Arabs catch local bus

'Bosta' drives Lebanese B.O.

The first privately funded Lebanese film is on the road toward becoming the country’s greatest domestic success.

“Bosta,” Arabic for bus, opened at No. 1 at the box office in December, the first time a Lebanese film had hit the top spot in seven years, and stayed there for three weeks, until it was dislodged by the twin assaults of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Last week, “Bosta” rallied to reclaim second place from the boy wizard.

“Bosta,” a musical comedy about a dance troupe injecting electronic dance music to the Lebanese folk dance of dabke, has struck a chord with local auds during a troubled time.

Lebanon has been racked by a series of political assassinations since the brutal murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. The death of popular anti-Syrian newspaper editor and MP Gebran Tueni in a car bomb only a week into the film’s opening again sent the country into mourning.

The film has already garnered admissions of 45,000 and is projected to achieve 100,000 admissions, a particularly noteworthy feat given the depressed state of cinema in the troubled country. Total cinema admissions in 2005 were down to 1.5 million, half the total of admissions recorded in 1998.

“People are telling me they’re leaving the cinemas happy,” writer-director-producer Philippe Aracktingi told Variety. “People are tired of seeing war all the time.”

The film has been a labor of love for Aracktingi, who cobbled together the $1.2 million budget over a year’s time through 26 private investors.

“Most of them came in for very little money,” Aracktingi says. “I’ve got 12 who came in with $10,000.”

The producer-director expects investors to get their money back, and maybe even see a profit, provided countries beyond the Middle East board the bus.

He plans to release the film around the region in the next two months, starting with Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait. He will also show the film at the Berlin Film Festival market and is awaiting a decision from fest organizers whether the film will be selected for the Panorama section.

Aracktingi believes private funding is the best hope now for Arab cinema, which he considers underserved. Traditionally, Egyptian cinema has been the focus of the Arab film industry, despite largely catering to the domestic market.

“My business plan showed we have 200 million people across the Arab world speaking the same language, but we don’t have any content for them in our cinemas,” he says. “Egyptian cinema is fine, but it is mainly for domestic Egyptian audiences.”

The budding entrepreneur has also secured the rights to the film’s soundtrack, which he plans to release himself around the region.

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