On April 22, the 18th edition of the Beirut International Film Festival (BIFF) will take off, after having been postponed in October 2018. The festival will run until April 28. Despite its exceptional date this year, its program includes, as usual, important movies that won international prizes or that were screened in film festivals. The program includes several films, whether in the documentary and short films’ category or the two other non-competing categories, which tackle current issues in the world, especially in the Middle East. Many of the featured films focus on issues related to women and their attempts to break free from traditions. Saudi Arabian cinema had a remarkable presence through films reflecting the changes in the kingdom.
International Panorama… and Berlusconi’s life as opening and closing films
This year, the festival will be held at Metropolis Empire – Sofil in Ashrafieh. The opening and closing films, Loro 1 and Loro 2, depict the life of former Italian Prime Minister and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi. Paolo Sorrentino who already won an Oscar in 2014 directed the films.
In addition to Sorrentino’s films, the International Panorama category comprises of ten other films, including 3 faces, a film by Iranian director Jaafar Panahi who has been forbidden from shooting films in his country for years. The film, which won the Best Screenplay Award at the 71st edition of the official Cannes Film Festival, constitutes a token of appreciation to cinema and the art of acting in Iran and an ode to late director Abbas Kiarostami whom Panahi assisted. The film tells the story of a famous actress, Behnaz Jafari, who runs to the aid of a village girl whose family forbade from studying acting in Tehran.
Women’s struggle against traditions is also the theme of Sofia by Moroccan director Mariam Ben Mubarak. It talks about a Moroccan girl who gets pregnant outside of wedlock. The film won Best Screenplay Award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for the category Un Certain Regard, and Best Screenplay at Angouleme Festival.
The documentary, RBG, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, tells the story of a woman fighting for human rights and equality and battling against discrimination. She is US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who developed a legal heritage and became a cultural symbol.
Whitney, by British director Kevin Mcdonald, commemorates the passing of singer Whitney Houston and talks about her life, secrets, accomplishments, scandals and the rumors that revolved around her.
The program includes two other biographical films — the Happy Prince by British director Rupert Everett about the memories of author Oscar Wilde in his battle against death; and McQueen by French-British director Ian Bonhote about the main life stops of fashion designer McQueen, leading up to his sudden death. The film won the BAFTA for Best Documentary.
The Panorama category also includes:
- Ash is Purest White by Chinese director Jia Zhangke. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, and it talks about the girlfriend of a mob boss who risks her life to protect him.
- Euforia by Valeria Golino was shown as part of Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival. It talks about two completely different brothers, one of whom is a successful and charming businessman, and the other teaches at a small village school, where he leads a simple life. But, their life circumstances bring them closer, and they get to know each other better.
- Nossa Chape by American directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist is a documentary detailing how the Brazilian football team Chapecoense picked up the pieces after most of its players died in a plane crash in 2016.
- Octav by Romanian director Ioan Celebidachi is a movie about the pureness, sweetness and bitterness of childhood, friendship, love and nostalgia and about a man who returns home after years to sell his childhood house. Each corner reminds him of his happy childhood, and he finds answers to questions that had haunted him.
Documentary Films’ Competition
The documentary films’ competition features seven films, and several directors will be present at the festival.
Women’s topics also mark this category, through Colored Dress that tackles the stories of 15 independent women who represent different categories of the middle class in Egyptian society. The film directed by Ihab Mustafa features amateur actresses playing their real selves and appearing as they do in real life. However, the film is not a documentary per se, rather a docudrama mixing reality and fiction.
Facing Death with Wire Cutter by Iraqi-Kurdish director Serwar Abdullah is also featured in this category. The director won awards in five festivals, including the Golden Khanjar Award for the Short Film category at the Muscat International Film Festival. The film tackles the efforts of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in removing mines and explosives that the terrorist Islamic State (IS) had planted.
In a documentary entitled Not Another War Movie, Lebanese director Stephanie Koussa tells the story of a student studying cinematic direction and preparing a documentary about how Lebanese youths deal with the Lebanese war legacy, through two political rivals.
Lebanese-Swedish film No Man’s Island by director Christelle Sayah tells the story of a Lebanese man who migrated to Sweden when he was 17, taking his culture along with him. He became lost and confused and unaware of his identity or belonging. He felt like he was living between two worlds: the Lebanese one and the Swedish one.
Unknown Steps by director Tarek Toufic tackles the migration crisis and highlights the fact that it is a life and death experience. The film reveals the ugliness of people who exploit the misery of others.
The documentary film Lotus by Iranian director Mohamadreza Vatandoust tells the story of an old woman who waited for 12 years to receive a permit to enter an island to visit its only inhabitant. The film participated in several festivals and won the Artistic Vision Award at the American Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
The featured documentaries also include El Pianist: Musician in the Time of Sahwa by Saudi director Hassan Said Madlough. It tells the story of a talented Saudi pianist Ali Al-Buri who died in 2016 at the age of 37, after a long battle with brain cancer. The film is set two years before the social reforms in Saudi Arabia began in the fields of musical and artistic liberation.
Short Films’ Competition
Another Saudi film, Wasati, by director Ali Kalthami is participating in the short-film competition, which includes 15 films. The film tries to show the other side of the attack that several extremists launched around ten years ago against showing the play Wasati Bila Wasatia.
Gulf cinema also has its share in the festival. Whip Round by Canadian-Emirati actor and director Faisal al-Jadir talks about a man who tries to steal from his ex-boss in the middle of the night, but is surprised with unexpected company.
