Cinema of Lebanon
|Cinema of Lebanon|
|No. of screens||185 (2009)|
|• Per capita||4.7 per 100,000 (2009)|
Haddad & Co|
|Produced feature films (2015)|
|Number of admissions (2010)|
|National films||16,666 (0.49%)|
|Gross box office (2006)|
|Total||LBP 48.4 million|
|National films||LBP 2 million (4.1%)|
The cinema of Lebanon, according to film critic and historian Roy Armes, is the only other cinema in the Arabic-speaking region, beside Egypt's, that could amount to a national cinema. Cinema in Lebanon has been in existence since the 1920s, and the country has produced more than 500 films.
While there has been steady increase in film production since the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the number of films produced each year remains relatively small in comparison to what it used to be in the 1960s, and the industry remains heavily dependent on foreign funding, mainly European. The industry also remains reliant on international box office revenues due to the limited size of the domestic market.
Despite that, local films have enjoyed a degree of local and international success. Ziad Doueiry's The Insult was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Nadine Labaki's three features have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival, starting with Caramel in the Directors’ Fortnight. Her second feature Where Do We Go Now? was screened in Un Certain Regard and later won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival while her third feature, Capernaum, was nominated for a Palme D'Or.
- 1 History
- 2 Film Institutes
- 3 Films
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Cinemas existed in Lebanon since the early 1920s, and a sharp increase in the number of theaters was observed between 1923-1929. By the end of the 1920s, cinemas were common in Beirut, and some were used as a place for political gatherings. For example, in 1925, the Communist Party met at the Crystal Cinema in Beirut. Cinemas had become so popular that in 1931, students marched in a protest, demanding that prices of movie tickets be lowered. To compete against Hollywood, France decreed that all American films that were being imported to Lebanon be dubbed into French.
The first local film, The Adventures of Elias Mabruk, was made in 1929. It was a silent film, directed by Jordano Pidutti. Pidutti was an Italian immigrant who worked as a chauffeur for the Sursock family before devoting his life to film. His first film, The Adventures of Elias Mabruk tells the story of a Lebanese emigrant who returns to Lebanon after a long absence in America in search of his family. This tale of an emigrant's homecoming, captured nostalgic feelings in a country of emigrants and would become a recurrent theme in Lebanese cinema. Jordano Pidutti's second film was The Adventures of Abu Abed. The comedy is considered the first film made with Lebanese funding. The financier was Rachid Ali Chaaban, who was also the star of the film.
Lebanese women, like Assia Dagher and Mary Queeny, played pioneering roles in Egyptian cinema. In Lebanon, Herta Gargour, who managed the film studio, Luminar Films, is credited with establishing filmmaking in Lebanon after the silent era. In the Ruins of Baalbeck (1936), which was produced by Luminar Films, was the first sound film. It was a hit with audiences and profitable. The film, which was directed by Julio De Luca and Karam Boustany, depicted the love story of a local prince who falls in love with a foreigner. The film is considered the first Arab film produced entirely in an Arab country and featuring the Lebanese dialect.
Ali Al-Ariss became the first Lebanese-born to direct a film on his own when he made The Rose Seller in 1940, which was followed by Planet of the Desert Princess
Documentaries were also being made during this period, but they were heavily censored by the French.
After Lebanon gained its independence from France, filmmakers began to examine local themes, especially rural life and folklore. During the post-independence period, Lebanon witnessed an economic boom that made its capital, Beirut, the financial center of the eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon's economic success, along with the presence of 38 banks and its open, multi-cultural and liberal society, made the country an alternative production choice to Egypt, which was at the time the center of filmmaking in the Arabic-speaking world. Additionally, "Lebanon had the region's best technical facilities" for film production. Fully equipped studios were set up in 1952, such as Haroun Studio owned by Michel Haroun and Al-Arz Studio
For the first half of the twentieth century, Lebanese cinema was very closely associated with Egyptian cinema. In addition to exporting numerous Lebanese actors and actresses, such as Nour Al Hoda and Sabah, belly dancers like Badia Massabni and producers like Assia Dagher, Lebanese distributors monopolized export of Egyptian film from 1930s – 1970s.
