Within the framework of Beirut Cinema Week, which will be held from March 29 to April 6, the 10th edition of the Ayam Beirut Al Cinema’iya Festival, organized by Beirut DC, tackles the theme of “Diversity”. It constitutes of a tour of the most important current issues in the Arab world, from the Israeli massacres of Palestinians and the ensuing dispersion, the revolutions of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the phenomena of extremism and violence, to the suffering of refugees, poverty, corruption, and humanitarian and social issues plaguing the Arab society, finally reaching Arab women’s struggle for freedom and liberation.
The organizers of Beirut Cinema Week, held a press conference on Friday 22nd of March, at the Bristol Hotel to announce the program of the Festival, which includes a wide range of activities and coincides with the 20th anniversary of the founding of Beirut DC.
From Beirut Cinema Days, the artistic director, Zeina Sfeir, and the managing director, Jessica Khoury; the director of Beirut Cinema Platform (BCP) Jad Abi Khalil with Maya DeFreige, director of Fondation Liban Cinema; and Hania Mroue director of Metropolis Association.
The Festival opens on Friday, March 29 with the documentary Of Fathers and Sons by Syrian director Talal Derki, which depicts the life of a member of Al-Nosra, who is preparing two of his sons for the Jihad. This angle allows us to dive into the subject of extremism and the passing down of the culture of violence, and thus into the future of Syria’s new generation. The film was nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards – 2019 and was screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the Sundance Film Festival in the United States, among others.
The closing film on April 6 is by Egyptian filmmaker Abu Bakr Shawky’s Yomeddine, which was in the official Selection Of Cannes Film Festival – 2018. The film tells the story of a man who grew up in a leper colony and who sets out on a quest for his roots. Rady Gamal plays the role of this man, who was sent to the colony as an adolescent because of a misdiagnosis. It is Shawky’s first feature film. He previously directed a documentary about the Abu Zaabal colony.
Beirut Cinema Days also includes films by four other Egyptian directors, including Dream Away, a documentary by Egyptian Marouan Omara and German Johanna Domke. It deals with the stories of a group of young Egyptians working in one of the major hotels Sharm el-Sheikh. They are pulled between the city’s two opposite facets: on one hand, it offers them freedom, easy money, the Western way of life, but on the other reign the Eastern traditions they grew up to. The film also shows how Sharm el-Sheikh is recovering from the terrorist attack of some years ago.
Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Siam’s documentary, Amal did the opening of IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam) in 2017 and was screened at the Carthage Film Festival and at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The film follows the Egyptian Revolution through the story of a girl who was a teenager at the time the revolution started in 2011: the camera follows her life starting that point until she turns twenty years old.
In Lail Khargi (EXT. NIGHTt), Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla uses the camera to narrate his personal experiences, his concerns and his dreams, through the story of the unlikely meeting of three people, who each belong to completely different worlds and who suddenly find themselves forced to spend a night together, stepping outside of the lives they usually lead.
Also in the program, the film “Phantom of the Road” by Egyptian director Oussama Fawzi, who passed away at an early age. In the occasion of his birthday, which falls during the month of March, this screening pays tribute to the late filmmaker.
Egyptian filmmaker Amal Ramsis’s You Come From Far Away tells the extraordinary story of a Palestinian family that was dispersed and separated following the unrest of the twentieth century, starting after the Spanish Civil War in which the father, Najati Sidqi, participated in the struggle against Franco’s rule, passing through the Second World War and reaching the Palestinian Nakba, and then the Lebanese War.
In collaboration with Welfare Association, a film section “Gaza Under The Spotlight” will be devoted to Palestine, and we will be screening several films such as: Italian director Stefano Savona’s documentary Samouni Road, which won the Cannes L’Œil d’or (Golden Eye) documentary award at the 71st Cannes Film Festival. It documents the events of a massacre that killed 29 members of the Samouni family during a wedding in Gaza, most of them children and women, through meetings with survivors of the massacre.
