It was no coincidence that the first Beirut International Women Film Festival (BWFF) took place in March, a month that is commonly referred to as “Women’s Month.” The 6-day event, organised under the theme of “Women for Change,” aimed to celebrate women by featuring films about females and by female film-makers.
The voices of women in the film industry are heard more than ever, festival founder Sam Lahoud said.
“Women’s films are very much in the front row in all international festivals these days. It is about women producers, directors and scriptwriters and how women are portrayed in films,” Lahoud said. “So we thought why not have a festival about women films in Beirut, especially that, in the Arab world, we lack such movement. Notably in the Levant and the Gulf we don’t have any festival of the sort, while there is only one in Egypt and one in Morocco.”
Lahoud, a scriptwriter, director, producer and founding chairman of Beirut Film Society, had his first experience with women’s films in 2014 with the feature “Waynon” (“Void”), which represented Lebanon’s entry at the Academy Awards in 2015.
“The film talked about six women waiting for people who disappeared during the war to come back home. It highlighted the women’s plight while tackling the issue of the 17,000 missing of the Lebanese civil war. The film was directed by seven directors, including three women,” Lahoud said.
He said he hoped BWFF would be an example copied in other Arab contexts. He described the festival, “which came late and should have happened some years ago,” as the first step in recognising and celebrating women in the industry.
The selection of movies was based on women’s topics as a priority and having female directors was favourable but great movies about women’s issues are also directed by men, Lahoud explained.
“There was a wide variety of topics tackled in the participating movies. These included women’s struggle between family and profession, domestic violence, female struggle on national and social issues, early marriage, sexual identity and political identity, et cetera. All were timely issues,” Lahoud said, adding that the international selection of films highlighted women’s stories of success and their willpower to generate change.
The festival featured 55 films from 30 countries, including 20 films from Lebanon, in feature film, feature documentary and short film categories. Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iran, France, Spain, Croatia, Belgium, the United States, Canada, India and New Zealand were among the participating countries. Seminars focusing on “Women in Leadership” and “Breaking the Stereotype of Women in Media and Film” took place on the sidelines of the festival.
The Lebanese film selections included: the popular Lebanese web-series “Zyara,” which has been merged into a 60-minute film, along with “Go Home” and “Solitaire” in the feature film category and a variety of short films as well.
Egyptian film “A Day for Women” was screened on the opening night in the presence of the film’s Egyptian producer and actress Elham Chahine and its director Kamla Abou Zekry, one of the main female directors in Egyptian cinema.
The festival’s jury included six Lebanese and three international women. It included cinema specialist Rose-Marie Chahine; actresses Diamand Bou Abboud, Carole Aboud and Julia Kassar; director Lina Khoury and colourist Dima Geagea from Lebanon in addition to Nujoom al-Ghanem from the United Arab Emirates, Malak Rahabouni from Morocco and Alexia Vassiliou from Cyprus.
“Parisienne” by Danielle Arbid won Best Lebanese Feature Fiction Film. It recounts the story of Lina, a Lebanese student who goes to Paris in 1993 only to find that the chaos at home was no different from what she witnesses in the French capital. Paris, however, offers her the opportunity to find herself and acquire a new self-confidence.
The Best International Feature film prize was awarded to “Quit Staring at my Plate” by Hana Josic from Croatia. It tells the story of Marijana, who takes over the role of head of the family after her father falls seriously ill. “While taking care of her irresponsible mother and mentally disabled brother, the new power constellation allows her to explore her sexuality and her inner strength and gives her a taste of freedom,” a published description of the film states.
Other prizes were Best International Short Film: “Orbit” by Rony Khoubieh (France); Best Lebanese Short Film: “Tshweesh” (“Garble”) by Feyrouz Serhal; Best International Documentary: “Strike a Rock” by Aliki Saragas (South Africa); and Best Lebanese Documentary: “Rasheed” by Samia Badih.
Preparations for BWFF’s second edition are under way after the first proved to be a success, Lahoud said, adding that 16 films have already been submitted
BWFF took Tanit as its symbol and the Tanit of Beirut as its prime award. Tanit is the Phoenician goddess of Carthage, known through the ancient Mediterranean and worshipped as a chief deity.
Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.