The first Lebanese film to be featured In Selection at Cannes Film Festival was Georges Nasser's Ila Ayn? in 1958. Despite its success abroad and having been screened at numerous film festivals, such as in Moscow and Beijing, the movie theaters in Lebanon hesitated to screen the film, and it only received a limited screening in Cinema Opera. For its sixty-year anniversary, the film was screened again in its restored print version as part of the Cannes Classics events in 2017. George Nasser's work has been more appreciated in recent years, and the filmmaker, who teaches at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts has been showered with accolades, including at the Tripoli Film Festival, which was held in his honor in 2017.
Co-productions with Egypt and Syria were common in this period, which was considered the "Golden Age" of the Lebanese film industry. Additionally, Lebanese producers from 1945 up to 1951 played an influential role in the first stages of production of Iraqi cinema.
The Golden Age
The film industry continued to prosper in the 1960s. After Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the film industry in Egypt in 1963, many private producers, distributors and directors, including Youssef Chahine, moved to Lebanon. The migration of film production to Beirut ushered a Golden Age, making Lebanon the film set for almost all Egyptian movies and establishing the Lebanese film industry as the second largest in the Arab world. Beirut rivaled Cairo’s dominance of Arab filmmaking, and even briefly replaced it as the center for Arab filmmaking; however, films produced in the sixties, for the most part, lacked a sense of national identity and were merely commercial films, targeting a pan-Arab audience. For instance, Lebanese filmmaker, Mohammed Selmane made a series of Bedouin-themed films, like Bedouin in Paris (1964) and Bedouin in Rome (1965), both starring Samira Tewfik and targeting not only local but also Syrian, Iraqi, Jordanian and Gulf audiences. Mohamed Selmane, who was trained in Egypt and returned to Lebanon to make 30 films in 25 years, was one of the most successful directors of this period.
The musicals of the Rahbani Brothers that starred Fairuz were an exception to the films that lacked a national identity. The Rahbani films were centered around nostalgic themes of life in Mount Lebanon villages. Nostalgia was a common theme in Lebanese film since 1929. While many films in the sixties were filmed in the Egyptian vernacular to cater to the large Egyptian market, the Rahbani films were filmed in the Lebanese dialect. The Seller of Rings (1965), set in a Maronite village and displaying folkloristic elements, was an adaption of one of their operettas to the screen. Another Rahbani film, Safar Barlik, which was set in 1912, depicted Lebanon's struggle against the Ottoman occupation. The film became a staple rerun on Lebanese television, especially on Independence Day.
There were other exceptions like the auteur films of George Nasser and Youssef Maalouf. Georges Nasser's second feature, The Small Stranger was also selected for Cannes in 1962. Youssef Maalouf adapted to film Kahlil Gibran's novel, The Broken Wings in 1962. Prints of the film The Broken Wings were believed to have been destroyed during the war, but one was found after the war stored in a church, and the film, starring stage actress Nidal Al-Askhar, was restored.
Lebanon was also a filming location for international productions. For example, in 1965, Val Guest's Where the Spies Are, starring David Niven and Françoise Dorléac, was filmed in Beirut. Twenty-Four Hours to Kill, starring Mickey Rooney, and Secret Agent Fireball, starring Richard Harrison, were also filmed in Beirut the same year. The following year in 1966, the German director, Manfred R. Köhler, filmed his film, Agent 505: Death Trap in Beirut. George Lautner's La grande sauterelle was also filmed in Beirut in 1967. Rebus, starring Ann-Margret was filmed on location at the Casino du Liban in 1969. While Honeybaby, Honeybaby was shot in 1974 in Beirut, the producers of The Man with the Golden Gun, which was partially set in Beirut, decided not to film in the Lebanese capital due to the burgeoning political problems.
