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