Cinema of Lebanon

Cinema of Lebanon
Number of screens 185 (2009)[1]
  Per capita 4.7 per 100,000 (2009)[1]
Main distributors Haddad & Co
Italia Film
Produced feature films (2011)[3]
Fictional 11 (78.6%)
Animated -
Documentary 3 (21.4%)
Number of admissions (2010)[4]
Total 2,794,708
National films 16,666 (0.49%)
Gross box office (2006)[5]
Total LBP 48.4 million
National films LBP 2 million (4.1%)

Cinema of Lebanon, according to film critic and historian, Roy Armes, was the only other cinema in the Arabic-speaking region, beside Egypt's, that could amount to a national cinema.[6] Cinema in Lebanon has been in existence since the 1920s,[7] and the country has produced over 500 films.[8]

The number of films produced each year is small, and the industry is heavily dependent on foreign funding and international box office revenues due the limited size of the domestic market.[9] Despite that, local films have recently enjoyed a degree of success: Where Do We Go Now? by director Nadine Labaki won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was nominated as Lebanon’s entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[9]


French Mandate

The first feature, The Adventures of Elias Mabruk, was filmed in Lebanon in 1929 and directed by Jordano Pidutti.[10] In the Ruins of Baalbeck (1936) was the first sound film.[11] It was a hit with audiences and profitable.[12]

By the mid-1920s cinemas were common in Beirut, and some where used as a place for political gatherings. For example, in 1925, the Communist Party met at the Crystal Cinema in Beirut.[13] Cinemas had become so popular that in 1931, students marched in a protest, demanding that prices of movie tickets be lowered.[13] To compete against Hollywood, France decreed that all American films that were being imported to Lebanon be dubbed into French.[14]

Documentaries were also being made during this period, but they were heavily censored by the French.[14]


After Lebanon gained its independence from France, filmmakers began to examine local themes, especially rural life and folklore.[15] During the post-independence period, Lebanon witnessed an economic boom that made its capital, Beirut, the financial center of the eastern Mediterranean.[16] Lebanon's economic success, along with the presence of 38 banks and its open, multi-cultural and liberal society, made the country an alternative production choice to Egypt, which was at the time the center of filmmaking in the Arabic-speaking world.[17] Additionally, "Lebanon had the region's best technical facilities" for film production.[18] For the first half of the twentieth century, Lebanese cinema was very closely associated with Egyptian cinema.[19] In addition to exporting numerous Lebanese actors and actresses, such as Nour Al Hoda and Sabah, belly dancers like Badia Massabni and producers like Assia Dagher, Lebanese distributors monopolized export of Egyptian film from 1930s – 1970s.[20] One of the most successful directors of this period was Mohamed Selmane who was trained in Egypt and returned to Lebanon to make 30 films in 25 years.[15]

Co-productions with Egypt and Syria were common in this period, which was considered the "Golden Age" of the Lebanese film industry.[15] Additionally, Lebanese producers from 1945 up to 1951 played an influential role in the first stages of production of Iraqi cinema.[21]

The first Lebanese film to represent Lebanon at the Cannes Film Festival was Georges Nasser's Ila Ayn? in 1958.[22]

The film industry continued to prosper in the 1960s with Beirut rivaling Cairo’s dominance of Arab filmmaking; however, films produced in the sixties, for the most part, lacked a sense of national identity and were merely commercial films, targeting a pan-Arab audience.[15] The musicals of the Rahbani Brothers that starred Fairuz were an exception. The Rahbani films were centered around nostalgic themes of life in Mount Lebanon villages.[23] While many films in the sixties were filmed in the Egyptian vernacular to cater to the large Egyptian market, the Rahbani films were filmed in the Lebanese dialect.[24] One of the Rahbani films, Safar Barlik, which was set in 1912, depicted Lebanon's struggle against the Ottoman occupation. The film became a staple rerun on Lebanese television, especially on Independence Day.[25]