In 1965, UNESCO established the Arab Cinema Liaison Center at the National Cinema Center in Beirut as a regional hub for linking cinema activities across the Arab world. Beirut hosted the first international film festival in the Arab world in 1971. Until the mid-1970s, the film industry in Lebanon was flourishing with market appeal that extended to neighboring Arabic-speaking countries. Lebanon was producing "a string of sexually indulgent films" such as Cats of Hamra Street and The Guitar of Love in 1973, starring Georgina Rizk, the Lebanese beauty queen who won Miss Universe in 1971. In the 1970s, cinema attendance in Lebanon was the highest among Arabic-speaking countries.
Heiny Srour became not only the first Lebanese and Arab woman to have her film in competition at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, but her documentary film The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived was actually the first film by any female filmmaker to be screened at the festival.
Prior to the civil war, 161 films, mostly commercial melodramas, were produced in Lebanon and exported to various Arab countries, but when the civil war began, film production decreased tremendously.
Despite the war, there was an "emergence of a new wave of Lebanese filmmakers – fostering, unusually, equal numbers of women and men". The female filmmakers, who emerged during this period, made highly acclaimed and internationally renowned films. Some of the filmmakers who emerged during this period were "Maroun Baghdadi, Jocelyne Saab, Borhane Alaouié, Heiny Srour, Randa Chahal Sabag" and Jean Chamoun. In the 1970s, film themes in Lebanon were concentrated around the political conflicts that the country was undergoing. Displacement was also a recurrent theme as evident in Borhane Alaouie's Beirut, the Encounter (1981). Films of this period were characterized by a lack of closure, reflective of the seemingly endless war at the time.
One of the most important directors to emerge during this period was Maroun Baghdadi. According to Lina Khatib, author of Lebanese Cinema: Imagining the Civil War and Beyond, Baghdadi's films were "considered the cornerstone of Lebanese cinema". Maroun Baghdadi made Little Wars (1982) with aid provided by the American filmmaker, Francis Coppola. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. The film also screened at New York Film Festival on 2 October 1982.
Documentaries by filmmakers like Jocelyne Saab who "adopted a mainly journalistic style" also developed rapidly and successfully during this period. Lebanese and Palestinian documentaries produced in Lebanon during the 1970s caused a surge of documentary production across the Arab world. These documentaries contributed to the development of feature film production in the early eighties.
Many filmmakers from this era, such as Jocelyne Saab, Jean Chamoun, Randa Chahal Sabbag, and Maroun Baghdadi settled in France due to the prolonged conflict in Lebanon.
Beirut: The Last Home Movie is a 1987 documentary film that was directed by Jennifer Fox and shot on location at the historic Bustros mansion in Beirut. The documentary, which told the story of one of Lebanon’s wealthiest families, was awarded the Excellence In Cinematography Award and won the Grand Jury Prize Documentary at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival.
Despite the war, Lebanon submitted a film for the first time for consideration for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film when Promise of Love (1978) an Armenian-language film by Sarky Mouradian was submitted to the 51st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
In addition to the wave of festival films and documentaries, a series of commercial films, mostly mimicking action B movies from Hollywood, were made in the early 1980s. Prominent directors such as Youssef Charafeddine and Samir El-Ghoussaini aspired for escapism in their films to take their audiences out of the context of the war. Films such as The Last Passage (1981), The Decision (1981), and The Leap of Death (1982) were popular because they depicted a society free of war where law and order actually existed. Other commercial films, like Ghazl Al-Banat, incorporated the war in the narrative. The era of commercial film production ended with the Israeli war on Lebanon.
After the war, Beirut reemerged as one of the centers of mass media production in the Arab world. While media production was concentrated around television, there were attempts to revive the film industry in Lebanon, especially by fresh graduates of Lebanese film schools. While filmmaking schools are a rarity in the region, by the mid-1990s, six of Beirut's universities were offering degrees in cinema and television and that attracted an influx of students from Arab countries who chose to receive some or all of their media training in Lebanon. Financing of film production in Lebanon in this period was mainly dependent on foreign support, both European and from the Lebanese diaspora.
