The Sky Had Cried (Le ciel avait pleuré)

Sabrina Mervin & Rania Stephen, France & Lebanon

The Team

  • Sabrina Mervin +

    Sabrina Mervin is a historian and anthropologist, director of research at the CNRS (CéSor). Her work focuses on contemporary Shia Islam, in a variety of fields, focusing on the making of religious authority and the rituals specific to Shia Islam. She made her first documentary in Lebanon, Le cortège des captives (tragédie chiite), in 2007.

  • Rania Stephan +

    Rania Stephan is a Lebanese artist and filmmaker. Her artistic practice focuses on both still and moving images and combines work on the archaeology of the image, identity, and memory. She has directed about fifteen short and feature films, creative documentaries, including Les trois disparitions de Soad Hosni (2011, 70mn).

The Project

The Sky Had Cried (Le ciel avait pleuré) is a film about an annual pilgrimage that leads about fifteen million Shia Muslims from around the world to Karbala, Iraq. Here, they commemorate the 40th day of Imam Hossein's martyrdom in a battle that functions as a founding myth of Shia Islam. On the way to Hossein's mausoleum, pilgrims reenact this event through colorful representations and sometimes impressive ritual practices. As the images were shot in 2019, the purpose of the residency was to reflect on the form of the film—narrative process, visual and sound research—by working on a first editing. Mervin and Stephan worked directly on the filmed material, the voice-over text which was to be written, and the effects to be drawn from the images and sounds. This is why the collaboration between research/anthropology and art/film is crucial. It allowed them to work on the aesthetics and the emotional component of the film.