Lebanon was also a filming location for international productions. For example, in 1965, Val Guest's Where the Spies Are, starring David Niven and Françoise Dorléac, was filmed in Beirut.[26] Twenty-Four Hours to Kill,[27] starring Mickey Rooney, and Secret Agent Fire Ball,[28] starring Richard Harrison, were also filmed in Beirut the same year.[27] The following year in 1966, the German director, Manfred R. Köhler, filmed his film, Agent 505 – Todesfalle Beirut.[29] George Lautner's La grande sauterelle was also filmed in Beirut in 1967.[30] Rebus, starring Ann-Margret was filmed on location at the Casino du Liban in 1969.[31] While Honeybaby, Honeybaby[32] was shot in 1974 in Beirut, the producers of The Man with the Golden Gun, which was partially set in Beirut, decided not to film in the Lebanese capital due to the burgeoning political problems.[26]

Beirut hosted the first international film festival in the Arab world in 1971.[15] Until the mid-1970s, the film industry in Lebanon was flourishing with market appeal that extended to neighboring Arabic-speaking countries.[33] Lebanon was producing "a string of sexually indulgent films" such as Cats of Hamra Street[34] and The Guitar of Love in 1973,[35] starring Georgina Rizk, the Lebanese beauty queen who won Miss Universe in 1971.[36] In the 1970s, cinema attendance in Lebanon was the highest among Arabic-speaking countries.[37]

Civil war

Despite the war, there was an "emergence of a new wave of Lebanese filmmakers – fostering, unusually, equal numbers of women and men".[33] Some of the filmmakers who emerged during this period were "Maroun Baghdadi, Jocelyn Saab, Borhane Alaouié, Heiny Srour, Randa Shahal Sabbag" and Jean Chamoun.[38] In the 1970s, film themes in Lebanon were concentrated around the political conflicts that the country was undergoing.[37] Displacement was also a recurrent theme as evident in Borhane Alaouie's Beirut, the Encounter (1981).[39] Films of this period were characterized by a lack of closure, reflective of the seemingly endless war at the time.[40]

One of the most important directors to emerge during this period was Maroun Baghdadi. According to Lina Khatib, author of Lebanese Cinema: Imagining the Civil War and Beyond, Baghdadi's films were "considered the cornerstone of Lebanese cinema".[41] Maroun Baghdadi made Little Wars (film) with aid provided by the American filmmaker, Francis Coppola.[42] The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.[43] The film also screened at New York Film Festival on October 2, 1982.[44]

Documentaries by filmmakers like Jocelyn Saab who "adopted a mainly journalistic style" also developed rapidly and successfully during this period.[33] Lebanese and Palestinian documentaries produced in Lebanon during the 1970s caused a surge of documentary production across the Arab world.[6] These documentaries contributed to the development of feature film production in the early eighties.[6]

Many filmmakers from this era, such as Jocelyn Saab, Jean Chamoun, Randa Chahal and Maroun Baghdadi, settled in France due to the prolonged conflict in Lebanon.[45]

Beirut: The Last Home Movie is a 1987 documentary film that was directed by Jennifer Fox and shot on location at the historic Bustros mansion in Beirut. The documentary, which told the story of one of Lebanon’s wealthiest families, was awarded the Excellence In Cinematography Award and won the Grand Jury Prize Documentary at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival.[46]

In addition to the wave of festival films and documentaries, a series of commercial films, mostly mimicking action B movies from Hollywood, were made in the early 1980s.[47]

Post-War Revival

After the war, Beirut reemerged as one of the centers of mass media production in the Arab world.[48] While media production was concentrated around television, there were attempts to revive the film industry in Lebanon, especially by fresh graduates of Lebanese film schools. While filmmaking schools are a rarity in the region, by the mid-1990s, six of Beirut's universities were offering degrees in cinema and television and that attracted an influx of students from Arab countries who chose to receive some or all of their media training in Lebanon.[49]

Financing of film production in Lebanon in this period was mainly dependent on foreign support, both European and from the Lebanese diaspora.[49]

