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Behind the camera by Nancy Kolsti
Summer 2007   Go back to bios and movie clips >>  


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Tania Khalaf biography

Tania Khalaf thought her trip back to her hometown of Beirut, Lebanon, last summer would be an uneventful working vacation with her family. She planned to start shooting footage for a documentary about Lebanon's homeless children. It was to be her thesis film for UNT's program in documentary film.

Her plans changed, however, when war erupted between Israeli forces and Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah forces in July. The war, which ended with a ceasefire a month later, brought back vivid memories for Khalaf of growing up in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

"I remember my mother screaming as my family ran to the bomb shelter alongside hundreds of others," she says.

She decided to switch the subject of her master's thesis film to a very personal subject — how growing up in a war zone influenced her life. She titled the new film Born in Beirut.

"I always wanted to express my feelings about war. I thought I'd do a documentary about it after I graduated," she says. "When the war started and I was restricted from leaving the country, I knew that it was the time I needed to do the film."

With the start of the war, she found herself with one friend, Paul Saado, to help her shoot footage of the hostilities she wanted to include in Born in Beirut. She often operated the camera herself, wearing a mask to protect against toxins from the phosphorous bombs, cluster bombs and uranium used by the Israeli Army.

Khalaf also interviewed Lebanese citizens who had lost their homes, family members or friends to rocket and mortar attacks.

"It was hard stepping out of my environment and being distant when shooting the footage and interviewing," she says. "Some of the footage reminds me of a not-so-pleasant childhood."

Khalaf had planned to return to UNT at the end of July but was unable to leave when the war closed down the Beirut airport. She also didn't want to leave her family while the war continued.

As she and her family waited out the fighting, Khalaf began receiving e-mail messages and phone calls from other M.F.A. students and the program's professors, including Jessica Schoenbaechler ('06 M.F.A.) and Melinda Levin, associate professor of radio, television and film, who were just across the border in Israel to shoot footage for Levin's documentary.

Khalaf says hearing from students and faculty during the war "made the days in Lebanon easier and more bearable."

"It shows that the faculty care about me not just as a student, but as a human being," says Khalaf, who was able to return to UNT in September after the fall semester began.

Before entering the M.F.A. program, Khalaf worked as a drama teacher and producer and editor for educational documentary productions in Beirut. She has a bachelor's degree in drama from the Lebanese University Fine Arts Institute.

While at UNT, she collaborated with art student Meta Newhouse on still, life. The film, which follows two UNT art students who collect and photograph dead animals, received first prize in the Documentary Short Competition at the 2005 Austin Film Festival. Khalaf also created Walking Through Tall Grass, about a 3-year-old double amputee.

She finished Born in Beirut with help from a $3,500 grant from Women in Film.Dallas. After graduating in August, she plans to find a distributor for the film and wants to continue creating documentaries on human and social issues. She also plans to teach.



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