The civil war was a major theme for Lebanese filmmakers since 1975, and this trend continued in the early post-war era where films continued to be affected thematically by the war. Films made after the war had a common theme of returning to the war setting and dealing with trauma common to post-conflict societies.
Many films, such as Jocelyne Saab's experimental film, Once Upon a Time in Beirut, examined the destruction that was left after the war. Maroun Baghdadi's Beyrouth Hors la Vie won the Special Jury Prize at Canned in 1991. Other's like Jean-Claude Codsi's Histoire d'un retoure examined the issue of returning to the country after years of exile and war. In 1994, Codsi's film won the jury award at the Festival international du film Francophone de Namur in Belgium.
In 1997, Youssef Chahine's French-produced film, Destiny, was shot on location in Lebanon, including the historic mountain town of in Beiteddine.
While many films produced in the 1990s were hits at international festivals, Lebanese viewers were not drawn to the mainly war-themed films. An exception was West Beirut (film) (1998), which was a local and an international hit. It was not only the first Lebanese film, but also the first Arabic-language film to have general release in America. The film, that received worldwide attention, was the first Lebanese film that the post-war generation in Lebanon actually saw in cinemas, and it ushered a new era in Lebanese filmmaking that historian, Lina Khatib calls a renaissance.
Renaissance in the 21st century
A mélange of local issues and Western aesthetics characterized this period of Lebanese filmmaking. Films in this period gained domestic appeal where many films were not only commercially successful as evident in box-office sales of Bosta, Caramel, Stray Bullet, and Where Do We Go Now? but also were able to compete with imported, American films. Funding of films remained reliant on European organizations, such as Fonds Sud Cinéma in France and Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Philippe Aractingi's Bosta (film) is one of the few films that was completely funded locally.
Ghassan Salhab's Terra Incognito (2002) screened in Un Certain Regard in Cannes. In 2003, Randa Chahal's The Kite examined the issue of families separated due to the occupied territories in southern Lebanon. Her film won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Also in 2003, Georges Schoucair returned to Lebanon after studying film in France and established Abbout Productions, the country's first post-war production house, which has become Lebanon's "foremost production house and one of the most prominent companies for art-house films in the region".
By 2004, film production was on the increase with four fiction and two documentaries produced. Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s The Perfect Day (2005) examined the social implications of political kidnappings that happened during the war. Ghassan Salhab's The Last Man (2006) represented the cultural memory of the war from the eyes of a vampire protagonist caught in limbo between life and death. Zozo (2005) by Josef Fares follows the life of a young boy and his journey to flee the war to Sweden. New themes that did not necessary deal with the issue of war emerged, like Danielle Arbid’s In the Battlefields (2005) that critiqued patriarchal society. Filmmakers began to examine the postwar context rather than living in or surviving the war. Michel Kammoun's Falafel (2005) about disillusioned youth in post-war Beirut premiered in 2006 at Cinema Days of Beirut, a festival which was not cancelled despite the Israeli bombardment of the capital as a sign of "cultural resistance".
Short film production, especially by the graduates of the film schools in Lebanon, was also on the increase and receiving local and international attention. Hany Tamba's After Shave won the César Award for best short film in 2006.
2007 was an important year for Lebanese filmmaking when two female directors, Nadine Labaki and Danielle Arbid presented their films at the Cannes Film Festival. Labaki presented Caramel while Arbid presented A Lost Man. A Lost Man is possibly the most sexually graphic film ever made by an Arab director. Caramel enjoyed an international release, including in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Argentina.
According to research conducted by Fondation Liban Cinema, "The film industry in Lebanon has seen a significant growth over the last four years, with 31 movies produced in 2014, compared to just four a decade ago.". Ghassan Salhab's The Mountain, which was produced by Abbout Productions, had its international premiere during the Doha-Tribeca Film Festival.
