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A step

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A step

Later that evening, at Port Eliot, in a magnificent setting of well-tended lawns sweeping down to a large house, no doubt full of treasures, I experience a vertiginous feeling of disorientation. I wander amongst the stalls selling falafels, ice-cream, flouncy skirts and – yes – books. I do not recognize a soul.

The next morning the atmosphere is festive and everyone looks languid in the heat. People sprawl on the ground eating strawberries and cream and drinking cider. I am worried that no-one will want to come into the bakingly hot ‘film tent’, especially to an event billed as “BEIRUT :YES OR NO?”.  View flyer

However, at the allotted time, the tent rapidly fills up; it seems, after all, that there is a desire to gather together around this subject. I begin by praising the people for coming, and then, after a short introduction, read the poem I have chosen (‘Twenty thousand killed…old news’ written by Baland al Haydari in 1965 in Beirut) and the letter written by John Berger and others,  followed by a screening of the scene in the car-park in YES, in which He and She speak out their conflict and their pain and in which, crucially, at a certain point, She decides to stop talking and to listen.

Anchored by these three different approaches to how to put into words something so complex - the Middle-Eastern situation and how the West relates to it (and is implicated in it) the discussion then opens up. The questioners are passionate and hungry; it is a hunger now familiar to me from the many screenings of YES ; people everywhere desperately need to talk, rage, and question what is going on. The format known as a Q and A can become a forum of sorts. I try to be a channel, a mediator, a focus for people’s confusions, anger and bewilderment and also an encourager in the face of feelings of hopelessness. We all seem to feel despair that our governments take no notice of our views.

In the discussion I do not set myself up as an authority. I share what I know and confess to my areas of ignorance. (This seems to me important, as so many of us in the West try and hide the extent of what we don’t know or understand about the Middle East and as a consequence remain shamefully silent.) I give my opinions and try to listen respectfully to points of view I do not share.

A gathering of people in a hot tent in a garden in Cornwall is a small event by any standards. But I try to remember that every small step out of apathy and confusion counts for something. Every reminder that we are profoundly connected to those nameless others on the other side of the world and, ultimately, are responsible for events and actions taken in our name is a step in the right direction.

Somebody asks me : what do you think we can do, other than march, write, protest? A small voice pipes up from the other side of the tent: ‘revolution?”
Everyone laughs. And then falls, suddenly, silent.

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Port Eliot

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Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated