Thursday, June 14, 2012

Once Upon a Time, Lebanon: Visions of Postwar in New Lebanese Cinema, June 14-17

For the last three weeks, the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award winner Where Do We Go Now? has been screening at theatres across Canada including the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This delightful film combines wit, wisdom and originality in dealing with its usually weighty subject matter of regional conflict.

Now, the TIFF Bell Lightbox presents a retrospective of Lebanese cinema starting tonight at 6pm with Jocelyne Saab's Once Upon a Time: Beirut. The film follows two young women as they explore the city's cinematic past in the aftermath of the civil war. Rasha Salti, TIFF's programmer of African and Middle Eastern Cinema, will introduce the film and the screening series prior to the film.

This will be followed at 9pm by Ghassan Salhab's Un Certain Regard selection Terra Incognita. His film examines contemporary Beirut through five disparate characters.

The series continues for the next few days with screenings of A Perfect Day, A Sheherazade Tale, I Want To See, After Shave, Ready-to-Wear Imm Ali, My Father Is Still a Communist, Falafel, Tomorrow 6:30, OK, Enough, Goodbye, Tripoli, Quiet, Yamo, We Will Win and My Heart Beats Only for Her.

Once Upon a Time, Lebanon: Visions of Postwar in New Lebanese Cinema

  • Once Upon a Time: Beirut introduced by Rasha Salti
  • The programmer of this season's series Once Upon a Time, Lebanon, offers an overview of the history and current state of contemporary Lebanese cinema prior to the screening of Jocelyne Saab's Once Upon a Time: Beirut.
  • Thursday June 14
    6:00 PM

  • Terra Incognita
  • Ghassan Salhab
  • The lives of five people intersect in the midst of Beirut's fraught and frenzied postwar reconstruction.
  • Thursday June 14
    9:00 PM

  • A Perfect Day
  • Yawmon Akhar
  • Joana Hadjithomas
  • A middle-aged woman and her grown son must finally make a painful decision in this luminously beautiful drama that explores how the reverberations of war persist more than a decade after its end.
  • Friday June 15
    6:15 PM

  • A Sheherazade Tale / I Want To See
  • Due to a programming change the screening of Beirut Hotel, scheduled to take place on on Friday June 15th 2012 at 8:45 pm has been cancelled. The film I Want to See will screen in it's place. A Sheherazade Tale will proceed the screening. We apologize for the inconvenience.

    This intriguing and ineffably moving hybrid film, mixing scripted scenes, documentary footage and improvised travelogue, follows cinema icon Catherine Deneuve and Lebanese actor Rabih Mroué as they traverse the shattered landscape of Lebanon in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli invasion.
  • Friday June 15
    8:45 PM

  • Falafel / Tomorrow 6:30
  • A striking debut from director Michel Kammoun, Falafel offers a Lebanese answer to Scorsese's After Hours.
  • Saturday June 16
    2:45 PM

  • OK, Enough, Goodbye / Tripoli, Quiet
  • Directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia offer two explorations of everyday life in Lebanon's northern capital of Tripoli.
  • Saturday June 16
    5:15 PM

  • Yamo
  • Rami Nihawi
  • Filmmaker Rami Nihawi returns to his family home to try and recover the lost memories of his childhood in this poetic and imaginative semi-documentary, one of the most aesthetically daring works to emerge from contemporary Lebanese cinema.
  • Sunday June 17
    4:00 PM


Though deprived of the established film industry and distribution networks of such countries as Morocco or Egypt (the Hollywood of the region), Lebanon has produced a remarkably rich and diverse cinema since the end of the civil war in 1990, and one whose relatively humble output has been awarded international praise and attention that far outstrips that of its considerably more prolific neighbours. Profoundly committed to the social and political reality of their country, the postwar generation of Lebanese filmmakers has formed a tightly-knit artistic community whose works, despite their impressively broad stylistic range, share a close kinship. This is not only the result of the friendships that bind the filmmakers in their personal lives, but of a shared film culture, a common frame of aesthetic and theoretical reference, and most importantly the legacy of the war and its lingering ghosts of unresolved conflict, grief and mourning.
Postwar Lebanese cinema can be said to comprise two parallel tracks. The first is almost entirely local and self-reliant, with small- to no-budget production securing filmmakers almost complete creative freedom; the second is more international, bound up with European financing structures (particularly in France) that allow filmmakers to enjoy worldwide distribution, theatrical release and proper representation at international film festivals. In general, the first group of "self-produced" films are mostly experimental, short-form non-fiction (as in the work of Mohamed Soueid), while the European co-productions are narrative features in the auteurist mold, as in the work of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Ghassan Salhab, Danielle Arbid and Michel Kammoun.
However, even those directors working in the fictional mode have been profoundly influenced by the techniques of contemporary non-fiction filmmaking, which have been vital to the creative renaissance of postwar Lebanese cinema. Breaking the conventions of cinematic form and forging new vocabularies for representation and visual composition, the non-fiction genre in all its many iterations has proven the best equipped to deal with the contested narratives, conflicted memory and fragmented experience that are part of the legacy of the war. Imaginatively weaving together fictional and non-fictional elements, Lebanese filmmakers have become some of the prime practitioners of what the film critic Robert Koehler has dubbed "in-between cinema": a cinema that teases out the rich fictional potential of everyday stories and people, that can represent enormous historical upheavals through the prism of ordinary lives without reducing the former or symbolically inflating the latter.
Two decades into the postwar period, we are now seeing the emergence of a new postwar filmmaking generation, products of film schools who populate film sets, snatch small grants here and there to make short films, work as freelancers in the thriving advertising business or as tireless labourers in television stations. In their teens or even younger when the war ended, they have witnessed and lived other kinds of injustice and violence, but also other kinds of joys and enchantments; and in contrast to their slightly elder peers, whose work has been marked by an uncompromisingly serious outlook, the new breed are far less averse to humour and sarcasm. Might they release Lebanese cinema from the legacy of the civil war and its burden of mourning?
— Rasha Salti

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