Many films, such as Jocelyne Saab's experimental film, Once Upon a Time in Beirut, examined the destruction that was left after the war.[50] Maroun Baghdadi's Beyrouth Hors la Vie won the Special Jury Prize at Canned in 1991.[51] Other's like Jean-Claude Codsi's Histoire d'un retoure examined the issue of returning to the country after years of exile and war.[52] In 1994, Codsi's film won the jury award at the Festival international du film Francophone de Namur in Belgium.[53] While many films produced in the 1990s were hits at international festivals, Lebanese viewers were not drawn to the mainly-war themed films. An exception was West Beirut (film) (1998), which was a local and an international hit. It was not only the first Lebanese film, but also the first Arabic-language film to have general release in America.[54]

In 1997, Youssef Chahine's French-produced film, Destiny, was shot on location in Lebanon, including the historic mountain town of in Beiteddine.

21st century

A mélange of local issues and Western aesthetics characterized this period of Lebanese filmmaking.[49] Films in this period gained domestic appeal where many films were not only commercially successful as evident in box-office sales of Bosta,[55] Caramel,[56] Stray Bullet, and Where Do We Go Now?[57] but also were able to compete with imported, American films. Funding of films remained reliant on European organizations, such as Fonds Sud Cinéma in France and Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.[58] Philippe Aractingi's Bosta (film) is one of the few films that was completely funded locally.


In 2003, Randa Chahal's The Kite examined the issue of families separated due to the occupied territories in southern Lebanon. Her film won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.[59] Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s The Perfect Day (2005) examined the social implications of political kidnappings that happened during the war.[52]

By 2004, film production was on the increase with four fiction and two documentaries produced.[60] New themes that did not necessary deal with the issue of war emerged, like Danielle Arbid’s In the Battlefields (2005) that critiqued patriarchal society.

Short film production, especially by the graduates of the film schools in Lebanon, was also on the increase and receiving local and international attention. Hany Tamba's After Shave won the César Award for best short film in 2006.[61]

2007 was an important year for Lebanese filmmaking when two female directors, Nadine Labaki and Danielle Arbid presented their films at the Cannes Film Festival. Labaki presented Caramel while Arbid presented A Lost Man.[22] A Lost Man is possibly the most sexually graphic film ever made by an Arab director.[62] Caramel enjoyed an international release, including in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Argentina.[63]


In 2010, Muriel Abourouss won the best director of photography award for Georges Hachem's Stray Bullet at the Festival international du film Francophone de Namur in Belgium.[64] Vatche Boulghourjian filmed on location in Bourj Hammoud, The Fifth Column a short film in Western Armenian dialect that won the third place Cinéfondation Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.[65]

Ok, Enough, Goodbye by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia was shot on location in Tripoli, Lebanon in 2010. The film tied with Delphine and Muriel Coulin's Ragazze for the Special Jury Award ex-aequo at the Torino Film Festival in 2011.[66]

Also in 2010, Carlos, a Canal+ production that starred Édgar Ramírez as well as a handful of Lebanese stars such as Razane Jammal, Rodney El Haddad, Antoine Balabane, Ahmad Kaabour, Talal El-Jordi and Badih Abou Chakra was shot on location in Lebanon.[67] Carlos, which screened out of competition at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival won the 2010 Golden Globe award for the Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television.[68]

Increase in film production was evident in 2011. Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? won the Prix Francois Chalais at Cannes.[69] The film also won the people's choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as the audience award at the Films from the South Festival in Oslo, Norway.[70] Sony Pictures Classics acquired the American rights to the film.[71] The film was Lebanon's choice to compete in the Academy Award's "Best Foreign-Language Film" category.[71] The film also won the Byarad d'Or at the Festival international du film Francophone de Namur in Belgium[72] and the Doha Tribeca Film Festival's Best Narrative Film award.[73]

Circumstance, a film by Maryam Keshavarz that explored homosexuality in modern Iran, was filmed entirely on location in Beirut.[74]

