It's back! Thousands of film-goers are heading to Bankstown to participate in the cultural experience of the Lebanese Film Festival
Since 2012, the Lebanese Film Festival has screened over 100 films from across the world, that are either filmed or based in Lebanon, or made by Lebanese film makers from Lebanon, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Australia. Each year, the Lebanese Film Festival Association strives to challenge itself in creating an event that is inspiring, challenging and captures the imaginations of its audience. Ahead of this year’s Festival we spoke with its Director, Camille Lattouf about the line-up and the trends he’s noticed in the Lebanese film industry.
This is the 6th year of the festival. What was it that inspired you to create the very first festival in 2011?
As a young Lebanese-Australian, I noticed there was a void in terms of the cultural exchange between Lebanon and Australia in terms of film. Prior to the Lebanese Film Festival, the offering of Lebanese cinema in Sydney was very limited to 2-3 films per year, despite a thriving film industry in Lebanon, and a large Lebanese diaspora community in Australia, particularly in Sydney.
It was also a great opportunity to contribute to our local area, Bankstown. Much of Sydney’s cultural events are focused on the city and its surrounds and Parramatta. Centres like Bankstown are often overlooked, despite the significant presence of grass-roots cultural organisations and significant investment in venues.
So the Lebanese Film Festival for me was an opportunity to broaden the offering of Lebanese cinema in Australia, whilst contributing to the offering and accessibility of arts and cultural events in my local area.
It’s pleasing that six years on, we are attracting thousands from Bankstown and across Sydney to participate in the cultural experience of the Lebanese Film Festival. We continue to challenge ourselves to make the Festival experience a holistic and dynamic one that hopefully inspires other Festivals and organisations, just as we were inspired six years ago.
The festival has been held in Bankstown every year, and this year you are on the road to Southern Highlands and Newcastle. Do your audiences travel for the festival; how do you choose where to hold the screenings?
The centre and heart of the Lebanese Film Festival is indeed in Bankstown. We cooperate with four venues across the Bankstown CBD over two weeks, attracting audiences from across NSW and the ACT to the event. Just over 30 per cent of our audience come from the Canterbury-Bankstown area, however we also have large numbers of attendees who travel from the North Shore - one quarter of our audience - and the Inner West - just over 20 per cent of our audience. We also have a small number of attendees who come from Canberra and its surrounds, Wollongong and the Central Coast. So yes, our audience travel from far and wide to attend the Festival.
This year, expanding our program to Newcastle and Southern Highlands was a decision about contributing to more diverse film content offerings in those regions. Lebanese film tells universal stories, and its great to be able to share those with the broadest audience possible. We are constantly looking for new places to venture out too and contribute to greater on-screen diversity across NSW.
There are a number of serious and tragic events happening across the borders of Lebanon, and the country has also taken in over a million refugees. How are those events shaping the filmmaking in the festival?
The Syrian civil war has had a profound impact on social, political and economic life in Lebanon. The struggles are compounded by the presence of almost two million refugees, the equivalent to a third of the country’s population. This has reflected heavily in the themes portrayed in this year’s film line up. Film’s such as Mahbas reflect the comic side of relations between Lebanese and Syrians, emphasising some of the historic tensions between these two neighbours, but allowing that to be overcome. Muse, which features in our short film line up, focuses on a young boy who finds himself a refugee in Lebanon. The film humanises him and gives him a voice. This is refreshing amid the often dehumanised manner in which refugees are portrayed in mainstream media and by many politicians. Certainly overall, the crisis in Syria and its impact on Lebanon is heavily reflected in our program.
How do you get in touch with the filmmakers and how do you select which films to screen?
We reach out to film makers through a number of mechanisms. Primarily, we put a call out for submissions to film makers across the world. Submissions primarily come from Lebanon, but have come from as far and wide as Italy, Brazil, Canada, the United States and many others. This year, our co-director, Jessica Khoury, attended a number of film festivals in Lebanon, such as the Tripoli Film Festival, and also attended the Cannes Film Festival, in order to strengthen our relationships with Lebanese film makers, production houses and Lebanese film bodies such as Fondation Liban Cinema, Lebanon’s peak cinema body. This year, we’re excited to be screening ‘Lebanon Factory’, which was a series of short films produced by coupled directors from Lebanon and abroad. The series premiered in Cannes and will now be shown as part of our program.
We also actively pursue Australia content where it has relevance for Lebanese audiences, features Lebanese characters or is produced by a Lebanese-Australian. Our greatest objective in film acquisition is to emphasis the breadth and variety of Lebanese cinema, something that is reflected in this year’s line-up of over 30 films.
Do you have any special guests attending the festival this year?
This year, we’ll be hosting Julia Kassar, a prominent Lebanese actress who features in three films from the 2017 program, including Solitaire (Mahbas), Tramontane and Single Married Divorced II. Julia is a very versatile actress in both film and theatre. On Thursday, 31 August, she’ll be presenting both Solitaire and Tramontane at The Theatre, Bankstown Sports. Festival attendees will have the chance to participate in a Question and Answer Session with Julia, and watch either film for $10, or have a movie-marathon night for just $15 and see both films.
She’ll also be presenting a film, Charbel, which she stars in, to hundreds of school children expected to attend our schools program at Saint Charbel’s College. The College is the first to have embraced our schools program, screening films to students for five years now, so we’re very excited to have Julia Kassar visit.
Can you share with us your thoughts on the Lebanese film industry and what trends you are seeing with its filmmaking community?
The Lebanese film industry has definitely seen a resurgence in the last few years. There is much more diverse film content being produced, at student and professional levels. This is amazing to watch. We are seeing student films of amazing quality and telling insightful and touching stories, whilst experienced film makers are producing more and more content with universal appeal. The most obvious trend to me is the reflection of Lebanon’s political, social and economic in film. Filmmakers have also been much more forthright in addressing Lebanon’s issues – we have had films confront issues such as environmental conservation and protection, sexuality, refugees, women’s rights, migrant protections and heritage protections. Many of these issues are still ‘struggles’ in Lebanon, but the fact that film makers are pushing the boundaries and challenging contemporary Lebanese society on these matters is inspiring.
Did any specific films inspire you this year?
For me, Muse, a great short film, has been most inspiring. The issue of the presence of millions of refugees in Lebanon is a controversial issue amid Lebanon’s delicate sectarian political power-sharing agreements and the pressure on the countries already ailing basic infrastructure and services. As a result, refugees, much like in other parts of the world), are often used as tools for political gain. In Fatima Shehadeh’s Muse, Yazan, a young Syrian refugee, is lost in the unknown Lebanon looking to return to his home and find his family. The film is touching and personal, reminding us that refugees are just like us, yearning for family and friends, a place to be safe and sheltered and a place to call home.
Lebanese Film festival - 25 August – 9 September
View the program on this link: http://bit.ly/2fqW4tr
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