"Within a world that is today shaped by boundaries, forced exile and new walls, it’s no surprise that this edition of Ayam Beirut Al Cinema'iya (Beirut Cinema Days) highlights migration as its main theme," Mr. Rabih El-Khoury, Head of Programming at the film festival tells us.

In an interview with Stepfeed, El-Khoury explains that "the festival follows the state of our region and reflects on how filmmakers are interacting with the world around them, through their respective films."  

While most of this year's festival events take place at Metropolis Empire Sofil in Achrafieh, there will be screenings at more locations including the Sursock Museum, the Institut Francais du Liban and Dawawine.

The festival's opening ceremony was held on Wednesday at Beirut Souks and will be running until March 24.

El Khoury and the festival's team were thrilled to open the festival with the Lebanese film Rabih (also known as Tramontane).

The film, directed by Vatche Boulghourjian, tells the story of a blind Lebanese musician, Rabih, who needs to apply for a passport before he travels abroad to attend a concert that he's invited to perform at. But when his papers turn out to be fake, Rabih sets out on a journey to search for his lost identity.

The film premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in the prestigious Semaine de la Critique, as the first Lebanese feature film to ever make it to this segment of the festival. Since then, it has toured the world and won several international prizes.

A still from the film Rabih/Tramontane

Diverse selection of films

Over 50 Arab films make up this year’s festival, they include, feature, medium and short length films from countries including Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.

El Khoury stresses that the festival's program aims to "showcase the current state of Arab cinema, in all of its diverse shapes and forms." 

And while some films are by acclaimed and established filmmakers, most are by emerging talents and newcomers who the festival aims to support and introduce to the public as beacons of hope for cinema in the region.

Films that tell our stories

A still from the documentary film 'Bread and Tea'

A few of the featured films tackle the current situation in Syria, including the short Lebanese documentary Bread and Tea by Liliane Rahal and Sarah Kaskas. The film revolves around a young Syrian refugee who wants to live his youth but who also needs to support his family in a refuge camp in the East of Lebanon.  

Other films explore the feelings of those who are forced to become migrants, reflecting on how they adapt to new norms, as is the case with Zaineb, the protagonist of Zaineb Hates the Snow. The feature documentary, directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, won the Golden Tanit award at the last Carthage Film Festival.

A special sub-theme titled, Cinema and Exile, which will include screenings of works that reflect on how Palestinians have dealt with the concept of exile throughout the years, is also a key part of the festival's program.   

The vision behind Ayam Beirut Al Cinema'iya

The festival launched its first edition in 2001 and takes place once every two years.

Created by emerging young filmmakers at the time, the idea behind it was to create a space for Arab independent cinema to be seen and discussed in Lebanon.

It is a non-competitive festival and El Khoury explains the reason behind that:

"It was important for us not to bid films against each other. In that sense, our festival aims to be more of a platform to support  films and their creative makers, and through that we try to  create a space for dialogue between filmmakers themselves and also between them and the Lebanese public."

A special closing night

The closing film of this year's edition is special to the festival's organizers as it is the Arab premiere of Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni's feature documentary Ghost Hunting

The film screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and won the Best Documentary Award. Andoni's feature recreates the traumas he experienced during his incarceration at an Israeli interrogation center when he was only 18.

Andoni will attend the screening of his film, scheduled for the 23rd of March at Metropolis Empire Sofil, Achrafieh.  

For more information check out the festival's program