In the summer of 2011, the city of Beirut participated in the 48 Hour Film Project for the first time where 24 teams competed.[75] Cyril Aris won the Best Film category for his short, "Anoesis," which will be Beirut's entry in Filmapalooza 2012, the final festival for the 2011 48 Hour Film Project.[75][76][77]

Danielle Arbid's filmed her third feature, Beirut Hotel,[78] which had a world premiere at the 64th Locarno Film Festival in August 2011.[79]

Mounir Maasri's Rue Huvelin, which was set in 1990, told the story of seven Saint Joseph University students from Beirut's Rue Huvelin during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.[80] Né à Beyrouth produced the film.[81]

Jean-Claude Codsi filmed his second feature, A Man of Honor, which was produced by Michel Ghosn and premiered at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival on October 28, 2011.[82]

Beirut Kamikaze, an Experimental/Documentary by Christophe Karabache was released in cinema (Paris) on November 16, 2011.

Also in 2011, Celine Abiad's Beiroots Productions presented a different perspective of Mediterranean filmmaking by producing and experimental surrealist film (5.1 Dolby surround), shot in 35mm and fully produced in Lebanon: A Play Entitled Sehnsucht, written and directed by Badran Roy Badran. The film was picked up for international distribution at Cannes, by Albany Films International, a company dedicated to the promotion of art house and indie films from gifted and promising directors.[83][84]

Documentary filmmaking was also present in 2011. Rania Stephan won "Best Documentary Filmmaker" at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival for The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosny.[85] It's All in Lebanon, a documentary film directed by Wissam Charaf and produced by Né à Beyrouth Production, premiered at DIFF in 2011. Thirteen feature and short films were premiered at DIFF in 2011, including Danielle Arbid's Beirut Hotel, Youcef Joe Bou Eid's Tannoura Maxi, Daniel Joseph's Taxi Ballad, Simon El Habre's Gate #5, Hady Zaccak's Marcedes, Rami Nihawi's Yamo, Christina Foerch Saab's Che Guevara Died in Lebanon, Tamara Stepanyan's February 19, Wajdi Elian's A Place to Go, Rodrigue Sleiman and Tarek El Bacha's Nice to Meet You, Aseel Mansour's Uncle Nashaat, and Nadim Mishlawi's Sector Zero.[86]

In 2015, Noura Kevorkian's drama-documentary hybrid feature film 23 Kilometres was selected for documentary competition at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival[87] as well as Muhr Feature Award competition at Dubai International Film Festival.[88]

Non-exhaustive list of actors

Non-exhaustive list of film directors

Non-exhaustive list of cinematographers (DOP)


