Arts & Culture Editor
The lights went out, the festival was about to begin.
After waiting at the door for a few minutes, I was given a briefer and led to my seat. A while after that, I was asked to choose another seat, and then another. It was obvious, by now, that it was all still pretty raw.
Organized by the Media Society, AUB’s first short film festival was what I would call a delightful mess. Held together by nothing but good intentions and hard working society members, the Bathish Auditorium was chaotic, buzzing louder than the cafeteria during lunch time. It was a while before everyone was comfortable in their seats, leaving nothing but two empty rows at the back of the hall.
Muhammad Hariri and Farah Noureddine, the festival’s two hosts, soon introduced the three judges. The first was filmmaker and AUB professor Tony Oyry, who expressed his excitement for the festival before leaving the stage for judge number two. Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, director of Film Kteer Kbeer (2015), took to the stage to state that as he was a student not long ago, he was here to see what others had to offer. The last judge – love him or hate him – was a prominent figure in the Lebanese art scene. Without wasting a second, George Khabbaz threw a joke after another while communicating how honored he was to take part of this event.
A speech by Sasha Al Jurdi, president of the society, was addressed later and the short films were ready and rolling.
Alice by Mira El-Khalil
Opening the fest was Mira’s surrealist short film. A girl wakes up in an empty room with vast windows, and starts talking to a bunny (a woman in bunny make up) about love, sadness, and madness. The judges first congratulated El-Khalil on her film, after which Mir-Jean pointed out that some films start off well then lose focus, advising El-Khalil not to commit that mistake in her future works.
Though I personally liked the ambition behind Alice, I thought the short film looked too much like a play. Theater, of course, is wonderful, but in this case, it did not really benefit El-Khalil’s film.
A Writer’s Day by Christina Batrouni & Georges Sacre
Batrouni and Sacre’s film follows an author facing writer’s block. He meets an old friend of his who sets him in contact with one of his favorite authors, who later on tells him that he’s thinking too much when he should be feeling more. The judges first vocally appreciated the way Christina and Georges mixed sound and image, then told them not to use too many montages and not to rush anything.
Overall, I agree with the judges, the movie did feel a bit rushed. However, it had a strong opening scene.
Bound Dreams by Maysam Ahmad Azzam
The third entry on the list was Azzam’s immigrant-focused film, Bound Dreams. In it, a foreign man, representing Syrian, Palestinian, and Egyptian workers in Lebanon told us about his motives and journey through a voiceover, showing us the different parts of an immigrant’s life in our country. George was the first to thank Maysam for bringing up such an important and relevant cause. Professor Oyry was the second to comment, also expressing his appreciation. Mir-Jean concluded by stating that voiceovers can be tricky, which is why filmmakers need to avoid the redundancy in showing us exactly what the narrator is talking about.
I failed to see, however, when exactly was the film redundant enough to bother anyone. Maysam made sure her film flowed nicely and did not rush nor stretch it.
Dead to Me by Tanite Chahwan
Tanite’s film shows a woman recounting the story of her boyfriend over someone’s grave. It’s a straightforward drama full of flashbacks, one red herring and one final twist. Mir-Jean said the film could’ve been cut out of the final product, and finally gave an example after Tanite insisted. The two other judges had nothing to offer but love for Tanite’s work.
This was the first film that truly felt professional. Not to downgrade the effort of the rest of the competitors, but Dead to Me was obviously the work of someone who knew exactly what they were doing. The level of the production was indeed impressive.
Dress Up by Lynn Bou Nassif
This one was all about a girl lost in a dressing room, trying out different clothes and make up. Tony Oyry said he appreciated the message it sent, to which both George and Mir-Jean agreed.
I was excited to watch the film with the coolest title on the list. It might not have been my favorite, by the end of the fest, but it sure caught me off-guard with its twist. It was delightful.
Lucy by Kelly Hreshdakian
This was probably the longest of the fiction films. It was about a rich and drunk man living alone, waiting for Lucy to deliver him his food. This one, as well, had a twist. All the judges pointed out the fact that although they have no problem with long movies, this one was too slow for its own sake.
Lucy was perhaps the film that demanded the most from its stars, but the actors were fortunately up to the task. All it needed was a better pace and it would’ve been great.
Palestine in a Limited Lens by Maher El Khechen
The first documentary of the evening presented statements from Palestinians who were scattered all around the globe, also showing the viewers the border and acquainting them with some Palestinian poetry and music. The judges, especially George, appreciated the cause, with Mir-Jean advising Maher not to lecture the viewers too much, and to actually show them the message he wants to send, adding that the images of the barbed wires marking the borders were really convenient.
Though I’m a supporter of the cause, I also thought the film did not really show us anything we hadn’t seen before, except, perhaps, highlighting the fact of how close we are from Palestine. I appreciate the intention, of course, but the film needed something to make it stand out.
Roy by Mona Jouni
This is another film with a twist, and a message, that shows a man oppressing a woman, never letting her get out of the house. The judges enjoyed the message, but George asked Mona if the film was shot with an iPhone, adding that the photography level was poor.
The best thing about this film was its pace. It did not waste a second to reach its climax, and kept us focused till it faded back to black. However, George was right; the photography was poor.
The Mafia, The Favor, And the Fuck Up by Ebrahim Karam
Ebrahim’s film is all about AUB, the difficulty of math 201, and paying money for grades. It was the most comedic film on the list. As the judges were about to give their verdict, Ebrahim interrupted saying he knows the film was too fast paced, to which Mir-Jean replied revealing that this was not something they were going to mention. The judges said it was funny, and didn’t really mention anything else.
Of all the films on the list, this was my least favorite. It was funny on two occasions, but, other than that, it was something I’m sure we’ve seen many times before. Also, it’s not really recommended to use a title that gives out the entire plot.
The Suspended Survival by Nour Safieddine
The Suspended Survival was the second documentary for the night, and the film with the longest runtime. Over the course of 16 minutes, Nour documented the struggle of Lebanese people living just next to the Palestinian border, and their constant suffering at the hands of the Israeli army. The judges did nothing but praise the film, with George stating that he does not know if this film should even compete with the rest, as it clearly was on an entirely different level.
In fact, it was clear that Nour was a professional, and whether she studied filmmaking prior to the festival or not, I agree that her film was clearly above the competition all together. It was great, and I don’t think it was fair to the rest of the filmmakers to let it compete.
Trauma Causes Pain by Gianni Hammoudeh
Concluding the night was Gianni’s psychological thriller that sees a man wake up, strapped to a chair, and getting questioned by one of his acquaintances. George and Tony told Gianni that they really appreciated how he used the single lamp in the room to light up his shots.
This was a fun movie, and it was both unsettling and funny.
After the films were done, the judges finalized their verdict and chose the winners. The two obvious entries won. Tanite Chahwan finished second and won 300$, while Nour Safieddine won the grand prize of 700$. Midway through the fest, a member of the audience also won a gift offered by representatives of Bank Audi.
AUB had its first short film fest, brought to us by The Media Society, on Monday, April 18. The films were nowhere near perfect, but considering the filmmakers only had from March 1 to April 13 to finalize their products, they deserve all the praise they get. With a little more organization, and the addition of different categories, as pointed by George after watching the documentaries, the AUB Short Film Festival can become a sought-out art event in Lebanon.