Recent Battles Grist for Beirut Film Festival

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The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon provided inspiration for many of the entries at this year's Beirut Film Festival.


An Arab film festival kicked off in Beirut this week, despite fears that it might have been postponed or even canceled after the war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerillas. As NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports, the month-long conflict get local filmmakers more material.

JAMIE TARABAY: This is a scene from I Remember Lebanon, a short film by a teenaged Lebanese girl showing her impressions of Lebanon on the eve of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

(Soundbite of movie "I Remember Lebanon")

Unidentified Female (Filmmaker): These are the last images I have of Beirut, pictures I took one week before the first bombs fell on this runway.

TARABAY: Her 12-year-old brother accompanies her throughout the film.

(Soundbite of movie, "I Remember Lebanon")

Unidentified Male (Brother): Here we're gonna go on a journey that is beautiful and full of surprises.

TARABAY: They visit the famous grottos in Jeita, and they spend a day at the beach. Then the war begins and the journey abruptly ends. The film's final scenes are of Beirut's southern suburbs that were virtually destroyed by Israeli bombs and missiles. Festival director Eliane Rehab says that since so many filmmakers responded to the recent conflict by making movies about it, there'll be a special session during the festival dedicated to the films. It'll be called Videos Under Siege.

Ms. ELIANE REHAB (Director, Beirut Film Festival): During the siege, which is about 20 short films that were sent on the Internet and that toured in the festivals abroad, because they were so enthusiastic to see a picture of here.

TARABAY: Some of the films are as short as 40 seconds; others run for five minutes. One is called A Minute of Silence for Lebanon. It opens with a drive around Beirut shortly after the end of the civil war in 1990. It's a scene of devastation, with battered buildings and empty streets. It then fades to black and the message appears: Don't let history repeat itself.

Two of the short films focus on Beirut's international airport, which was severely damaged by Israeli air strikes. Another is about the war as seen by Lebanese children. Rehab says foreign guests at the festival will be taken on a tour of the southern suburbs of Beirut to view the destruction and the rebuilding.

Ms. REHAB: So I feel this addition will be very intimate, very warm, and it will create a debate between the filmmakers.

TARABAY: Festival organizers watched nervously as the war dragged on from July to August. The Israeli air and naval blockade delayed the arrival of films from overseas. After it was finally lifted earlier this month, Rehab says organizers worked overtime to make sure everything was ready.

Ms. REHAB: People are aware of the importance of this thing, and they are supporting us, and they will be very - they will forgive any error, technical or logistical error that might happen because of the logistics of the situation now.

TARABAY: She says 40 directors and actors are coming from other Arab countries, and the festival will screen films from Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Morocco, as well as Lebanon.

TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Beirut.

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