Beirut Film Festival breathes life into Lebanese movie scene

Firas Haidar
Staff Writer

This month, for the first time in a long while, Abraj Cinema Center was overflowing with people congregating from different parts of the world to celebrate the opening of the Beirut International Film Festival.

The 14th edition of the event spanned seven consecutive days, beginning on October 1 and screening an eclectic array of local movies, from documentaries to feature films.

A number of people delivered speeches to kick off the ceremony, including Julie Gayet, actress and president of this year’s jury, and award-winning actress Juliette Binoche. Gayet’s speech highlighted the importance of cinema in the Middle East, saying, “Cinema is freedom.”  Binoche’s speech, however, was unexpected. As she took the stage stage and stated that she’d been to Lebanon before and would be back again, the actress started crying, ending her speech before it even began.

Luckily, Binoche left a strong impression as the star of the festival’s opening movie, Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria”. Assayas’ movie presents an interesting story, some truly amazing scenery, and a number of delightful performances. The movie feels a little long at first, but the emotional depth it shows and the brilliant epilogue make you forget about whatever flaws noticed earlier.

The festival itself is a very important event for Lebanon and the region in general: it encourages Middle Eastern filmmakers and puts them on the map.

As per tradition, Beirut Film Festival has launched a competition for Middle Eastern documentaries and Middle Eastern shorts.  A pleasant surprise, however, was the return of the Middle Eastern feature film competition, after a two-year hiatus.

The movies taking part in the competitions are nominated for 11 different awards: four for features, three for documentaries, and another four for shorts.

Although the jury decides on the winning movies, the SGBL Audience Vote for the Best Feature Film also allows people to express support for their favorite movies.

Competition aside, the screening schedule was versatile, with a rich collection of European and American films. With 12 to 15 movies showing at Abraj’s multiple theatres, it can be hard to decide what to watch first.

Considering all the redundantly trivial TV series and shows airing on our local channels, the Beirut Film Festival means that Lebanon still has integrity when it comes to cinema. Taking part in it could very well encourage local film-makers to emerge, pioneering a new trend of Lebanese cinematic endeavours.

More information and a schedule of the month’s screenings are available at www.beirutfilmfestival.org.

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