This is what you are going to be doing for the rest of your life, pursue it.” While she thinks she was lucky to find a career that interests, challenges, and excites her, she believes people should not give up and settle for something they have no interest in. “Life is very tough, but I try to live by my motto ‘make the best out of everything.”
This story was written by Ghada El Kawas