In 2010, 11 films were produced in Lebanon. Muriel Abourouss won the best director of photography award for Georges Hachem's Stray Bullet at the Festival international du film Francophone de Namur in Belgium. Vatche Boulghourjian filmed on location in Bourj Hammoud, The Fifth Column a short film in Western Armenian dialect that won the third place Cinéfondation Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ok, Enough, Goodbye by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia was shot on location in Tripoli, Lebanon in 2010. The film tied with Delphine and Muriel Coulin's Ragazze for the Special Jury Award ex-aequo at the Torino Film Festival in 2011.
Also in 2010, Carlos, a Canal+ production that starred Édgar Ramírez as well as a handful of Lebanese stars such as Razane Jammal, Rodney El Haddad, Antoine Balabane, Ahmad Kaabour, Talal El-Jordi and Badih Abou Chakra was shot on location in Lebanon. Carlos, which screened out of competition at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival won the 2010 Golden Globe award for the Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television.
Increase in film production was evident in 2011 with 24 movies produced. Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? won the Prix Francois Chalais at Cannes. The film also won the people's choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as the audience award at the Films from the South Festival in Oslo, Norway. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the American rights to the film. The film was Lebanon's choice to compete in the Academy Award's "Best Foreign-Language Film" category. The film also won the Byarad d'Or at the Festival international du film Francophone de Namur in Belgium and the Doha Tribeca Film Festival's Best Narrative Film award.
In the summer of 2011, the city of Beirut participated in the 48 Hour Film Project for the first time where 24 teams competed. Cyril Aris won the Best Film category for his short, "Anoesis," which will be Beirut's entry in Filmapalooza 2012, the final festival for the 2011 48 Hour Film Project.
Mounir Maasri's Rue Huvelin, which was set in 1990, told the story of seven Saint Joseph University students from Beirut's Rue Huvelin during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Né à Beyrouth produced the film.
Jean-Claude Codsi filmed his second feature, A Man of Honor, which was produced by Michel Ghosn and premiered at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival on 28 October 2011.
Beirut Kamikaze, an Experimental/Documentary by Christophe Karabache was released in cinema (Paris) on 16 November 2011.
Also in 2011, Celine Abiad's Beiroots Productions presented a different perspective of Mediterranean filmmaking by producing and experimental surrealist film (5.1 Dolby surround), shot in 35mm and fully produced in Lebanon: A Play Entitled Sehnsucht, written and directed by Badran Roy Badran. The film was picked up for international distribution at Cannes, by Albany Films International, a company dedicated to the promotion of art house and indie films from gifted and promising directors.
Documentary filmmaking was also present in 2011. Rania Stephan won "Best Documentary Filmmaker" at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival for The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosny. It's All in Lebanon, a documentary film directed by Wissam Charaf and produced by Né à Beyrouth Production, premiered at DIFF in 2011. Hady Zaccak’s Marcedes screened at the Marché du Film. It received several awards, including Best Documentary at the International Federation of Film Critics at the Dubai International Film Festival and the Al-Jazeera Documentary Channel Award for Best Long Film at Al-Jazeera International Documentary Festival.
Thirteen feature and short films were premiered at DIFF in 2011, including Danielle Arbid's Beirut Hotel, Youcef Joe Bou Eid's Tannoura Maxi, Daniel Joseph's Taxi Ballad, Simon El Habre's Gate #5, Hady Zaccak's Marcedes, Rami Nihawi's Yamo, Christina Foerch Saab's Che Guevara Died in Lebanon, Tamara Stepanyan's 19 February, Wajdi Elian's A Place to Go, Rodrigue Sleiman and Tarek El Bacha's Nice to Meet You, Aseel Mansour's Uncle Nashaat, and Nadim Mishlawi's Sector Zero.
Steady increase in film production continued with 25 films produced in 2012. Lara Saba completed her second feature, Blind Intersections. Despite being critically acclaimed, Ziad Doueiry's film, The Attack was banned in Lebanon because it was filmed on location in Israel. 74, La reconstitution d'une lutte, a docu-fiction by Raed and Rania Rafei, recreates the student occupation of the American University in Beirut 1974.
