Afghanistan conflict sours Beirut film fest

Event plagued by dozens of cancellations

BEIRUT — The U.S. air attacks on Afghanistan frightened industryites away from the Intl. Beirut Film Festival, which wrapped Wednesday.

“We had dozens of cancellations from film directors, journalists and other guests,” admitted fest chief Colette Naufaul.

Even many Iranians begged off, fearing they might get stuck in Beirut with no flights home, and public ticket sales suffered considerably.

Although the atmosphere was subdued and hotels and planes nearly empty, the locals were less anxious than media-panicked Westerners. The city’s avant-garde nightspots were doing business as usual. A festival excursion even took guests close to the Syrian and Israeli borders in the south to visit the set of “The Kite,” a feature film directed by Randa Chahal Sabbag about a Lebanese family split apart during the 1982 Israeli invasion.

Several topical films were screened at the fest. While the press was reporting how Palestinian refugees living in the Lebanese camps cheered terrorist leader Osama bin Laden for championing their cause during his Monday night appearance on satcaster Al-Jazeera, documentarist Mai Masri won a jury award for her moving “Frontiers of Dreams and Fears.” Pic concerns two girls living in Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Bethlehem who become friends over the Internet.

In festival’s new Mid-Eastern Cinema competition, an international jury headed by Italian producer Marco Muller chose director Magdi Ahmad Ali’s “A Girl’s Secret” as gold medalist. Condemning a strict Muslim society’s cruel reaction to teenage pregnancy, the film broke taboo ground in its native Egypt, where it has been especially popular with young auds.

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