Storyteller Challenges Status Quo Through Art
Writer and Director
2011 Fulbright Foreign Student Program from Lebanon to Loyola Marymount University
Lucien Bourjeily is, at heart, a storyteller. His skill at bringing stories to life on stage and screen has garnered international recognition, and drives him to find innovative ways to create immersive experiences for his audiences. His equally strong interest in promoting freedom of speech and uncovering political corruption has also caught the attention of Lebanon’s internal security agency, resulting in the censorship of his play Will It Pass Or Not?. Selected as a 2011 Fulbright Foreign Student to study filmmaking in Los Angeles, California, Bourjeily built on the skills learned during his fellowship for his directorial debut, Heaven Without People, released in 2017 to critical acclaim. His international experiences have given him insight into different cultural norms and histories, allowing him to create characters whose journeys speak to broader themes and an international audience.
Storytelling has long aided Bourjeily’s understanding of the world. Born during the Lebanese Civil War, Bourjeily uses different artistic mediums to explore themes of conflict, corruption, and censorship. While his works often directly address the political realities of contemporary Lebanon, he also focuses on challenging social and cultural barriers, and finding ways to create — through his fictional characters — a human connection that transcends national borders. His approach to theater has garnered wide international recognition, and invitations to stage his works on the worldwide festival circuit. In 2012, his play “66 Minutes in Damascus” was chosen by Huffington Post as one of 10 plays in the world that “rethink the stage.”
As a 2011 Fulbright Foreign Student, Bourjeily earned a Master of Fine Arts in filmmaking at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. For Bourjeily, the Fulbright award was “a career- and life-changing moment, as there was no other place to have a complete immersive experience into the world of films.” He graduated in 2013 and released his first feature length film, Heaven Without People, in 2017. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Dubai International Film Festival that same year and was nominated at subsequent film festivals around the world. In 2018, with an alumni grant from Fulbright partner organization for the Near East Asia region AMIDEAST, Bourjeily screened the film at the Washington D.C. Arabian Sights Film Festival, winning the Jury Award. Bourjeily’s second feature film, Vanishing, is currently in production and scheduled for release next year. Reflecting on the impact of the Fulbright Program for students around the world, Bourjeily notes that “Fulbright gives a crucial multicultural experience to students that enriches the educational process and connects them with ideas and concepts that they might have never encountered.”
Beyond film awards, Bourjeily himself has been recognized for his personal efforts to bolster the arts against censorship in Lebanon. In 2012, he was chosen by CNN as one of eight leading cultural lights from Lebanon’s contemporary arts scene making an impact in Lebanon and internationally. For his work, he was nominated for Index on Censorship’s 2014 “Freedom of Expression” award.
Bourjeily continues to impact the arts by teaching the next generation of artists and sharing his experiences. As a Fulbright alumnus, he recognizes the importance of shared learning, and believes that the creative process is greatly enriched through shared dialogue. Ultimately, Bourjeily hopes that by sharing his passion for art and storytelling through his films and plays, he is providing his audiences and students a “thought-provoking tool that makes us question and challenge the socio-political status quo.”