See also


  1. 1 2 "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure – Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  2. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Table 1: Feature Film Production – Genre/Method of Shooting". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. "Country profile: 3. Lebanon" (PDF). Euromed Audiovisual. pp. 90–91. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  5. "Table 11: Exhibition – Admissions & Gross Box Office (GBO)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 Armes, Roy. Arab Filmmakers of the Middle East: a Dictionary, page 26
  7. Shafik 2007, p. 9.
  8. Harabi, Najib. Knowledge Intensive Industries: Four Case Studies of Creative Industries in Arab Countries, World Bank Project, 2009, page 16.
  9. 1 2 "Arab Media Outlook 2011–2015" (PDF). 2012. p. 192.
  10. Shafik 2007, p. 12.
  11. Bayn Hayakel Baalbek (1936) – IMDb
  12. Thompson 2000, p. 202.
  13. 1 2 Thompson 2000, p. 200.
  14. 1 2 Thompson 2000, p. 201.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Armes, Roy. Arab Filmmakers of the Middle East: a Dictionary, page 7
  16. Westmoreland 2008, p. 70.
  17. Westmoreland 2008, p. 71.
  18. Chaudhuri, Shohini. Contemporary World Cinema: Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia, page 60
  19. Shafik 2007, p. 29.
  20. Shafik 2007, p. 28.
  21. Shafik 2007, pp. 27–28.
  22. 1 2 Ham, Anthony. Middle East, page 411
  23. Stone, Christopher Reed. Popular culture and nationalism in Lebanon: the Fairouz and Rahbani Nation, pages 75–76
  24. Westmoreland 2008, pp. 72–73.
  25. Frishkopf, Michael. Music and Media in the Arab World, page 98
  26. 1 2 Kassir, Debevoise, and Fisk. Beirut, page 407
  27. 1 2 Twenty-Four Hours to Kill (1965) – IMDb
  28. Le spie uccidono a Beirut (1965) – IMDb
  29. Agent 505 – Todesfalle Beirut (1966) – IMDb
  30. La grande sauterelle (1967) – IMDb
  31. Rebus (1969) – IMDb
  32. Honeybaby, Honeybaby (1974) – IMDb
  33. 1 2 3 Kuhn, Anne and Radstone, Annette. The Women's Companion to International Film, page 239
  34. Kassir, Debevoise, and Fisk. Beirut, page 391
  35. Westmoreland 2008, p. 73.
  36. "Contestant Profiles". Miss Universe. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  37. 1 2 Armes, Roy. Third World film making and the West, page 204
  38. Westmoreland, Mark R. "Post-Orientalist Aesthetics: Experimental Film and Video in Lebanon"
  39. Westmoreland 2008, p. 80.
  40. Westmoreland 2008, p. 82.
  41. – Saturday. "Page 2/3: The view from Lebanon". The National. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  42. Kuhn, Anne and Radstone, Annette. The Women's Companion to International Film, page 239-240
  43. "Festival de Cannes: Little Wars". Retrieved 2009-06-12.
  44. Maslin, Janet (October 2, 1982). "Movie Review: Little Wars". NY Times. Retrieved 2011-10-15.
  45. Armes, Roy. Arab Filmmakers of the Middle East: a Dictionary, page 27
  46. "Beirut: The Last Home Movie". Sundance Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  47. – Saturday. "The view from Lebanon". The National. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  48. Westmoreland 2008, p. 91.
  49. 1 2 3 Marks, Laura U. "What Is That and between Arab Women and Video? The Case of Beirut"
  50. Ginsberg, Terri and Lippard, Chris. Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema, page 310
  51. Hammond, Andrew. Pop Culture Arab World!: Media, Arts, and Lifestyle, page 132
  52. 1 2 Westmoreland, Mark R."Post-Orientalist Aesthetics:Experimental Film and Video in Lebanon"
  53. "Jean-Claude Codsi Biography". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  54. Hammond, Andrew. Pop Culture Arab World!: Media, Arts, and Lifestyle, page 115
  55. "Bosta – A 100% Lebanese Feature Film". Ya Libnan. 2006-01-22. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  56. "Embracing art". The Daily Star. 2011-09-20. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  57. Wiseman, Andreas (2011-10-04). "Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? breaks new ground in Lebanon". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  58. "Jean-Claude Codsi Interview". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  59. Snaije, Olivia (October 3, 2008). "Obituary: Randa Chahal". The Guardian. London.
  60. Deutsch, Andre. Variety International Film Guide
  61. César Awards, France (2006)
  62. "Arbid pushes limit with sexy 'Man'" (PDF). Variety. 2007-05-21. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 20, 2009. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  63. Sukkar banat (2007) – Box office / business
  64. "Balle perdue / Liste des films" (in French). Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  65. "Cinéfondation Prizes 2010". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  66. "29 Torino Film Festival – Awards". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  67. "Carlos" (2010) – Filming locations
  68. "Carlos Wins Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made For Television". 2011-01-17. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  69. "Doha Tribeca Film Festival's (DTFF) Contemporary World Cinema Programme Revealed". 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  70. Av Ingrid Stolpestad, foto: Ulf Hansen 17. okt 2011. "Award winners of Films From the South 2011 – Films from the South". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  71. 1 2 "Sony Classics picks up "Where Do We Go Now?"". