WITH ALL THE NEW LEBANESE MOVIES BEING SCREENED ALL OVER THE MIDDLE EAST, YOU MAY THINK THAT ONLY RECENTLY LEBANESE CINEMA HAS STARTED TO KNOW FAME. WELL, EVEN THOUGH THIS INDUSTRY HAS GONE THROUGH TREMENDOUS UPS AND DOWNS ALONG THE DECADES, IT HAS QUITE A STORY! AFTER OUR DIGGING INTO THE PAST, WE BET YOU’RE GOING TO START BELIEVING THAT “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON”, BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT? EVERYTHING ACTUALLY DID! AND WE PROMISE YOU; IT’S JUST LIKE A MOVIE.
Believe it or not, it all started with an Italian guy! His name was Giordano Pidutti. A nice name you might think, but an even nicer personality! This Italian cinematographer is actually behind it all: In the late 20s, he was only 24 years old when he decided to leave Italy and move to Beirut. His first movie was a silent film called “Moughamarat Elias Mabrouk” and it was filmed in renowned Lebanese locations such as one of the Sursock palaces, in a Raouche coffee shop and in a few alleys in Beirut. So if you’re wandering around Beirut alleys, you might be walking onto a Lebanese movie set of the 20s! How awesome is that?
The movie was such a success that a sequel was later produced by Rachid Ali Chaabane called “Moughamarat Abu Adel”. This represented the birth of Lebanese cinema!
After the silent movie, the talkingone!The Italian charm didn’t end in the late 20s. Julio de Luca directed “Bayn Hayakel Baalbek” (In the ruins of Baalbek) in 1933 and the movie was the first Lebanese talking movie – Talk about a milestone! It was subtitled in French since Lebanon was under French mandate at that time. But that was only the beginning of a very long road, as the Second World War was on the verge of starting. Around that time, people were less interested in movies and more interested in the news and events, which is clearly understandable! Lebanon reduced its film production, leaving a space for the bigger Egyptian cinema industry.
Egypt: The Middle Easter cinema shark
Your grandmothers and mothers keep telling you about how amazing old Egyptian movies used to be, so you probably have an idea about how strong the Egyptian film industry was back then. Ali Al Ariss, a Lebanese director, went to Egypt to bring their know-how back to Lebanon, but sadly, the outcome wasn’t what he had hopped for and he quit the industry after producing only a few movies.
Let’s get drawn to the 50s
This is when Lebanon’s film industry started rising with a surge of activity! Cinemas started screening movies from all around the world. America, France, Italy, Britain, Sweden, you name it! The number of movie theatres went from 80 in the 50s to 118 in the 60s.
Many producers marked this period with the films “Azab El Damir”, “Kalbein wa Jasad”, “Al Sam el Abiad”, “Ant Omri”, and much more. But the one that stood out the most was “Ila Ayn”, produced by George Nasser and presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957. Nasser was a UCLA graduate in cinema studies and his film was about a Lebanese peasant who had immigrated to America only to return to his homeland Lebanon as poor as he had left it. Until today, it remains one of the most important examples of the seventh art to have come out of Lebanon. That’s something to be proud of!
The electrifying “New Wave”
In the 60s, the “New Wave” became the rage. You know, that time when French directors sort of took over the film industry and replaced story-telling movies with symbolism and abstraction mainly focusing on themes like psychopathology and sexual love; in other words, movies that would make you use your brain and think! However, the Lebanese spectators weren’t very fond of this new movie trend and preferred Egyptian and other foreign movies instead.
After that, many good movies were banned from screening in Lebanon or severely censored because of their actors, directors or producers due to political reasons.
Everything happens for a reason
Meanwhile in Egypt, in 1963, as the film industry was nationalized, directors and intellectuals started leaving the country and heading to Lebanon for production: The Golden Age of Lebanese cinema was born! Lebanon became the film set of almost all Egyptian movies and production continued to increase with studios popping up all over the country making Lebanon the second largest film production zone after the United Arab Republic (which was a special union between Syria and Egypt at that time, by the way).
But even if the production in Lebanon increased, that doesn’t mean the Lebanese cinema industry did. Compared to the Egyptian production, the Lebanese one was considered very weak, and lacked technique.
Falling…But will stand up!
Despite the fall of Lebanese movies, three major films involving the Rahbani brothers were released one after the other: Biyaa Al Khawatem by Youssef Chahine in 1965, Safarbarlek in 1967 and Bint El Haraas by Henri Barakat in 1968. Fairuz was the main character in all three of these musical masterpieces.
But then the Civil War happened, and that wasn’t a good thing for the cinema industry: only one to two films were produced per year. But on the other hand, this marked the rise of new talents such as Maroun Baghdadi. His film “Beirut Ya Beirut” is a milestone in modern Lebanese cinema!
Let’s get movin’ Lebanese Cinema!
Today, the Lebanese Film Industry is not only being modernized, but it is also rising like it has never before with directors that are making history such as Nadin Labaki who premiered two of her movies in Cannes Film Festival: “Caramel” in 2007 and “W Halla La Wein” (Where Do We Go Now?) in 2011, which was also selected to represent Lebanon for the 84th Academy Awards.
Another director that is also rising is Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya with “Film Kteer Kbeer” (Very Big Shot) in 2015, which received an 8.0 IMDB rating and was nominated best film at the London Film Festival. These movies are a must-watch! So if you haven’t watched them yet, you need to go get them right now!
So now that you know the story behind the Lebanese film industry, needless to say that everything DOES happen for a reason! If it weren’t for every single one of the events, Lebanese movies wouldn’t be what they are today. So hurry up, grab a copy of one of these treasures and let yourself sink in that couch!