Hania Mroué, founder and director of Metropolis Art Cinema in Beirut and MC Distribution, discusses the market in this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and the launch of Cinémathèque, a new initiative for the Lebanese cinema industry.

As a film distributor (MC Distribution), do you feel that there’s a market for Lebanese cinema in Cannes?

MC Distribution mainly handles the distribution of Lebanese films in the Middle East. We rarely take films for international sales, even when we do have the rights for the international market. Cannes is very important because we meet distributors and programmers; it allows us visibility in the biggest market of the world, where all the festival programmers are present, and looking for films for premieres. Hence, when we have a film that hasn’t made its world premiere, the best thing to do is to have it with us in Cannes, to talk about it, about the director, its public screenings, etc., even before it’s finished, to create a buildup and anticipation.

That’s about the extent of what we can do here as distributors; we can’t sell films because it’s a very competitive market and you need big budgets to be visible. Lebanese films are produced with very small budgets, and no one has a budget for promotion. They barely have money to finish the film. That’s why we look for alternative ways to distribute them. We try as much as possible to meet with VOD platforms where we can potentially have them distributed after the festival.

You are the founder and director of Metropolis Cinema, which is the only independent-film theatre in Lebanon. As a programmer, could you tell us how you handle the film selections? And what audience do you choose them for?

Since Metropolis is so far the only art house cinema in Lebanon, we feel that we have the responsibility to present as many international films as possible to the Lebanese audiences. I say “audiences” in plural because our target audience is varied, which makes our work more interesting. We’re not looking for films for a niche audience, we’re targeting a broader scene.

As MC Distribution, we handle the distribution of some international titles like Xavier Dolan’s film last year. That’s why I’m not alone here, we have a team of 4 people watching almost every film in every section. They’re also looking for market screenings, not just films, presented in the Official Selections. We’re also looking for partnerships (distributors, sales agents, other festivals, international institutions), which is very interesting, and sometimes more important than looking for titles.

You announced the launch of the Beirut Cinémathèque; tell us about the project.

This project is somehow an evolution of Metropolis as it is right now: we’re not creating something new, we’re just developing what we’ve been doing for the past nine years. We have been acting like a Cinémathèque without calling ourselves one: we’ve been showing many retrospectives, world wide classics, we also organized two very important retrospectives of Lebanese cinema – “Ajmal Ayyam Hayati” and “Al Liqa’ El Thani” – where we showed Lebanese films from the 50s to the 80s, films that we rarely see on the big screen. We realized that we lack the presence of a Cinémathèque, not in the sense of an institution that restores or preserves film heritage, but one that also promotes and shows those films. This is our mission. We’re also interested in having archives and trying to preserve what can be preserved. We’re not only looking for very old titles, but for films that are 10-15 years old – films shot on 35mm, because if the print doesn’t exist anymore, the films are at risk of disappearing forever. The archives are very important, along with the documentation about Lebanese cinema (posters, scripts, props, photos of shooting, making of, etc.).

When I say “we”, I don’t only mean the board of Metropolis, or people who are very involved in this – like Joanna Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige, Georges Schoucair, or Rabih el Khour – but also institutions in Lebanon that have been somehow archiving and documenting for the past 15 years at least (festivals such as Ayyam Beirut el Cinema’iyyah, Beirut DC, Né à Beyrouth, but also La Fondation Liban Cinema, and producers like Orjouane). We’re mainly talking about a collaboration with those sorts of institutions to create something that is useful and needed, where everybody can feel they have a contribution.

It’s important to add that we’re not trying to replace the National Cinémathèque and we’re not trying to ignore the role of public institutions. Unfortunately, we know that The Ministry of Culture lacks the means to reactivate the role of the National Cinémathèque. What we’ll try to do is to work together with the public institutions to continue the work that they’ve started. Not only The Ministry of Culture, but also The Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Office of Lebanon in Paris, the latter of which are supporting our initiative. It’s thanks to them that we are able to present this project officially in Cannes.