Terrorism, extremism and refugees at Beirut’s International Film Festival

Beirut International Film Festival Director Colette Nawfal (L)

World-renowned movie directors, producers and ac­tors treaded the dis­tinctive blue carpet of Beirut’s International Film Fes­tival (BIFF) as Turkish and Iranian productions claimed most of the prizes.
Celebrating 20 years since it was launched, BIFF offered a rich pro­gramme that featured films that had won global awards or had been screened in international festivals. The Middle Eastern short films cat­egory featured 18 entries and Mid­dle Eastern documentaries had five from the Arab region, Turkey and Iran.
“It is BIFF’s 20th anniversary, though it is the 17th edition be­cause the festival did not take place over three years due to insecurity and conflict (2006 war with Israel),” said Elias Doummar, film program­mer and BIFF co-organiser.
“The festival was born in 1997, when Lebanon was undergoing a massive reconstruction after the civil war, with an aim to reinstate Beirut’s position as a cultural hub in the region and to place it back on the worldwide map of film-making, pushing the boundaries set by a region in constant turmoil,” Doum­mar said.
He stressed that, since the begin­ning, “BIFF’s aim was to transmit Lebanese cinema to the world and to bring the best of international film festivals to Lebanon.
“Also, we have great talents in the region, and thanks to the space of freedom of expression available in Lebanon, the Beirut festival has become the best platform in the region for Arab and international film-makers to convey their mes­sages and ideas.”
Productions making it to this year’s edition dealt mainly with such timely issues as terrorism, religious extremism, refugees and rights of marginalised groups in addition to social issues. Daily life challenges and romance were also highly featured in documentaries and short films entries.
“The selection takes into consideration basic criteria, nota­bly the film’s qual­ity in terms of act­ing, direction and script but the fes­tival is also on the side of the youth, providing them with a platform to make their voice heard. They are free to speak out about their concerns, fears and problems which reflect the issues in their society,” Doummar said.
The blue carpet that the festival displays, instead of the red carpet as a symbol of dislike of over-ex­travagant events, is meant to break obstacles between participants, the audience and the prominent festi­val guests.
“All the young talents, famous directors, producers, scriptwriters and actors get the chance to meet and mingle. The festival is a bridge between international figures in the movie world and the talents from the region,” Doummar said.
This year’s festival included cine­ma figures such as the founder and director of Telluride Film Festival, Tom Luddy; co-director of Tellu­ride Julie Huntsinger; international directors Fisher Stevens and Michel Hazanavicius and Italian director Gianfranco Rosi.
The festival, which ran Oc­tober 4-12, opened with “La Cordillera,” a feature film by Argentinian director Santia­go Mitre, about fictional Ar­gentinian President Herman Blanco, for whom the personal is political. It closed with “Lov­ing Vincent” by British direc­tor Hugh Welchman about the last days in the life of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Both Mitre and Welchman attended the screening of their films.
Among the other 14 feature films screened in the International Panorama category: “The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer” by Greek director Yorgos Lanthi­mos, which won the Best Scenario Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; “Wind River” by American director Taylor Sheri­dan, which already gar­nered critical accolades; “A Prayer Before Dawn” by French director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire; “Yom Lel Settat” (“A Day for Women”) by Egyptian director Kamla Abou Zekri about the social, psychological and emotional life of the women living in Egypt’s shabby neighbourhoods; and “Becom­ing Cary Grant” by British director Mark Kidel about the troubled life of the Hollywood star.
The Documentary Films Compe­tition included five movies, two of which were from Lebanese direc­tors with one from each of Turkey, Iran and France. The prize for Best Documentary was awarded to “No Place for Tears” by Turkish direc­tor Reyan Tuvi about the war in the Syrian city of Kobane.
The Short Films category was the most competitive with 18 movies by directors from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian ter­ritories.
Best Short Film award went to “A Girl in the Room” by Iranian Karim Lakzadeh about an elderly man whose daughter visits him after 25 years in Germany; Second Best Short Film went to “Passenger” by Turkey’s Cem Ozay; and Third Best Short Film to “The Guy Came on Horseback” by Iranian director Hossein Rabiei Dastjerdi.
The Jury Special prize for a Short Film was given to “The Bliss of Be­ing No One” by Saudi director Bad­er Alhomoud, while the Audience Vote for Best Feature Film went to “I Am Not Your Negro” by Haitian director Raoul Peck.
American director Jonathan Nos­siter and Argentinian director and screenwriter Santiago Amigorena were co-chairmen of the BIFF jury, which also included Lebanese di­rector Ziad Doueiri and French ac­tress Vahina Giocante.
Samar Kadi
is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.