Lebanese Rocket Society at the Toronto International Film Festival

Lebanese Rocket Society by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige will be having its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in the Wavelength category that offers Daring, visionary films that expand our notions of cinema.

Lebanon's brief flirtation with space travel in the 1960s becomes a poignant metaphor for the Arab world's utopian dreams in this riveting documentary. 

Lebanese Rocket Society will be screening at TIFF on the following dates:

Saturday September 8 TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 6:30 PM

Monday September 10 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 8 2:30 PM

Saturday September 15 TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 6:30 PM


In 1961, a group of Armenian-Lebanese mathematicians, physicists and engineers, mainly from the Haigazian University in Beirut, dubbed themselves the Lebanese Rocket Society and attempted to launch a rocket into space from the top of a hill on the northeastern shore of the city. The rocket shot upwards into the sky, but then quickly fell and splashed down in the Mediterranean, not far from the coast of nearby Cyprus. Undaunted, the group of scientists returned to the drawing board and manufactured more rockets, which they christened Cedar (honouring the national icon on the Lebanese flag), and conducted several more trials. The rocket launches, cast as Lebanon's contribution to the worldwide race to conquer space, captured newspaper headlines, and the Lebanese Rocket Society's mad venture was subsequently adopted by the Lebanese army. In 1967, shortly after the Arab states waged a military confrontation with Israel, the program was brought to an abrupt halt, the laboratory was shut down, and the story of the Lebanese Rocket Society was filed away, seemingly forgotten for good.

When, by pure happenstance, filmmakers and visual artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discovered an image of one of the test launches, they were mystified. Almost no one they knew recalled the launches, and the entire episode had left no traces in either the history books or in popular culture. Intrigued and perplexed, Hadjithomas and Joreige set out to uncover the full story, and also reproduce one of the rockets as a commemorative sculpture to pay tribute to the cosmic dreams of their subjects. The Lebanese Rocket Society is at once a documentary that recovers archival documents of a lost chapter in modern Lebanese history as well as a meditation on the imaginary utopias of modernity that captured the minds of the Arab world during the 1960s.

Weaving together interviews and a wistful, speculative first person voiceover, The Lebanese Rocket Society offers a powerful contrast between a time of unshakeable belief in scientific progress, the transformative power of ideology and men's ability to shape their destiny, and the whirlwind that these beliefs would reap: the here and now of Arab insurgencies progressively overthrowing the regimes that perverted these utopian aspirations into a brutal, self-serving authoritarianism.

Rasha Salti