BEIRUT: Beirut DC has launched a new online platform to enjoy films from Lebanon and the wider Arab world. As of 26 March six titles, shorts and features, fictions, docs and art films are available, free of charge, on Aflamuna (Our Films). (https://www.aflamuna.online/#similar)
The roster of content will be rotated every 15 days, with additional works sprinkled in. This will be welcomed by any cut off from the North American streaming services, currently making a mint from the shuttering of cinemas worldwide, and the millions of desperately bored humans undergoing lockdown.
Aflamuna is an initiative driven by a group of Arab filmmakers and film institutions, led by Beirut DC (aka Beirut Development and Cinema), the nonprofit best known for organising Ayam Beirut al-Cinemaiyya, the biennial Arabic film festival. Since the event was launched in 1999, Beirut DC has shepherded several film projects through production while launching further exhibition events as well as training and co-production gatherings, not least Beirut Cinema Platform.
Aflamuna aims to program “some of the best, most thought-provoking and most independently-minded works of contemporary Arab cinema to enjoy for free on this website for limited engagements.”
The three features available through 8 April range from fiction through art film.
“The One Man Village,” Simon El Habre’s award-winning nonfiction feature from 2008, is a lyrical document of the quiet life of Semaan, the lone year-round occupant of Ain al-Halazoun, a Mt. Lebanon village emptied during the 1975-1990 Civil War. (Provided courtesy of the filmmaker, and Beirut DC’s co-producer Mec film/ Irit Neidhart)
Lodged in Akram Zaatari’s research into the archive of Saida photographer Hashem el Madani, “Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem,” Zaatari’s feature-length art film from 2015, ruminates upon the city, Madani’s practice and and the technologies used for producing and reproducing images over the years. (Provided courtesy of the filmmaker and MC Distribution)
Mazen Khaled’s feature-length 2017 fiction “Martyr” tells the story of of a young man’s accidental death at Beirut's seaside Corniche and the highly corporal rites and ceremonies his friends and family must follow to express their grief. (Provided courtesy of the filmmaker and Art Trip Productions/ Diala Kashmar)
The three shorts on offer also run a wide gamut -- from science fiction to sardonic nonfiction to electronic art.
“Face A / Face B” is taken from artist and performer Rabih Mroué’s oeuvre of witty, apparently inconsequential, art videos. Mining cassette tapes the artist claims he and his family recorded in the 1970s and ’80s, this nine-minute work from 2002 amusingly ponders how recorded images and sounds relate to one another (or not) and what they have to do with identity.
Documenting the paranoia churned up in Belgium in the wake of a 2016 terrorist bombing associated with the immigrant district of Molenbeek, “Cleaning Schaerbeek,” Farah Kassem’s 20-minute nonfiction from 2017, is a wry document of what can happen when you inform the cops of some suspicious activity outside your house.
Released in 2018, the 30-minute short “Before I Forget,” by Egypt’s Mariam Mekiwi, is a science fiction yarn involving overlapping stories of rising sea levels and apocalypse, amphibians and women in hospital, a scientist, and an internet cable.
Aflamuna is the latest online film exhibition initiative to spring up in response to the public health crisis provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic. As this story went online, Lebanon reported 368 confirmed infections, with six deaths. Over 510,686 cases have been confirmed worldwide, with 23,079 deaths.
For shut-ins whose interests veer toward contemporary art, Ashkal Alwan (The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts) has placed its audio-visual archive online via the open-access video streaming platform aashra, which posts a rotating selection of 10 titles at a time. (https://ashkalalwan.org/program.php?category=4&id=445)
As of 21 March, terabytes of digital recordings went up, with content ranging from films and performances, recordings of past editions of the Home Works Forum, Home Workspace Program lectures, and two-decades worth of seminars and talks.
As this story was being prepared, the aashra selection included a videotaped performance of Rabih Mroué’s 2017 stage play “How Nancy Wished That Everything was an April Fool's Joke,” in which four combatants from Lebanon’s civil wars recount how they repeatedly fought and died for their shifting political-sectarian convictions, Mahdi Fleifel’s 10-minute 2018 short “I Signed a Petition,” focussing on a couple of Palestinian pals debating whether to boycott a Radiohead gig in Israel, and “Our Terrible Country,” Mohammad Ali Atassi’s 2014 doc about two protagonists in Syria’s civil war.
Another feted doc about Syria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis – now further complicated by the still-unfathomed impact of COVID-19 – is “For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ Oscar-nominated 2019 doc. Al-Jazeera’s Documentary channel is streaming the film free of charge on its facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/Aljazeeradoc/videos/645626469606928/)
Sometimes significant resources for Arabic cultural production are outside the region. IDFA (the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam) is a case in point. As part of its year-round programming, IDFA makes selections of films available online – some for free, more for a fee – a gesture that the onset of the COVID-19 crisis has made more urgent.
On 26 March the festival announced the launch of two curated online programmes, three standalone doc highlights and a 200-strong selection of free-of-charge titles, several of which were made in the MENA region. (https://www.idfa.nl/en/collection/documentaries?page=1&filters%5BtvPrice%5D=Free)
Lebanese cinema’s first response to the state’s closure of theatres and cinemas came on 17 March when George Choucair’s Abbout Productions announced it would allow access to a selection of Abbout films on its facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AbboutProductions/).
Each title is available via link, whose passwords expire after three days. The initiative got started with “Treve - A Time To Rest,” Myriam Hage’s nonfiction feature from 2015, that interrogates her father’s experience in Lebanon’s Civil War by documenting the weekend hunting parties of him and his pals.
Three days later they posted “Lebanon Factory,” an omnibus feature comprised of four short film collaborations by Ahmad Ghossein and Lucie La Chimia, Mounia Akl and Neto Villalobos, Shirin Abu Shaqra and Manuel Maria Perrone, and Una Gunjak with Rami Kodeih. Next up was Rana Eid’s “Panoptic,” at once a lyrical study of Beirut architecture – some landmarks, others hidden, all of it somehow residual of Lebanon’s Civil War – and a dialogue between the image and sound of the city.
From 26-31 March, cineastes will have a chance look back on Lebanese cinema pioneer George Nasser and his best-known work. Nasser’s 1957 feature “Ila Ayn,” the first Lebanese film to screen at Cannes as well as “Un Certain Nasser,” Antoine Waked and Badih Massaad’s 2017 documentary profile of the filmmaker -- two films for the price of none.
The content in Aflamuna and these other online exhibition initiatives promise something distinct from that of Netflix et al. Regrettably, all these services are held hostage to Lebanon’s notoriously slow internet.