Best Documentary: The Lebanese Rocket Society

In the early 1960’s, a group of students from Haigazian University led by their professor, Manoug Manougian, designed and launched rockets for space exploration. They produced the first rocket of the Arab World. The project had no military character and was aimed at promoting science and research.

What was initially a form of advertising for the university to bring in students, soon became an international interest.

The adventure, which appears nowadays rather unbelievable and surrealistic, was nevertheless a serious one. Between 1960 and 1967 – at the time of the Space Race, revolutionary ideas, and Pan-Arabism – more than ten solid fuel Cedar rockets were launched. The launchings gave rise to national celebrations. To commemorate the 21st anniversary of Lebanon’s independence, a set of stamps representing the Cedar IV rocket was issued. Yet no one remembers!

Although the program was successful, it came to a sudden end in 1967 and was erased from collective memory. Through testimonies and archive documents, the film retraces this adventure and attempts to revive the past in the present as a tribute to dreamers.

A 95-minute movie by Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas; actually an adventure that started when Tania Mehanna asked her sister Joana if she knew about the existence of The Lebanese Rocket Society.

The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and won the Best Documentary at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. I watched it during Ayam Beirut Al Cinema’iya, the Arab Film Festival running March 15th till 25th, 2013 at Metropolis Cinema – Sofil and it will be screened in the Lebanese theaters starting April, 11th, 2013.

Now let’s get serious: At no time during school the existence of the Lebanese Rocket Society was ever mentioned. How could historians skip something THAT important, I don’t know. What were they thinking? Now, I’m wondering what other things were “erased from the collective memory”. This actually should serve as a lesson: no matter how hard you try to erase and twist historic facts, the truth will always show up, one day or the other and the Ministry of Education better get our children’s history book straight!

The initiative coming from an Armenian university should not have been kept secret no matter what; and my personal perception of the Lebanese Armenian people: I have always admired and respected them. They are an integral part of this country.

That being said, I LOVED watching every single minute of the movie…  I would watch it times and times again!

The last 10 minutes of the movie are animated. It’s a projection in a utopian future answering the question: “WHAT IF no one interfered to put an end to the project, where would we be now?”

It’s really well done, there is no boring moment and I laughed several times;  It’s also an easy-to-watch documentary with an interesting story that flows. I noticed how many things remained the same and at the same time, if i was not told that the events took place in the sixties several times, I’d forget about it and thought I was watching sci-fi. When the movie ended, I wondered in which year I was today and realized how late and backwards the country went.

This movie, in my opinion, set to win many more awards; it deserves it!

I would recommend EVERYONE to watch it and I deeply thank Professor Manoug Manougian, Khalil Joreige, Joana Hadjithomas and everyone else involved for saving a priceless piece of the Lebanese history.

For more information about The Lebanese Rocket Society, you can:

For more information about Ayam Beirut Al Cinema’iya, you can:

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