While it is possible to measure success by duration, it is more common to scale its effects by accomplishments, and the Metropolis Cinema succeeds on both counts. Since it opened its doors on July 11, 2006, it has become the country’s cinephiles’ guiding light to the latest world cinema releases, making Metropolis The meeting place for filmmakers to share their craft, continuously raising the profile of Lebanese cinema.
Hania Mroue – board member and founding partner of Metropolis – sat down with 35mm from Beirut to look back at what they’ve done, and share their future plans.
It was an auspicious start for the Metropolis Cinema, as war with Israel broke out the very next day on July 12, 2006. However this didn’t dampen the team’s ambition in regards to the project; They inaugurated the cinema and screened reruns of the films shown at Cannes as part of the Critics’ Week Selection. For Hania, this partnership was a real push for this fledgling cinema: “They believed in our project and have supported us since day one; they were willing to take the risk of sending films from Cannes to a theatre that had not opened yet… We wanted to emphasise the vision of Critics’ Week, which is to discover new talent”.
Nevertheless, since that first year, the relationship has grown and strengthened, so when it came down to planning the celebration for Metropolis, highlighting the Critics’ Week Selection was an obvious choice. These screenings have become an annual rendezvous for the cinema, which is anticipated by both the audience and the press, and this year was no exception.

The Critics’ Week rerun was just the start of the 10th anniversary celebrations:

  • Directors and producers were invited to the celebrations and presented their films
  • Mélancolie Libanaise – a book by Lebanese filmmaker Dima El-Horr – was published for the occasion, exploring post-war Lebanese cinema. It was accompanied by a panel discussion with the writer and Mohamed Soueid
  • 16 short films – by both amateurs and professional directors – were screened as part of a competition (see other article).
  • Hania considered these events as an opportunity to assert that “Metropolis cannot exist without the talents of the Lebanese film industry willing to connect with one another.”

    Highlights

    Looking back at the past ten years of Metropolis, Hania is immensely proud of the work that her team has accomplished. She describes Metropolis as “a place for diversity, creativity, experimentation and an environment where you can take risks, whether you are a director, programmer or part of the audience.” This constant hunger for experimentation has meant that over the past ten years, more than 2000 films from 97 different countries have been available to watch, and alongside those films, the cinema has hosted 140 different festivals. In 2006 the Lebanese film industry was a shadow of what it is today: “Lebanon was producing at the time between one and three films a year – and that was on a good year. Nowadays we produce 12 to 15 films per year”, explains Hania.
    As the industry grew, the cinema had to adapt its methods and mission to accommodate new talents and make space for their films to be shown. When asked about their proudest achievement, Hania speaks of documentaries. “Since day one, we’ve never had a preference for fiction over documentaries. We believe that documentaries are as important as fiction. It was a risk for us to have theatrical releases of documentaries, as no one believed that there was a demand.” The risk paid off. Today, ticket sales for documentaries are strong, and as a testament of the impact of the Metropolis Cinema, documentaries are also being shown in mainstream cinemas, bringing the genre to the front of the public’s consciousness.

    Future plans

    The success of Metropolis, both as a venue and as a force for promoting Lebanese and world cinema, is clear to see. Of all their plans for the future, the most exciting and ambitious is the creation of a ‘cinémathèque’ that will include a resource center with an onsite physical presence as well as an online digital presence. It will be accessed by both the public and professional researchers. “We don’t want to be a national ‘cinémathèque’, because we don’t want to be a substitute or replacement for what the Ministry of Culture is supposed to do. We want to do something different. We are not imagining something rigid like a museum, but something that is more alive.” The cinema will of course be continuing to expose audiences to exciting new releases and classics of yesteryear, and it is hoped that they will be able to attract a larger young audience to some of the jewels of Lebanese cinema.

    During the period when Metropolis Cinema was launched in 2006, art-house cinemas across the world were struggling to survive, which made Hania’s task even more difficult in a country like Lebanon. If the Metropolis has proved anything over the past 10 years, it’s that there is an appetite for new and creative cinema. It is a hunger that can never truly be satisfied and it would seem that Metropolis will continue to keep feeding the population.

    To this day, Metropolis remains the only art-house cinema in Lebanon.

    by Hugo Goodridge