Beirut celebrates films of the sixties

Hania Mroue, founder and director of Beirut-based Metropolis Art Cinema

From June 13 to June 22, Metropolis Association, a Lebanese organisation promoting art house cinema, will hold its inaugural La Belle Epoque (“The Most Beautiful Days of My Life”), a retrospective in Beirut showcasing ten to eleven Lebanese genre films of the 60s. 

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With industry heavyweights Antoine Khalife and Joana Hadjithomas as artistic directors and support from the Ministry of Tourism, French Tourist Office and BLC Bank, the annual festival aims to raise awareness of Lebanon’s cinematic history and help position Beirut as a production hub for filmmakers. The festival will also host exhibitions featuring photos of Beirut’s old cinemas, and costumes and stills from classics; a catalogue of photos of exhibition items and a book featuring texts examining Lebanon’s history through film posters will also be available to festival-goers.

Why genre films of the 60s? “[Those filmmakers] were really courageous; their films were made without big budgets. They believed in cinema as an art and tool, and a way of promoting this country,” Hania Mroue, founder and director of Beirut-based Metropolis Art Cinema told Variety Arabia. “It was a period when people had more hope and ambition to make more commercially successful films. Releases were everywhere…The markets and Arab borders were more open.”

During that period, many films were co-produced by Egypt, a point the festival plans to highlight by paying tribute to one Egyptian and Lebanese actors, both of whom have not yet been selected.

Metropolis secured digital copies of their collection from ART, which holds roughly 200 forgotten titles in its Egyptian archives, and is working with the channel to digitise negatives of which 35mm prints don’t exist. As Mroue points out, many films were neglected during the Lebanese civil war and left to rot due to factors like humidity or tossed out by distributors who didn’t own the rights to prints. Metropolis is also scouting for films of the 80s and 90s, the locations of which remain unknown.

Although the industry could use a boost in the form of facilities and tax incentives, for Lebanon’s moviegoers, more beautiful days may be on the horizon. The industry used to churn out one to two films a year, three at most—now, production is “flourishing” with ten a year. 

“I think this cinema is making its way slowly. You can see that in festivals [accepting] more and more Lebanese films,” said Mroue. “The Lebanese audience [also] has more trust in Lebanese films.”

Source: Variety Arabia

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