Culture

Lebanese film fest honors women

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Film Festival has cast its 13th edition as a tribute to women in Lebanese cinema, and will commence and conclude with feature films by female directors.

The event opens Monday with the official Beirut premiere of Nadine Labaki’s third feature, “Capharnaum,” which was awarded a jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where it debuted in May.

Under the direction of Wafaa Halawi and event organizers bande a part, LFF’s latest edition marks its first partnership with Film Femmes Francophones Mediterranean. Sponsored by the French Institute (IF), the scriptwriting platform for francophone women from the Mediterranean commenced Sept. 11 in Deir al-Qamar, combining workshops with screenings.

This sort of collaboration – festival screenings with mentoring – is the current fashion locally, evident in pairings like Talents Beirut/German Film Week, also running these days, and Beirut Cinema Platform/Ayyam Beirut al-Cinemaiyya.

In addition to providing a platform for female filmmakers to develop their skills in film narrative, FFF Med director Carol Mezher told The Daily Star that she sees the new partnership as a way to unify francophone countries, to “bring people together under one common language, which is French,” she said in English.

“French, because it is simply the language that unites us all. In the Mediterranean basin, it’s not Arabic that is connecting us.

“It’s true. Our partnership with Cinematheque Tanger, for instance, came because of French, not Arabic, which is funny ... That’s not to say this is a post-colonial reflection. I’m saying we have to go beyond this.”

LFF promises a program of 70-odd titles. This is a competitive event, with the works contesting four awards – best film, best documentary, best experimental film, and best first film.

Situated at CinemaCity, in the Beirut Souks shopping mall, LFF’s Lebanese film projections – fictions and documentaries, mostly shorts with a few features – include several new faces, recent work by several familiar filmmakers, as well as reprisals of a number of titles screened at previous events.

Among the highlights of the reprised works (all on Sept. 18) are Fadi Baki’s comic mockumentary “The Last Days of The Man of Tomorrow,” Talal Khoury’s impressionist experiment “Mediterranean,” Feyrouz Serhal’s conflation of airstrikes and the Mondial, “Tshwesh” and Shirin Abu Shaqra’s medium-length work “What Happens to a Displaced Ant.”

Returning to the Beirut screen on Sept. 19 are “Unspeakable Algorithms,” one of Gheith al-Amine’s recent exercises in profane Arabic wordplay, and Oualid Mouaness’ coming-of-age morality tale “The Rifle, The Jackal, The Wolf.”

Tamara Stepanyan’s sumptuous, impressionistic reflections on the state of migration in France, “Those From the Shore,” will be projected on Sept. 20, as will “In White,” Diana Badr’s short tale of a young woman’s self-assertive expression of mourning and individuality.

The festival will also stage a number of special screenings.

Amin Dora’s Web series “Bidun Kaid” (Undocumented) will be screened in a 90-minute session Wednesday evening. Alternatively, you might attend “In the Heart of Beirut,” a cine-concert at Opera Gallery that appears to pair a projection of archival footage of Beirut with a performance by the one-named performer “Sig.”

In addition, two “Carte Blanche” projections will be held at IF.

One, chosen by Bernard Payen, head programmer at the Cinematheque Francaise, will feature a restored print of the 1986 drama “Al-Youm al-Sadis,” directed by Egyptian auteur Youssef Chahine, from the novel by Andree Chedid.

The other IF “Carte Blanche,” selected by France’s Panorama des cinemas du Maghreb et du Moyen-Orient, is “Zaineb Hates the Snow,” the ambitious and sweet-natured 2016 doc by Tunisia’s Kaouther Ben Hania, which follows a little girl’s yearslong coming of age as her parents migrate to Canada from Tunis.

LFF will close its 13 edition at the Souks with a screening of “The Hour of Liberation has Arrived” by Lebanese director Heiny Srour, which documents the activities of a guerilla movement once active in Oman.

The 16-millimeter film has an interesting history. It premiered at the debut edition of the Rotterdam film festival in 1972 under the title “Guerillas of the Arabian Gulf.”

Edited for TV broadcast, the footage was packaged to conform to the “voice of god” standards of “objectivity” common to docs in those days. Debuting at Cannes in 1974, the director’s cut – “The Hour of Liberation has Arrived” – is a more cinematic version of the film that tries to tell the story from the perspective of the fighters.

Since then Srour has been celebrated as the first female director from the Arab world to be selected for Cannes. Heiny Srour herself will be on hand for this projection of her film, from a print restored by Cinematheque Francaise.

LFF 2018 runs Sept. 17-21 at Beirut Souks shopping mall and IF. For scheduling details, see www.lebanesefilmfestival.org/program.html

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 17, 2018, on page 16.

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