BEIRUT: Two Lebanese movies have come away winners at the Venice Film Festival, though neither of them is finished.
Final Cut in Venice is a workshop platform devoted to works in post-production from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and the African continent. Held Sept. 5-7, Final Cut in Venice saw six titles compete for post-production funds.
It’s organized by the festival’s film market, Venice Production Bridge, in collaboration with the Amiens and Fribourg festivals. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop was this year held online.
The 2020 La Biennale di Venezia Prize for best film in post-production went to “Harvest,” the narrative feature debut of Lebanon’s Ely Dagher. The filmmaker first came to public attention in 2105 when his animated short “Waves ’98” won the Palme d’Or in the shorts contest of the 68th Cannes Film Festival.
The project synopsis for “Harvest” describes a coming-of-age story of its eponymous hero – 26-year-old Jana, who’s returned to her family home in the Beirut suburbs after a failed effort to establish herself in Paris. Beirut provides a churning location for Jana’s efforts to come to terms with herself. The film stars Manal Issa, who’s acting career was launched by Danielle Arbid’s 2015 feature “Parisienne.”
“For the strength of his cinematic proposal, for his original look at the existential questions of the new generation in his country today [we recognise] the director as an emerging talent,” said the Jury of the La Biennale Prize – Marie-Pierre Macia (MPM Film), Antonio Medici (BIM Distribuzione), and Michel Zana (Sophie Dulac Distribution) – in its statement. “Considering that the film is still at editing stage, the jury hopes that the director will find the right and necessary length.”
The prize bolsters the film’s post-production budget by 5,000 euros. In addition, “Harvest” received an additional 20,000 euros of support, targeting specific facets of post-production. These monies were awarded by the Jury of the Supporters of the eighth edition of Final Cut in Venice and provided by various production companies and boradcasters.
The other Lebanese title in Final Cut in Venice comes from a different quadrant of the country’s cinema ecosystem. Zeina Daccache has gained international recognition for a series of documentary films that have grown out of her work as a drama therapist with marginal communities.
“12 Angry Lebanese: The Documentary,” 2009, emerged from a 15-month programme with 45 inmates from Roumieh men’s prison. “Yawmiyyat Scheherazade,” 2013, documents a 10-month workshop with the inmates of Baabda’s women’s prison, where they staged their play of the same name. In “Shebaik Lebaik,” 2016, Daccache worked with migrant laborers and domestic servants resident in Lebanon.
To Final Cut she brought her latest doc, “The Blue Inmates.” The film takes Daccache back to Roumieh Prison and a theater play centering on inmates suffering from mental illness.
The country’s 1943 penal code stipulates that “insane,” “mad,” or “possessed” offenders should be imprisoned in a psychiatric unit until they show evidence of “being cured.” Since mental illness tends to be managed rather than cured, Lebanon’s mentally ill inmates effectively serve life sentences.
The Jury of the Supporters of the eighth edition of Final Cut in Venice awarded “The Blue Inmates” post-production assistance – $5,000 courtesy of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, 5,000 euros from the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.
The third film to win support from Final Cut is “Soula,” by Algerian director Salah Issaad. A road movie, the film centers on Soula, a single mother who, rejected by her family, undertakes a gruelling 24-hour journey to stay with friends. The Jury of the Supporters of the eighth edition of Final Cut in Venice awarded “Soula” over 20,000 euros worth of post-production services.
The Venice Film Festival wrapped Saturday evening, awarded its Golden Lion to “Nomadland,” Chloe Zhao’s recession-era road trip, starring Frances McDormand.