TorinoFilmLab - Training, development, Funding


Beirut, I Love You

Zena El Khalil, Gigi Roccati, Marta Donzelli

Italy, Lebanon

TFL Awards

TFL Production Award 2011 (€ 80.000)

TFL Audience Award 2011 (€ 30.000)


Maya runs the streets of Beirut in a wedding dress, chased by militiamen who’ve captured her best friend Zena, rebellious and wild at heart. The two young girls are interrogated, but upon news of the liberated South, they are set free. In the chaos of post-war Beirut they live like there’s no tomorrow.

The city is being rebuilt and memories of the war erased, however; the burden of bloodshed does not evaporate easily and eventually Maya collapses from its weight.

To pursue better lives, the girls move to NYC only to be confronted with the 9/11 attacks. In a time of pain and suspicion the two friends are torn apart. In solitude, Zena begins to have visions of Asmahan, the great diva who will guide her through Maya’s mysterious past lives; a legacy of women and violence.

Zena returns to a Beirut in turmoil as Maya discovers her cancer, fighting for her friend’s life under the bombs of the 2006 war. Maya will tragically loose her battle, leaving Zena alone with her demons. Beirut is drowning and so is Zena, but only in the depths of Maya’s beloved sea will she find the strength to live, as her destiny is to tell their story.
A woman never dies in a wedding dress.


When I first read Zena’s memoir I thought it was the best portrayal of my generation I had ever come across. Global, compassionate, urgent. While reading I was imagining the film, a metaphorical bridge between East and West. A universal story of love between two best friends, on the line of prominent conflicts, in the dusk of the second millennium. The story of Zena and Maya is told in three crucial moments of their lives and friendship; the style of the film matches the point of view of the characters through the subjective eyes of Zena. Youth is a time of fast changes, so is the rhythm at the beginning of the film; colourful, like their coming of age. But the euphoria of liberation soon shows consequences on Maya’s sensitivity to the violence around them.

The pace of the story changes in the devastated beauty of Hasbaya, where Maya experiences her first breakdown, announcing the worst to come. After their decision to move to New York City, their world turns dark and lonely after 9/11, the two “Arab students” feel exiled. And finally, their loss of innocence, and the bleached tension of their adult age during the “July war” of 2006, while Maya fights her diagnosed cancer and Zena remains in a surreal and deserted Beirut under the bombs, to share her last days. The film inherited a key from the book that becomes a stylistic approach to the visuals: in Beirut you live like there is no tomorrow, because you could not be alive the next day. The idea is to describe this aspect of life by blurring the lines between reality and dreams, in what could be defined as a sort of “magic realism”. In the story, Maya has a strong connection to Asmahan, the great Arab diva murdered during WW2. Asmahan will take Zena on a journey to understand Maya’s pain through multiple dream sequences into Mayas’s cycle of reincarnations; a legacy embracing three generations of women living the wars of their time.

During the film we intend to include documentary sequences, either to reveal the internal feelings of the protagonists through the colours of unforgettable memories like the original home movies from Maya’s family, or to contextualize the events with black and white amateur images of war-torn Beirut and hand held video footage of the 2006 war. Beirut eventually becomes a character of its own. I think that this film should give no answers, but rather open questions to disclose the layers of humanity behind the story. Against the ever-present threat of war are Zena, Maya and Beirut.

budget & financing

Having a strong background in art-house documentaries, in the past few years Vivo film has expanded its targets to the production of feature films, aiming for projects exploring new territories. Our interest in Beirut, I Love You is rooted in this path. “There’s a thin line between reality and dreams”, so begins Zena el Khalil’s striking memoir on which the film is based. This merging space is where our couple of talents will bring us, a space where maybe only the power of cinema can bring you, and Gigi Roccati knows how to use it. Beirut, I Love You deals with the nearness and the distance between East and West. As a logical consequence of its nature, it was important for us to set up a co-production with Lebanon. We’re therefore very proud of our collaboration with Katia Saleh’s Batoota Films, a leading Beirut-based company, awarded the International Digital Emmy Award ® this year for Shankaboot, the world’s first Arabic web-series. Co-productions between the two countries are rare. With no current co-production treaty, it’s a great challenge to set the path! Our next target is to finalize a co-production in Europe. Talks are underway with A. D. Toussaint (Le Film des Tournelles) in France and with A. Jafar (Quinta Communication) in the UK. As for Italy, FIP (Film Investmenti Piemonte) has pre-selected the project as a candidate for their investment. Moreover, the first promising contacts have been taken with broadcasters and distributors that will now deepen and be made concrete. We are working on a max. € 1.500.000 film. The idea is to integrate a richer cinematographic syntax with a lighter, low budget asset. We plan to fund 55% of the budget in Italy and the rest abroad.

distribution & sales

Thanks to the great interest the story by Zena el Khalil has raised all over the world, we nourish a deep trust in the potential of a film based on her memoirs. This tale of war, love, despair and hope has the strongest international appeal; it touches directly on some of the hottest conflicts contemporary society is facing nowadays, as it deals with the unsolved contradictions of the West and the Arab world. This feeling is ever stronger now that the events of the Arab Spring are front-page news. Beirut, I Love You is a film meant to speak to wide audiences, involving their sensitivity and memories. It is essential for us to convey this idea to our possible partners in terms of distribution and sales. To build a cross-media platform strategy is quite natural with reference to this project, in view of its inherent multilayered structure. We will focus on Zena’s and Gigi’s versatility as artist and filmmaker, active in a wide range of fields. They already have a strong web presence that can work as a good starting point. Furthermore our Lebanese co-producer’s know-how in web-based and user-generated content is surely a plus. Up until now, we didn’t stress the search for distribution and sales partners, as we decided to first set up the project properly, in order to exploit its best potential. From now on, our main target is to identify the right partners, both in Italy and internationally. We expect Beirut, I Love You to be a visually outstanding and strongly emotional film, able to target urban art-house audiences all over the world; a distributor and sales agent can play a key role, so the hunt is open!

It was you and me against reality. It was love, when Beirut was shot dead.
Zena El Khalil

Scriptwriter, Film Director

Gigi Roccati

Scriptwriter, Film Director

Marta Donzelli


production notes

directed by
Gigi Roccati

Zena El Khalil

produced byVivo Film
Via Giovanni Antonelli 41
00197, Roma

in co-production with
Batoota Film - Lebanon

total production budget
€ 1.500.000

current financial need
€ 1.200.000