In competition at the London Film Festival in the Documentary category, Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano takes a behind-the-scenes look at a film which captivated audiences at LFF two years ago. If you ever wanted to know what a film producer does, this will explain everything.
In 2021, Mounia Akl’s debut feature Costa Brava, Lebanon played at the London Film Festival and walked away with the Audience Award that year.
In the film, Akl used family drama as allegory for the problems she observed in her home city Beirut. What viewers could not possibly have known was that the film’s production was fraught with events way outside of the production team’s control, events which matched those portrayed in the film and almost led to filming being canceled completely.
Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano is effectively behind-the-scenes footage of mostly pre- and post-production of Costa Brava, Lebanon, filmed by Cyril Aris. Yet it is much more than a ‘making of’ film – for a start, there is way too much happening to be squashed into a DVD extra, and also the filmmaker uses the opportunity to shine a light on government failures as well as international issues, through the events which are depicted.
In August 2020, siloes exploded in the port of Beirut leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, compounding the economic crisis in Lebanon, and precipitating protests against the government. At the same time, pre-production had just begun on Costa Brava, Lebanon, and the team had to hurriedly decide whether to continue as planned or postpone filming. With the offices (like most buildings in the city) now without windows, with individuals carrying injuries from the explosion, and with the Beirut currency sinking in value as a result of the ensuing chaos, the scale of this decision is momentous. Still traumatised by events, the team also has to cope with Covid, a lack of petrol for transport, storms, and floods, no electricity, the Israeli airforce flying overhead, and the possibility that their lead actor may not even be allowed to enter the country due to passport issues.
Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano is worth watching on a number of levels. Firstly, if you have seen Costa Brava, Lebanon, then it’s an excellent companion piece. But even if you haven’t, then this film is a tribute to the resilience and relentlessness of the filmmakers in battling through to create the film they had planned. And if that is not of interest, then you will definitely learn something about the city of Beirut and its potential future – the conversations captured between Mounia Akl and her father are revealing and surprisingly hopeful.