In our second instalment on the history of Lebanese cinema, we take a look at the early seventies, in the run up to the tragic events of the Civil War.
The beginning of the seventies
This period marks the end of an era, the end of the golden age of Lebanese cinema, when the country was valued for its beauty, its climate and its freedom, and when the name Lebanon was synonymous with openness.
Film production slowed down as the movies produced in Lebanon were considered to be of poor quality and were no longer purchased by the Arab countries. Egyptian producers and actors gradually disappeared from the Lebanese scene after Egyptian cinema regained its stability. Producers who had settled in Lebanon during the sixties abandoned their activities there and took up the distribution of Egyptian and western movies. As for the Lebanese, they had obviously failed to take advantage of the rise in film production during the sixties.
Eventually, there was an urge to create a new kind of cinema that would be committed and intellectual, almost worthy of the French New Wave. And so the era of commercial movies came to an end and was replaced by a revolutionary new aesthetic that favoured a gritty depiction of the daily, social and political realities. Short films made a resurgence, since they’re always an inevitable on the way to making a first feature film. The number of documentaries also increased considerably in the Arab world. The Palestinian cause became a recurrent theme in the history of Arab imagery. Raffic Hajjar produced several documentaries about Palestine like Les Fusils Unis, 1973 (Guns Are United); May and the Palestinians, 1974 and Al Intifada, 1975. Samir Nasri also added his contribution to the theme with Le Sud entre les Griffes de l’Ennemi (The South in the Claws of the Enemy) in 1970.
New directors started out, like Georges Chamchoum, Samir Khoury, Samir El Ghoussayni, Romeo Lahoud, Mounir Maasri, and others who had made a name for themselves in the sixties like Christian Ghazi, reappeared. A few Egyptian producers resurfaced to shoot films in Lebanon, one of whom was Henri Barakat, who made La Visiteuse (The Visitor), Ma Chérie (My Darling), 1973 and Les plus beaux jours de ma vie (The Best Days of My Life), 1973). Georges Chamchoum directed only one feature film, Salam Baad Al Mawt (Peace after Death), in 1971. The movie was presented at the Moscow Festival but was not well received and Chamchoum was unable to find distributors. He later switched to producing documentaries. Samir Khoury produced Saydat El Kamar Es Sawda (Lady of the Black Moons) with an Egyptian cast. The film was widely acclaimed in Lebanon and Tunisia, which led him to shoot Ziab La Ta’kol El Lahm (Wolves Don’t Eat Meat) one year later in Kuwait. The erotic movie was a flop. In 1972 Samir El Ghoussayni, then a script boy and first assistant, shot an Egyptian style film, Kotat Charé El Hamra (The Cats of Hamra Street)…
Christian Ghazi stood out amongst all the directors in a movie industry in crisis and succeeded in distinguishing himself in 1972 with Miat Wajeh Li Yom Wahed (A Hundred Faces for One Day), a film about the Palestinian cause. But the fate of his highly personal work was tragic. His first documentaries were censored then burnt in 1964. In 1988, while he was in Africa, his house was damaged and all his work was once again destroyed. Miat Wajeh Li Yom Wahed (A Hundred Faces for One Day) was the only film to survive the destruction as it was in Damascus at the time.
But this new kind of filmmaking did not attract the public. Only the films directed by Mohammed Selman, who had quickly grasped the rules of the game (Baris Wal Hob (Paris and Love), 1971; Al Hassna’Wal Nemr, (The Beauty and the Tiger), 1972…), were appreciated by audiences.
Young Lebanese directors tried to make films with a mixed Egyptian and Lebanese cast, and with high impact scenes, but did not succeed.
The early seventies were a far cry from Lebanese cinemas glory days. And as it crumbled, a new rival appeared on the ailing audiovisual scene: television. Television programs and series soon became the joy of the Lebanese.
Our next post on the history of Lebanese cinema will cover the war years.
Source: 35mm Location Guide Editorial team: Carole Ammoun, Céline Khoury, Emilie Thomas, Dara Mouracade, Valérie Nehmé, Ingrid Abboud, and Raya Bedran.