Shooting in Lebanon, Part II
A lack of state funding in Lebanon has stifled diversity in moviemaking, but plucky independent initiatives have borne some fruit. Part II.
October 15, 2009 9:44 by Nathalie Bontems
“There’s a need for good scenarios,” says Pierre Sarraf, co-founder of the Lebanese Film Festival, also known by its trendier name, ‘…né. a Beyrouth.’ “I dream of seeing one good Lebanese comedy. The larger audience wants movies they can relate to, that talk to them and their lives. There’s plenty of room for lighter topics than war.”
In fact, the most popular Lebanese movie ever is a comedy. According to Circuit Empire’s Haddad, “Ghannoujet Bayya” (2007) attracted 212,000 viewers. But the film, a spin-off from a popular TV show, tapped into a reservoir of TV fans who, according to Haddad, “set foot in a movie theater for the first time and probably won’t ever be back again. It’s a pity that profitable films are usually rubbish, while good films have such a hard time being shown.”
Those who try to break the mold also have to break conventions. But going where no other Lebanese director has gone before is something that can be done at your own expense, as young director Marc Abi Rached of “Help!” painfully learned. The film, independently produced for over $200,000 with a distinct Western flavor, was supposed to be released on Feb. 19.
But three days before the planned date, Lebanon’s censorship department revoked its license in an unprecedented move that generated heavy media attention. Films had been banned before (among others, Randa Chahal’s “A Civilized People” was officially selected at the Venice Film Festival in 1999, but couldn’t be shown in Lebanon), but never had the state given authorization and then withdrawn it.