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Lebanon celebrates film heritage

Country hopes to reboot film biz

Lebanon’s main film bodies are launching a collective effort to rediscover and promote the country’s cinematic heritage as a catalyst to reboot the country’s once-prolific film industry.

For more than 40 years, prior to 1975 when its civil war began, Lebanese film producers churned out a slew of genre movies, romances, dramas, thrillers, action pics and B movies, which made Beirut a cinematic hub for the whole region.

Now the first retro celebrating these films, often depicting a carefree country, is being meticulously assembled by Beirut’s Metropolis Art Cinema Assn. in collaboration with Lebanon’s Ministry of Tourism.

The first 11-pic installment of the three-year retro, La Belle Epoque, includes Mohammed Salman’s 1965 spy thriller “The Black Jaguar,” Mohammed Selmane’s 1964 laffer “Bedouin in Paris” and 1966’s “Interpol in Beirut” by helmer Constantin Kostanov. They are digital TV copies, owned by Egypt’s ART television.

“If you take all the films produced in Lebanon in the early 1960s and 1970s, they tried to show it as the paradise of the Middle East; a beautiful country where women are liberal and open-minded. Where you can drink, dance and enjoy yourself,” said Hania Mroue of the Metropolis Art Cinema Assn.

The second part of the retro, which will unspool next year, will focus on politically engaged Lebanese filmmaking.

Lebanon’s first national film retro will preem at the Metropolis cinema in Beirut on June 13 with tributes paid to stars of its past, dicsussions with film critics of that era, and a vast display of movie posters and memorabilia.

The plan is for the retro to hit international fests.

“We must help the Lebanese people connect with their film industry and rediscover it; but also use the retro as a promotional tool,” said Serge Akl, director of the Paris-based Lebanon Tourist office, which publishes Lebanon’s location guide.

He is assembling a Lebanese vacation package for cinema lovers, involving visits to locations linked to movies shot locally.

The biggest foreign production to shoot in Lebanon recently was “Carlos” by helmer Olivier Assayas in 2010.

Maya de Freige, president of the Lebanese Film Foundation, also announced plans for a sweeping restoration of culturally significant TV footage languishing in the archives of pubcaster Tele-Liban, from 1960 to 1980, when it was the country’s only TV channel.

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