Filmmaking is a precarious business in Libya, where simply getting through a film shoot without getting shot is an achievement in itself. Just ask Osama Rezg, one of the few- if not only- active filmmakers in Libya. Rezg is currently prepping his new production Rubik. He won’t be able to shoot in his native Libya given the country’s lawlessness and precarious security situation, choosing instead to film in neighboring Tunisia. Prior to that, Rezg was responsible for producing one of Libya’s only post-war TV series Dragunov, named after a Soviet-era sniper rifle. That show, about two young Libyan lovers from opposite sides of the political tracks, was almost fully financed through sponsorship and product placement with local telco and car companies. The show, which aired in 2014, was a success in Libya. Since then, however, the situation in the country has deteriorated to the point where it is no longer safe even for Libyans to film in their own country.
“You need to get permissions from every different group, every different militia, if you want to shoot a film or TV series,” says Rezg. “We’re surviving and we’re used to it but it would just be too difficult to shoot Rubik here now. The series deals with human trafficking, drugs, a lot of subjects that might upset some people so for security’s sake, we will shoot in Tunisia.”
Given the weak state of the country, there is no government support for filmmakers in Libya and private investors are also thin on the ground in the Mediterranean country. Rezq is having to patch together a tapestry of financing to raise the funds needed to film Rubik in time for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, traditionally the most lucrative and competitive season for new Arab dramas as families gather round the TV every evening after breaking their fast to binge on hours of TV.
Libya has, of course, been in the news again recently following the release Stateside of Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi. Bay’s film, about a group of U.S. special forces caught in the middle of the chaos surrounding the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Diplomatic compound in Benghazi that took the lives of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, has not screened in Libya yet and is unlikely to, given the paucity of cinemas there. That hasn’t stopped Libyan filmmakers like Rezg express concern about what they see as a lack of authenticity, even before they have actually seen the film.
“Just from the trailer, you can see it’s not Libya, the actors aren’t Libyan, even what the characters are wearing is not authentic to what a Libyan would wear,” says director and producer Osama Rezg, “I wish Michael Bay and the production had come and spoken to us. We could have helped him. We were all saddened by the death of Ambassador Stevens. He was loved by the Libyan people. That action did not help Libya. We all mourned for him. I hope this is not another example of the Arab world being portrayed in a negative way and the wrong image being spread.”
In Bay’s defense, and that of the film, the production went to great lengths to ensure both accuracy and authenticity. The film shot a week in Morocco and nine weeks in Malta, only a few hours’ boat ride away from Libya, where there is a sizeable Libyan contingent. Over 24 Libyan nationals were cast in the film. The production also worked with a Libyan consultant who was a close friend of Ambassador Stevens. The film’s powerful ending makes clear to show over 100,000 Libyans mourning the death of Ambassador Stevens in the streets of Libya.
13 Hours is set for release March 3 in the Arab world, although it has still to get approval from censors in the region. 13 Hours has largely managed to avoid becoming overly embroiled in the ongoing political controversy over the tragic events of that night. The Republican Party, in particular, has been a vociferous critic of Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State in the events that led to the death of four Americans. Speaking to Deadline prior to the film’s release, producer Erwin Stoff made clear that the film was not a political statement on either side of the aisle.
“Nobody on the movie is going to get involved in any political discussion,” said Stoff. “This is a story of selfless heroism about how a number of good Americans helped prevent that night from spinning into an even larger tragedy than it was.”