Review: In the Shadow of Beirut


I came of intellectual age in 1970. Palestinian women, dressed in oppressively hot black, sat on sheets on the sidewalks I had to navigate on my daily walk to the American University of Beirut. My dad had always told me giving money to beggars only reinforced their begging, not their work ethic, so they spit at me as I rushed, eyes averted, past.

Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Siobhan Sinnerton are executive producers of this latest expose of refugee life in Lebanon from 2018 to 2022. It’s not just Palestinians anymore.

What I didn’t know when I arrived in Beirut in 1969, I knew when I left. Those who flee for their lives to tiny Lebanon are relegated to certain crowded “camps,” where they have no work permits (so they can’t earn money), no passport (so they can never leave) and no respect. Lebanon gives them life while the rest of the world turns its eye.

Filmed using cinéma vérité, without narration or commentary, we see life without judgement. Four families are tracked. In one family, Sanaa is 13 and consents to becoming engaged to an older man with a horseshoe scar surrounding his face. Another family’s daughter was born with a disease they have no ability to have treated as there is no medical service for them. The daughter cries out in pain as her skin peals off.

The bleak existence in this warren of rogue electrical wires, crumbling, unsteady structures and narrow littered pathways where the sun only shines on rooftops is the subject, but the Clinton initiative, Global Studio HiddenLight, is dedicated to showing human resilience and goodness in challenging circumstances. At first, their choice of choosing “In the Shadow of Beirut” is puzzling. I’m looking for the light.

But in its denouement the crack that lets the light break through appears. It comes in the burnished glow of what is at the essence of these four families. You have to witness this transcendence.

The world has sinfully abandoned these people. That cannot be forgiven. But in that abandonment Kelly and Keane, the filmmakers, are still able to show something good in the humanity of the wronged.

When I returned to Beirut in 2016, I returned with a new conscience and resolve. When beggars approached me I walked at a slightly slower pace. I chose the oldest woman, one who might have been there in 1970 when I had ignored the outstretched hands. “Today’s your lucky day,” I said as I slipped her $200. I didn’t know what it would go for, but that was not my business. Her eyes widened in disbelief and she stood still as if she might faint. My American citizenship had indebted me.

I chose to review this movie because I was curious about what the Clintons would choose to sponsor. I recommend it because it touched my heart.


Directors: Stephen Gerard Kelly (debut film) and Garry Keane (“Gaza,” 2019)
Producers: Co-producers include Myriam Sassine, Christian Beetz and Alison Toomey
Executive Producers: Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Siobhan Sinnerton
Release: World Premiere June 1, 2023
“In the Shadow of Beirut” had its world premiere at the Doc Edge Festival in New Zealand, where it won three awards. It will continue in the festival circuit worldwide.

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