Nathalie Rosa Bucher

The first Tripoli International Film Festival

NOW speaks to Jocelyne Saab and Atiq Rahimi about the need for cultural resistance and solidarity


Tripoli, the second-largest Mamluk city in the world and a city with a splendid heritage, has become a virtual no-go area for many Lebanese.


Following years of neglect by the Lebanese government, residents are now living in danger and fear, suffering from the stress of violent street fights and killings.  


Tripolitans have come to feel like pariahs in their own country. Cultural activists lament the fact that few Lebanese support their efforts and businessmen rarely hold meetings with their partners or clients in their Tripoli offices: un-nuanced media coverage and fear dominate. Residents, when asked about the situation, express pain, regret, and a sense of isolation.  


Not surprisingly, the key motivation for artist and filmmaker Jocelyne Saab when she agreed to run the Tripoli International Film Festival (TIFF), was solidarity. “There is a sense of urgency, as we marginalize one community over another,” she tells NOW. The theme this year is cultural resistance.


“I’m very interested in resistance because I find that we have entered a phase where this country is rotting away,” Saab says. “How to get out of it? You have to find a way.  The only way is to go back to your spirit, gray matter, that’s why I say, go back and feed yourself off culture and ‘the other’ and then maybe the rotten parts will fall away.” 


She continues: “I choose cinema because it is a mirror with bits and gives you images that might restore your memory to make you go further. We’re living the rest of the war, we are in need of a rejuvenating effort. “


Screening at the festival are two films by French-Afghani author and filmmaker Atiq Rahimi, 'Terre et Cendre' (Earth and Ashes) and 'Syngue Sabour' (The Patience Stone), which is based on his Goncourt Prize-winning novel (written in French). Rahimi opted to change the script for the film into his mother tongue, Farsi. 


Set in Afghanistan during violent and unstable times, 'Syngue Sabour', depicts a woman, played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani ('Bab’Aziz', About Ellie).  A debilitating injury to her husband, which leaves him paralyzed and mute, leads her to find her voice and so bare her soul, reveal her innermost thoughts and desires, and account for desperate measures she’s had to take in her life.


“In these societies, in order for a woman to speak, to reveal herself, for her to speak of her intimate desires, men must be muted,” Rahimi said.


When asked about cultural resistance more generally in Afghanistan, Rahimi is quick to point out that it has always happened, everywhere in the world.  "All along history we come across acts of resistance through culture,” he said, citing the example of the poet Ferdousi, who wrote the epic poem the Book of Kings in Persian, during the Muslim conquest of Persia. 


Saab emphasizes that the films being screened as part of the festival are very different from what is usually shown on Lebanese screens. “Cinemas have become so commercial,” she says. “The tradition of going to the cinema and of interacting with the film, like reading a great novel, is gone.” 


Films that center on women, gender relations, and social issues affecting women are some of the highlights of this diverse and rich festival, which includes features and documentaries from a broad range of countries, and has screenings not only in Tripoli but also in Beirut, and, in order to reach a broad variety of audiences, at six universities. 


Saab and her team have included films set in different contexts but touching on subjects that will resonate with local audiences. The section La ville au féminin includes a dozen films that question the positions women hold in cities. Indian filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s outstanding documentary Salma, features in this section, as does The Mirror never lies by Kamila Andini (from Indonesia). 


Other films that Saab feels will have particular local resonance are Djamila Sahraoui’s feature film Yema, which portrays something close to what Lebanon is currently experiencing; the documentary Fukushima Horse Parade by Matsubayashi Yojyu, which will link to a lack of concern in Lebanon with nuclear dangers, and feature film 'Ok, khallas, yalla' (Ok, enough, goodbye), by US-based Tripolitan filmmaker Rania Attieh and her husband Daniel Garcia. 


Algerian writer and feminist, Wassyla Tamzali who is president of the jury of TIFF’s documentary section, felt compelled to join the festival. “The title was irresistible,” she told NOW. Tamzali has dedicated much of her career to women’s rights. She firmly believes in culture’s transformative force: “Culture is what allows me to be who I am not. After seeing a painting by Goya, I leave the museum and am no longer who I used to be.” 


In addition to attending TIFF, Atiq Rahimi is visiting Beirut to promote his latest novel, A Curse on Dostoyevsky at the Salon du Livre.   Asked what impression Beirut had made on him, he pointed towards a certain tension. “There is something that silences the population here, there’s a sort of timorousness,” Rahimi said. “After every war, there is this urge to mourn. It is crucial for criminals to admit to their crimes, to stand up to society, people, and acknowledge what they have done so that a people does not live in denial. This is the danger of post-conflict countries.”    

The festival has been supported by the International Festival of Vesoul in France and NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema), which will be represented by its founder, Aruna Vasudev.



For more information, you can visit the festival blog and Facebook page. TIFF screens at Metropolis, City Complex in Tripoli and various universities. 


The festival has partnered with Connex for cinephiles between Beirut and Tripoli to conveniently reach screenings at Tripoli’s City Complex. 

Golshifteh Farahani in 'The Patience Stone' (image courtesy of TIFF)

“The tradition of going to the cinema and of interacting with the film, like reading a great novel, is gone.”