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Nadine Elali

Promoting films, telling stories

With Ashkal Alwan, Cinephilia Productions, and Né à Beyrouth

Film

Those who are not from the region rarely have an opportunity to go beyond the politics of the Levant, to understand its people. Production houses and cultural associations, based both here and abroad, believe that there is a need to provide a more nuanced image of the region’s people by telling their stories. With this in mind, organizations such as Ashkal Alwan, Cinephilia Productions, and Né à Beyrouth have been launching initiatives to assist independent filmmakers in producing and promoting local films in local and international markets.

The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts (Ashkal Alwan) works to support and promote video art and film in Lebanon. Since its inception in 1994 the association has been committed to the production, facilitation, and circulation of artistic practices across a range of disciplines and media. Victoria Lupton, Ashkal Alwan’s assistant director, tells NOW that since 2006 the association – through its project Video Works – has also been providing a sustainable support structure for video production by emerging artists and filmmakers based in Lebanon.

“Every other year,” she says, “following an open call for proposals, a jury selects between eight and twelve projects for production. The artists are provided with grants and the produced works are subsequently premiered over a three-day screening event in Beirut.”

The project, explains Lupton, gives emerging artists the opportunity to have their films shown on the big screen, which “exposes their work to a wider audience.”

For Video Works, applications are open to all genres of video and non-feature-length film proposals, including experimental video, fiction, and documentary, provided that the produced works can be screened in a single-channel version (on a cinema screen). As to who is eligible for the grant funding and screening, the only stipulation is that they have to be working and living in Lebanon.

“There’s no need that they be established and there is no need they be of a certain age bracket either,” she says. “[Applicants] also do not necessarily have to be Lebanese, but they have to be working and living in Lebanon.”

“What is important is that they are contributing to the video art/film scene here and that they have a sustained relationship with this place,” she emphasized.

Darine Hoteit is the founder of Cinephilia Productions, an art house film production company based in Los Angeles and New York City that produces “original and daring narrative films from all corners of the world”.   For her, too, it is important that given the lack of opportunities to learn about this region, a more nuanced image is somehow achieved. “And who better to do it than filmmakers?”

She continues: “I think today it’s time to tell the important stories, the stories which address our social issues and present where we are in respect to the rest of the word.”

Hoteit’s production company holds a touring lab that aims to develop original, visionary, and daring voices, training them in the art of screenwriting. In the lab, which has been taking place in various countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, artists each develop a narrative short film.

“I have noticed that filmmakers struggle when telling a story within a cinematic structure. And because screenwriting is essentially the main criteria for a good film, the lab aims at helping screenwriters reach a certain standard so that these stories are best told,” she says.

The requirements to apply to the lab, she says, are simple: one need only be over 18 years old and be originally from region, or writing something about the region. One screenplay from each lab receives the Best Screenplay Award and is funded, produced, and distributed (sales & festivals) by Cinephilia.

To encourage film making in Lebanon and to support emerging artists, Né à Beyrouth develops, co-produces, and line produces Lebanese films, both short and long. It does this in collaboration with other international production houses so as to contribute to the dynamism of the Lebanese film industry.

“Any director with a strong, viable, realistic, internationally appealing project can apply,” says Pierre Sarraf, one of the founding partners of Né à Beyrouth. “If the company believes the film project has international potential and is financially feasible, then we proceed with its development.”
 
Since 2001, the company has played a major role in fostering the film industry in this country by producing the Lebanese Film Festival in Beirut, which has served as a platform for the promotion of Lebanese films that would otherwise rarely be seen.

The fact that many of the films made in the region aren’t available off the big screen is the industry’s most grievous omission. With this in mind, Né à Beyrouth now curates a DVD compilation series of the Lebanese short film and documentaries that were shown during the festivals. “The DVDs are sold in the market and the revenues are re-distributed to the directors and producers,” says Sarraf.

Sarraf adds that this year, for the first time, they were also able to strike a deal with the Lebanese television station MTV to broadcast short Lebanese films and documentaries. “The program ran from October 2012 to March 2013 and helped promote more than 40 Lebanese films,” he says.

“Né à Beyrouth also established a partnership with CINEMOZ, an online platform that distributes Arabic film content,” he added “we provide them with the major Lebanese cinematic content.”  

Film can be a powerful way to help individuals see the similarities between different cultures, rather than the often-highlighted differences. In Lebanon, given that efforts by the state are largely absent, industry enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to promote films from the region around the world.

(Image via www.ayannanahmias com)

The fact that many of the films made in the region aren’t available off the big screen is the industry’s most grievous omissio