Ablution by Kuwaiti director Omar al-Dakhil tells the bold story of a father who discovers his son’s sexual tendencies. A conflict between religion, duty and the self complicates their relationship.
The film 1-0 by young Egyptian director Nada al-Azhari tells the story of a shy teenager who finds herself in an embarrassing situation when she sends a flirtatious text message that was meant for a guy she loves to her father by mistake. She does her best to delete the message before the game her father is watching ends and before he checks his phone.
Berries Land by Egyptian director Khaled Mansour tackles the story of a boy from the countryside who tries to go on a journey to meet the soul of his dead mother who had told him that the souls of the dead ascend to the skies to rest on the moon.
A Dream movie by Bahraini director Ghadir Mohammad tells the story of two friends who share the same dreams.
Riad Ahlami film by Moroccan director Zinab Tamourt talks about her first cinematic experience, how a 12-year-old built a rapport with the cinema which amazed her, and how she rebelled and entered this field which was, at the end of the 1980s, reserved for men.
From Morocco also, Junkyard by director Karima Geunnouni talks about a girl who works in a warehouse in her town to make money and continue her studies. But, her stepfather steals her salary. She decides to retaliate to take her money back and to realize her autistic brother’s dream to go to the beach for the first time.
Aya by Tunisian director Moufida Fadila tells the story of a smart little girl who lives with her Salafist parents. One day, a sudden event turns the life of this family upside down. The film won several awards, including the Golden Tanit for Best Short Film at the Carthage Film Festival.
Brothers by Lebanese director Mike Msallim talks about the life of a Muslim Arab kid who realizes he is different. Fortunately, his elder brother supports and encourages him to be himself in the face of challenges and discrimination.
The Contract: Thanatos Palace Hotel by Lebanese Gaby Gabrielle tackles the story of a young stock trader struggling with his suicidal thoughts, but he does not dare commit suicide. He accepts an offer from a strange hotel that promises him a happy, painless journey out of this world. But, as soon as he enters the hotel, he meets another guest and falls in love with her. Their love might push them to reconsider suicide.
The program also includes two Turkish movies. Guards by Benefsha Parivan tells the story of three Yazidi children who live in a refugee camp in Turkey.
The All Seeing Blind by young director Nouri Sayhan Ozdogan talks about smuggling the gold possessions of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Turkey by hiding them between cotton. Blind workers would take out the gold from the cotton, thinking they were removing stones rather than gold. But, the smugglers were not aware that one of the workers could see.
Barber and the World by Kurdish director Shawan Atouf talks about a Kurdish barber who could not change the design of his shop due to the war, oppression and tragedy.
After the War by Iraqi director Bassam Nouri shows the war from a different angle. He talks about a small boy’s love for the army and his aspiration to become a soldier, while he awaits his father’s return from the frontlines impatiently.
Wind-up by Lebanese director Ayasella Ghosn tells the story of a boy who returns home after the war destroyed it and finds items that bring back nice memories. He revisits his life memories before the war.
Unspoken by Lebanese director Samia Badih tells the story of a young poet who writes in vernacular. Her poems went viral online, and the movie depicts her struggle with self-censorship and her quest to write sincere and authentic poems.
Lower Heaven by Iranian director Emad AleeBrahim Dehkordi narrates three days in the lives of two Afghani brothers who migrated illegally to Iran. Their destiny takes an unexpected turn, and their lives undergo positive change.
In Newborn by Iraqi-Canadian director Ray Savaya, a couple has their first child, but tensions soon mar their relationship due to a dispute that creates doubts. The film won Best International Short Film at the Louisiana International Film Festival.
Off the Grid by Syrian director Sara Hassan tells the story of a young man leading a life that seems ideal. He holds a university degree, works at a company and enjoys a stable marriage. But, certain thoughts start creeping into his mind, whispering into his ear that life is deeper than all this.
Push by Jordanian director Khaled Jibali follows Hussam’s physical and mental constipation after his break-up with his partner.
Kaset by Turkish director Serkan Fakili tells the story of a child who takes the batteries out of his father’s azan-playing alarm clock to listen to a tape he found in the woodshed of their house.
Saudi cinema is present in this category also through Al-Qatt film by director Faisal al-Otaibi. The film depicts Al-Qatt art that women in Asir in the south of Saudi Arabia, created. It involves decorating the walls of houses and light-colored items that have a symbolic value. The documentary won third place in the Riga International Tourism Film Festival for the cultural tourism category.
The festival administration wanted the jury this year to be formed of young Lebanese, successful film directors and producers. Some have already won BIFF awards, like Pierre Abou Jaoude, Christelle Youness and Elie Fahed.
The film screenings will take place in Metropolis Empire – Sofil. Tickets will go on sale as of April 18 at the cinema, starting from 4 until 10 pm. Ticket prices for regular shows are at 8000 L.L. and a Festival Pass to access all festival screenings is at $25. For further information about the screenings and tickets, you can contact the number 70 141 843 or Metropolis Empire – Sofil on 01-204080. You can also visit the festival website www.beirutfilmfestival.org.
Colette Naufal thanked the constant and unwavering sponsor of the festival, SGBL, and Beirut Municipality for their “faith in the festival and support for it.” Naufal also thanked the Ministry of Culture and partnering media outlets TV5 Monde, Future TV and Al-Akhbar.