BEIRUT: Between April 27 and May 4, Tripoli Film Festival held its 4th annual event, in honor of legendary Lebanese filmmaker George Nasser, the festival’s Honorary President. The festival hosted films and filmmakers from all over the world, including: Canada, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, the United States, France, Greece, and Lebanon.
Festival founder and director, Elias Khlat told Annahar about how the whole thing began, from the difficulties of getting started, to the rewards of taking Tripoli to the international arena of Film Festivals. “Five years ago, the country was in a bad situation, and so was the city, but we were a group of crazy people who had a role in the conflict, we were activists fighting against the violence, via NGOs and whatnot. We tried finding solutions for all the conflict in the absence of a government between Jabal Mohsen and Beib El Tebbani.”
The group finally found that ignoring the violence and starting the festival was the way to go. They wanted something to make use of the 30 film theaters around the city, they wanted to honor legendary filmmakers, and they wanted to encourage people to re-engage with the arts. “Tripoli Film Festival is reaching its goals by giving Tripoli an open gate to reemerge and re-position as a cultural hub and a city of exchange, tolerance and arts, as it has always been.”
On May 3, TFF held a special screening of George Nasser’s Ila Ayn?at Tripoli’s Rabita Saqafiya, a film that has been chosen this for the 15th Annual Cannes Classics selection at the Festival de Cannes 2017. Cannes Classic is a selection of films that displays the work of valorization of heritage cinema carried out by the production companies, the right-holders, the cinematheques or the national archives around the world. It has become an essential component of the Official Selection and a portrayal of the history of cinema which inspired several international festivals, showcasing vintage films and masterpieces of the history of cinema in restored prints.
Among films dated from 1946 to 1992, from René Clément to Victor Erice, Ila Ayn? has been chosen as one of the sixteen history-making films of the Festival de Cannes. 1957 film Ila Ayn? (Vers l'inconnu ?) by Georges Nasser was scanned in 4k, retouched and color-corrected in a resolution of 2K.
Annahar was lucky to have a quick chat with the 90-year-old filmmaker about his journey from studying architecture in Chicago to cinema at UCLA. Born in Tripoli in 1927, Georges Nasser studied cinema at UCLA in Hollywood and returned to his native country with the firm determination to make films in an environment where the industry was non-existent. In 1957 he directed Ila Ayn (Towards the Unknown), which became the first film to represent Lebanon in the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nasser recounted to Annahar, in remarkable detail, the moment he decided to make the change. “I was originally studying architecture with a college in Chicago. I spent two years working on that degree through correspondence, letters from here to there, and I wanted to go there, thinking there was something more in America. I went to Chicago, and they told me we have no classes. Our whole program is through correspondence. It was January, the school was closed down, the walls hadn’t even been cleaned, the city was dark, I started thinking I would’ve been better off staying in Tripoli – so I took a bus straight to Los Angeles.”
He further told his story, saying, “I went to the school, told them I had done two years with the American School of Chicago, and they said we can’t transfer those years, you’ll have to start all over. So I did,” adding, “And it happened that I ended up living with an American woman who had a seven bedroom house, and one day she said ‘I want to show you Los Angeles at night’. We got in the car and went, and on the way we stopped for some gas. The boy who was filling us up happened to be someone who had lived with her.”
And then the pivotal moment came,“She asked what he was doing, and he said he was working. She asked if he was studying and he said yes, he was studying cinema. And I was so surprised. I asked him, ‘What are you studying?’ He said, ‘Cinema.’ So the next day, I went and switched to cinema.”
Annahar also spoke to TFF Organizer Ghassan Bakri, about the festival’s initiatives and unique forums and offers. “In the past two years we’ve been doing our best to give people and students the chance to work with directors like Philippe Aratinji, to meet actresses like Julia Kassar, to have Nibal Arakji, a big Lebanese producer, giving them tips on funding and getting sponsors for their films.”
He added, “We’ve also brought in Ghassan Salhab for script development, Zeina Sfeir, just to name a few. From our side, we’re making a great effort to bring a good caliber of people in the industry, and we’re finding from the other side people excited about and grateful for the opportunity to work with these people. They say, we don’t have to go to Beirut to see them, now, for the first time, they’re coming to us.”
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