Swiss director Nicolas Wadimoff’s The Apollo of Gaza is centered around an ancient statue of the god of sun and music, Apollo, which was found in Gaza before disappearing under mysterious circumstances.
As for persons who have been victims of enforced disappearance, their fate is tackled in Lebanese filmmaker Ghassan Halwani’s Erased, Ascent of the Invisible, an experimental documentary which premiered and received a special mention at the Locarno International Film Festival. It follows the story of a man who was kidnapped in Lebanon 35 years ago. Halwani was a witness to his kidnapping, and the man has not yet been found, but the filmmaker imagines his reappearance and depicts it in his own way.
Also on the program, is the documentary Counting Tiles by Lebanese director Cynthia Choucair. The film premiered at the Rotterdam film festival. It is a story about the refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, told through the eyes of a group of clowns who headed to the island to provide entertainment for the refugees’ children. This film takes the director down memory lane, for her own family had sought asylum in Greece during the Lebanese war.
On a different note, in the Lebanese documentary The Swing, which won the Bronze Star at El Gouna Film Festival and the Jury Prize at the MedFilm Festival in Rome, director Cyril Aris shows his grandparents and the way they must deal with the tragedy of their daughter’s death.
Lebanon’s Ghassan Salhab directed the experimental film Warda (An Open Rose), which is inspired by the life of philosopher and Communist activist Rosa Luxemburg, on the occasion of the centenary of her assassination. The film, which was screened at the last edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, is based on letters written by Luxemburg when she was in prison in 1917. During the festival, Ghassan Salhab will be also having a DVD signing of his latest films.
The program includes a day dedicated to experimental films, featuring young directors such as: Rami Sabbagh (Imperfect unless it is performed in Blood), Ghada Sayegh (Sleep) and Lawrence Abu Hamdan (Walled Unwalled) and “It’s a long way from Amphioxus” by Kamal Aljafari, whose film will be screened for the first time after his premiere at Berlinale Film Festival 2019.
The documentary Freedom Fields by British-Libyan filmmaker Naziha Arebi focuses on another kind of women’s struggle, specifically that of Libyan women who are fighting to be free from the constraints imposed on them by society. Against the backdrop of the revolution in Libya, the director hones in on three educated young women preparing to start work in medicine and pharmacy, with no plans to give up their passion for football, despite the severe assault and various accusations flung their way from their clerics.
From Sudan, hails a love story in times of civil war, depicted in the film aKasha, by Hajooj Kuka. It was featured at Venice Film Festival, and it is about one of the heroes of the Sudanese revolution whose love for fighting is only rivaled by his passion for his lover. The film deals with the continuation of life in the shadow of war.
As for the Maghreb countries’ participation in the festival, two films are featured: Tunisian director Najib Belkadhi’s Look at Me, which is the story of a young man who emigrated to France and was forced to return to Tunisia to take care of his autistic son, in the midst of a plot filled with emotions and scenes that reflect the social and political situation in Tunisia. Moroccan director Mohsine Bisri’s Tafah al-Kayl (Une urgence ordinaire) highlights the social suffering of the poor and the issues plaguing the health system in Morocco, especially in terms of bribery and neglect, as well as the situation of overcrowding the country is witnessing in light of the fragility of its infrastructure.
The third film Divine Wind by Algerian filmmaker, Merzak Allouache, who tackles – just like his previous films – the themes of extremism and terrorism.
Dar El-Nimer will feature a tribute to the late Jocelyne Saab. Lebanese director, Hady Zaccak will moderate the tribute, which will include Fawaz Traboulsi, Michele Ryan and Malak Mroueh, who will present the work of the late director through the perspective of three generations.
A music video night will be held at KED in Quaratina.
The films will be screened at Metropolis Empire Sofil, and Dar el-Nimer will be hosting the films on Palestine. Other screenings will take place at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, the Ishbilia Theatre in Saida, and Hammana Artist House in Hammana.