The number of films produced in 2013 were 24. Amin Dora's Ghadi, which was released in late 2013, became Lebanon's entry to the Oscars's Foreign Language category and later won the KNN Award (Audience Award) at the Busan International Film Festival. Philippe Aractingi completed and released his documentary feature film, Heritages.
The number of films produced in Lebanon jumped to 31 films in 2014, and this also reflected an increase in the number of production companies, including 27 focusing only on films. One of the most prominent films of the year was Void, written by George Khabbaz and directed by seven different directors, all of them graduates of Notre Dame University, and the film would be selected as Lebanon's entry to compete at the Oscars in 2015. Ghassan Salhab reunited with actors Carlos Chahine and Carole Abboud in The Valley, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Valley was shot on 35 mm.
There were 31 produced films in 2015, growing 675% since 2004.
In 2015, Noura Kevorkian's drama-documentary hybrid feature film 23 Kilometres was selected for documentary competition at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival as well as Muhr Feature Award competition at Dubai International Film Festival.
Two government initiative were passed in 2016 that benefited the film industry. The first was the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the Fondation Liban Cinema and the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) which added the media industry, including film production, to IDAL’s mandate of bringing investment to the country and offering incentives such as 100 percent tax exemption on corporate profits for up to 10 years. The other initiative was Banque du Liban's offering of $100 million in loan guarantees at the low interest rate of 1 percent. Banque du Liban also issued Intermediate Circular 416, which subsidizes loans of up to $3 million by banks and financial institutions to support film, television and theatrical productions
In 2016, Solitaire, Sophie Boutros's first feature film, premiered at the 13th Dubai International Film Festival and Philippe Aractingi's feature film, Listen was also screened at Dubai Film Festival's Arabian Nights.
A Maid for Each, a documentary by Maher Abi Samra about domestic servants in Lebanon, won the Peace Film Prize at Berlin Film Festival and Post-Production Awards at Final Cut in Venice 2014.
In December 2017, Lucien Bourjeily's debut feature film Heaven Without People won the Special Jury Prize award at the Dubai International Film Festival while Vatche Boulghourjian's Tramontane was selected for Cannes’ Critics’ Week.
After being supported by the Venice Biennale College - Cinema Program, Martyr (2017) by Mazen Khaled premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2017 where it won the Queer Lion Award. The gay-themed film also screened at the SXSW Film Festival, where it was included in the festival’s official LGBTQ film selections. Breaking Glass Pictures acquired the film for American theatrical distribution.
The documentary, Taste of Cement (2017) by Syrian filmmaker Ziad Kalthoum was filmed in Lebanon with Lebanese director of photography Talal Khoury and received a Cinema Eye Honors nomination and won the International Competition at Visions du Réel.
Rana Eid's documentary, Panoptic, which will be released in cinemas in 2018, premiered at the 2017 Locarno Film Festival and received a First Lights from the Jihlava Film Festival in the Czech Republic.
Among the 13 participating Arab countries, Lebanon had the most nominations at the Arab Film Institute's first edition of the Arab Film Awards. The films were: The Traveller by Hadi Ghandour, Jihane Chouaib's Go Home, Listen by Philippe Aractangi, Single, Married Divorced, a comedy by Shady Hanna, the romantic comedy Solitaire by Sophie Boutros, Roy Dib's The Beach House, and Tramontane by Vatché Boulghouroujian.
Nadine Labaki's Capernaum, which was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or, earned a 15-minute standing ovation following its premiere on May 17, 2018 at the Cannes Film Festival. The film won the Jury Prize.
Tony Farjallah's Morine, a film about a 7th-century woman who disguises herself as a man in order to live in a monastery, is considered the first historical film set in Lebanon. Other films made were Michel Kammoun's Beirut Hold’em, Nadim Tabet’s One of These Days, Rana Eid's documentary Panoptic and Joanna and Khalil Joreige’s The Notebooks a co-production of Abbout Productions and France’s Haut et Court.
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