Last year proved to be a profitable festival for Lebanese talent. Ely Dagher’s short film Waves ’98 – a beautiful depiction of a young boy’s relationship with of Beirut – was selected out of 4550 entries for the official list and eventually went on to win the Short Film Palme d’Or. For 2016, audiences at Cannes are eagerly anticipating Lebanon’s contributions.
Two Lebanese feature length films will be premiered at Cannes this year, as well as a number of shorts and other films that will be screened during the main festivities.
Tramontane is the first feature length film for Lebanese director Vatché Boulghourjian, who returns to the festival after having won the third place prize for his short film, The Fifth Column, in the Cinéfondation selection in 2010. For Tramontane, Boulghourjian has teamed up with Lebanese producer Georges Schoucair and Brazilian producer Caroline Oliveira, to create a beautiful and moving story about a blind musician who travels across Lebanon in search of his birth records. Along the way, he meets people who give him minor clues to his identity, but the journey reveals more questions than answers as the musician realizes the nation cannot tell its own story, let alone his. The entire film occurs in Lebanon. James Lee Phelan worked as the film’s director of photography, capturing the protagonist’s journey through the country. Tramontane is a joint production with Abbout Productions, where Georges is one of the principle producers and Rebus Film Productions, which previously worked with Vatché on his film The Fifth Column. Both companies are based in Beirut. Tramontane will be competing in the International Critics Week section, which serves as a veritable hot bed for outstanding new talent, against six other films.
Lebanon’s second feature length offering to the festival is Tombé du Ciel, directed by Wissam Charaf. Tombé du Ciel crosses between comedy and drama as it follows the story of Samir, a former militia member who has been presumed dead for the past 20 years, returning to Beirut where he is reunited with his brother Omar. Samir struggles to confront the country that he once saw as his home and works to repair the relationships with his family. This is Charaf’s first feature fiction film, and his first time showing at Cannes. Charaf has done the rounds at many of the other festivals in Europe with his short films The Army of Ants, which won the Audience Award at the Mediterranean Festival of Lunel and A Hero Never Dies. Tombé du Ciel has been produced by the French production company Aurora Films and Lebanese production company Né à Beyrouth, who has previously worked with Charaf on his short film The Army of Ants. Tombé du Ciel is being shown as part of the ACID selection, which is a hand-picked selection of nine films by other directors, and aims to provide visibility to filmmakers looking for distributors.
Although Tramontane and Tombé du Ciel are the only two feature length films from Lebanon in the running for awards at this years Cannes Film Festival, there’s a short film from Lebanon being screened, that is not just vying to win a prize, but also the prestige that comes with the award that could secure funding or distribution for their next project, and hopefully see them return to the festival with a feature.
The Cinefondation selection picks the best short films produced by students at film schools across the world. Representing Lebanon is Mounia Akl, who made her short film Submarine during her time studying at Columbia University in New York. Set in a dystopian near future, against the backdrop of Lebanon’s very present garbage crisis, the film explores one woman’s fear of leaving home combined with her search to understand what being Lebanese means in such extraordinary times. Though Mounia splits her time between New York and Beirut, the team behind the film was a entirely Lebanese, with DOP Joe Saade, producers Cyril Aris and Jinane Chaaya, and production designer Issa Kandil all hailing from Beirut, as well as many of the other production team members. Submarine is competing against 17 other films, with the first place winner walking away with €15,000 ($16,940), but perhaps more importantly they are guaranteed to have their first feature length film shown at the festival.
Behind the glitz and the glamour of the festival and awards, you’ll find fierce negotiations. With representatives from all sides of the filmmaking business and from every corner of the world, Cannes is the ideal place for directors and producers to secure funding for that next project, distribution for their current one, or simply to create a buzz about a film hitting the screens soon.
Philippe Aractingi, who is already well established in Lebanon, having released such critically acclaimed feature films Bosta, Under the Bombs and Héritages, will be in Cannes with his fourth cinematic work Listen, currently in post-production. This has been co-produced with French company Elzévir Films, and is hoping to secure a sales agent and distributors.
Beirut-based production company Laser Films is bringing their comedic film Nuts, about two women caught up in a world of gambling and drugs, produced by Tarek Sikias. Laser Films is well established in the TV commercials industry, and this is their first foray in the world of fiction cinema. Nuts is currently in post-production.
Stalwart of the Lebanese cinema scene Carole Abboud will be there hoping to create a buzz about A Petty Bourgeois Dream, which she has produced and was written and directed by Mazen Khaled, his first feature length fiction.
As well as showing the product of Lebanon’s talent filmmakers, Lebanon as a shooting location will be promoted. The Ministry of Tourism and the Lebanese Office of Tourism in Paris will be there, pitching their tent and hosting a number of lunches and events, in an attempt to encourage the world’s filmmakers that Lebanon not only has the varied locations, but also the resources and talent to back them up on location. Inside the Lebanese pavilion the Fondation Liban Cinema will be present to connect with the rest of the global filmmaking community and supporting the development of a competitive Lebanese film industry.
Last year’s festival proved to be a success for Lebanon and its filmmakers, and with two feature films in the running, hopes are as high as the heels will be on the red carpet.
By Hugo Goodridge