Nathalie Rosa Bucher

Up close and personal with the protagonists of the sea

A fantastic lineup of films at the Blue Bahr Film Festival aims to inspire and raise awareness

Whale shark
Clown fish
Wave with view of Lebanese coast
Caribbean Reef Shark
Diver & sharks
Festival poster

In terms of sea-faring vessels, the up-coming Blue Bahr Film Festival (bahr means “sea” in Arabic) is a spectacular, state of the art vessel. Held for the first time in the region, the festival combines local and international films that showcase the diversity of global coastlines and highlights their beauty, fragility and interconnectedness. They also take audiences into the depths of the ocean to reveal its secrets, treasures and quirky characters, such as the Flamboyant Cuttlefish.


“The Blue Bahr Film Festival is indeed a celebration of our oceans and the amazing creatures that dwell in its depths,” festival founder Justine Schmidt told NOW.  “It is a film festival showcasing the world’s most visually stunning films, shot with the latest technology.”  


The two-day festival, which will dock at Cinemacity at the Souks, Beirut’s newest theater complex features 3D and other cutting-edge technology.  “Local filmmakers, ocean experts and advocates will be invited to participate in the festival and educational booths will be set up outside the theater,” she added.


Films screenings will include a few shorts, such as Surfing Lebanon and The HMS Victoria that focus on Lebanon. The HMS Victoria is about Christian Francis’s assiduous search for the wreck of what was once the British fleet’s finest vessel and sunk off the coast of Tripoli.


Part of a section on surf movies, Surfing Lebanon, by Alfred, showcases some of the best waves that are drawing a growing surf and kite surfing community around Batroun and Jiyeh. Taylor Steele’s Here & Now, shot in a single day in 2012, stars top surfers taking to the waves around the world, and Intentio is an award-winning, contemplative surf film set in Indonesia, New Zealand and around Europe. Without a doubt, an absolute highlight and must-see for all surfers and ocean-lovers is The Ultimate Wave, showing in 3D and set on a Tahitian reef that attracts top surfers – Kelly Slater among them – in their quest for the biggest surf.


The festival includes a range of panels with guest speakers, experts and filmmakers, as well as music, DJs, prizes, and tips on how to become a better steward of the environment. 


In as much as the festival is a celebration of the seas and oceans, Schmidt, an award-winning producer of Discovery Channel and National Geographic films and holds an MA in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, underlines the dire need for raising awareness. “Our seas and oceans are in critical condition. Our Mediterranean shores are no exception, and it is time to raise awareness and inspire the public to become better stewards and caretakers of this precious resource. It is time to celebrate our sea, and to protect it for future generations to come.” 


Films such as Sharkwater and Revolution, by Rob Stewart, and Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Blue Planet are captivating, showcasing the most beautiful seascapes around the world. The realities these filmmakers exposing us to, however, are of species dying, fish stocks being depleted, reefs perishing, so-called “dead zones” on the rise (areas where oxygen concentration is very low), and massive amounts of plastic thrown into the ocean, causing enormous harm to sea life, including birds and mammals. It’s a bleak scenario that needs far more public attention.


Following his highly-acclaimed film Sharkwater, Stewart joined activists in the fight for environmental action and he skilfully elucidates how various environmental hazards, such as ocean acidification in Papua New Guinea, deforestation in Madagascar, and tar sands in Alberta, Canada, leave irreversible scars on land and seascapes and ultimately put all living organisms at risk.


Plastic Ocean highlights the horrendous effects of plastic waste in the seas. Plastic is not biodegradable and only breaks down under heat into smaller and smaller pieces. The harmful effects of plastic on sea animals and birds that mistake it for food are increased by a wide range of toxins in plastic, most notably mercury. As such, the food chain as a whole, at the top of which humans sit, is highly threatened.


According to Schmidt, plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish each year. “In Lebanon, plastics constitute more than 75% of marine litter. Plastic bags take 400 years to biodegrade.  Lebanon consumes approximately 500 million bags per year. If tied together they would circle our planet 4.5 times.”


Schmidt also talks about the Sidon Trash Mountain, which is one of 670 uncontrolled and illegal dumps across Lebanon. It is 30 years old, 300 meters high and holds 500,000 tons (roughly 45.5 million kg) of trash.


“Many of us are concerned about the political instability that continues to rock Lebanon, but few of us are aware of the environmental threats that haunt the country – particularly its beaches and marine life,” Schmidt says.


“The Lebanese have long shared a strong bond with the ocean, since the days when sea-faring Phoenicians mastered the deep blue. But recent decades of war and political neglect have taken a toll on Lebanon’s beaches and rich underwater world. Most of Lebanon's rich marine biodiversity has been wiped out.


“Loggerhead and green sea turtles nest on Lebanon’s beaches every year. They live up to 100 years and can migrate thousands of kilometers before coming back to the same beach.


“Today, 90% of the world’s large fish are gone and 90% of large sharks have been wiped out. The Bluefin will go extinct this decade if we continue to overfish it.”


Besides private initiatives like We love Tripoli island clean ups or Operation Big Blue Association’s beach clean ups, and the remarkable sea turtle project Mona Khalil runs at the Orange House south of Tyre, there is little institutional effort being made to protect the Lebanese coast and sea. Nor are any environmental laws being drafted or, more importantly, implemented, that would stop the degradation of these public resources. The recent example of Dalieh is a case in point. That said, the Lebanese seem love their natural environment to death, using it as a dumping ground, depleting it rather than safeguarding it.


That is why Schmidt envisions a traveling festival, bringing the films to classrooms and communities across Lebanon. 


In the meantime, consider becoming a steward of our seas: it is as simple as bringing a shopping bag along next time you head out to shop, not buying endangered species, and never leaving waste on the beach.


Blue Bahr Film Festival runs on 26 and 27 August at Cinemacity, Beirut Souks. Tickets cost LL7,500, and day passes LL15,000. For the full lineup and details on films and events go to www.bluebahr.com or www.facebook.com/BlueBahr  or call Lisa at 03 945 702.  

Global warming affects reefs - the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most threatened reefs. (Image courtesy of Blue Bahr Film Festival)

Many of us are concerned about the political instability that continues to rock Lebanon, but few of us are aware of the environmental threats that haunt the country."