The Yacoubian Building to screen as festival finale
BEIRUT: The Beirut international film festival opens Wednesday under the slogan Make Films, Not War, aiming to revive the Lebanese capital s vibrant arts scene from under the shadow of conflict. Cinema is a wonderful medium to learn about other cultures, to become more tolerant. That s why we decided to go ahead with the festival despite the holdups caused by the war, festival director Colette Naufal told AFP. This year s festival showcases 18 feature films and two documentaries, in only the seventh edition of what was to have been an annual event launched a decade ago but which has often been disrupted by political and security chaos. It was going to be canceled because of a lack of financial support, but we felt the need to resurrect it and face up to war with culture, said Iara Lee, president of the U.S. foundation Lee and Gund, which put up the funding. The logo of this year s October 4-11 festival – the first since 2003 – is a phoenix rising from the ashes. We want to tell the world that people here function normally. It s not a dangerous place, it s a wonderful, warm and hospitable country, said Lee, despite the Western media s stereotyping of Arabs as terrorists. We may have different values, but there are cultural differences that should be respected, she said. The festival opens with the critically acclaimed tragicomedy Volver (To Return) by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, a story of family secrets starring Penelope Cruz as a working-class mother. It reaches a finale with The Yacoubian Building by Marwan Hamed, a love story and examination of the roots of Islamist militancy based on a bestseller by the Cairo dentist-turned-author Alaa El-Aswani. Among the other films is Offside by Iranian director Jaafar Panahi, which tells the tale of six young women who dress up as men to watch a World Cup qualifying match in Tehran in defiance of a ban on female spectators. Beirut ma Betmout (Beirut Never Dies) is a six-minute documentary which shows the destruction wrought on Beirut s Shiite southern suburbs, a stronghold of Hezbollah, during the group s July-August war with Israel. Director Katia Jarjoura s other short, Terminator, is set against the backdrop of the massive demonstration on March 14, 2005 after the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri. Brian Cook s Colour Me Kubrick and fellow British director Steven Frear s The Queen are also to be screened, and from the United States comes Maria Full of Grace by Joshua Marston. Kilometer Zero by Hiner Saleem and A New Day in Old Sanaa by Bader bin Hirsi make rare appearances for Kurdish and Yemeni feature films. Bent Hammer s Factotum starring Matt Dillon is based on Charles Bukowski s novel of the same name, while Laila Marrakchi s Marrock is a love story set in Casablanca, and Georgian director Gela Babluani s is showing 13 Tzameti . No prizes are up for grabs in the week-long festival, but the organizers hope for guest appearances by big names such as Adel Imam who stars as an aging romantic in The Yacoubian Building . The Make Films, Not War initiative, sponsoring the festival, said it plans to follow up with similar events in other cities such as Jerusalem, Tehran and Lahore in Pakistan. The divides between Palestinians and Israelis, Iraqis and Americans, and Pakistanis and Indians are just a few that the film fund will seek to bridge, it said in a statement.