“The cinematic qualities of the Heart of Sky album directed me to find a special filmmaker who could take various strands of the music from the album and weave them together in one visual masterpiece,” explains Lazarus. “I wanted to find a cosmic basis for the work, a theme that was universal but also very personal and in Jessy’s idea to film the families of the people working in the Lebanese desert cultivating hashish I felt we had hit on the perfect idea. Working closely with Jessy on this movie has been a brilliant symbiosis and I feel the result is a work of significant beauty.”
‘Heart of Sky’ sees a blend of raw intimacy and cinematic transcendence that paints a profound and elevated picture of the beating hearts and tender hands that work the fields of the illegal industry. The film comes at a particularly timely moment as the Lebanese government looks to consider legalising the enormously profitable cannabis industry, said to be worth up to $1bn, to rescue its ailing economy.
“While I was scouting for another film in the Bekaa valley a year ago, I came across a beautiful green stretch of marijuana. A group of women laborers were sitting on the ground surrounded by the spiky leaves, taking a break from their work and drinking tea as their children played beside them. The peaceful scene in the controversial setting made a strong impression on me” explains Moussallem on the creative inspiration behind the film.
“The hashish trade is illegal in Lebanon. Hypocritically, however, they are operated and protected by political sectarian militias who benefit from the profits.
“This was a wild journey from start to finish. I lived in the valleys doing research for a month and a half, where I met people from every level of the industry. I spent time in the fields with the farmers, in manufacturing garages with the laborers, with outlaws in hiding, in the homes of small time dealers and the mansions of big time ones. Somehow, I worked my way up until I found myself in the presence of the Middle Easts’ Escobar.
“After all this, my intuition led me back to the scene and the people that I first met, those who see the red hash as the valley’s gift, the community that tends to the fields.
“The film blends documentary and fiction. The scenes were scripted around real people and real situations, people who, despite difficult working conditions and an existence that seems suspended between the valley and the sky, live and labour with gratitude for the gifts of the earth, and with faith in god and in each other.”
Moussallem was given full reign to work with the music from Heart of Sky in the film and does so to great effect. The album was released in July of this year through Crosstown Rebels/BMG and combines Lazarus’s cosmic world influences with his love for ‘80s soul/funk to create an album that works in harmony with Moussallem’s vision. Lazarus has been digging in crates, searching for interesting, weird music in Middle Eastern record fairs. These inspirations appear throughout the new record, but the record also utilises the power of soulful vocalist J Appiah, the rising London singer who’s worked with Michael Kiwanuka, Jamie Woon, Kwabs and Jess Glynne. He is joined by Ben Chetwood, session musician and MD who has worked with everyone from Rudimental to King Krule, plus the Heritage Orchestra’s Rob Gentry, and, of course, Lazarus himself. Listen to the album HERE.
Born and raised in Beirut, Jessy Moussallem pursued her inclination for storytelling in film school at the Lebanese Academy of Arts with her diploma short film winning first prize at the European Film Festival.
‘Heart of Sky’ was a co-production between Phantasm Paris, Clandestino Films and Caviar London.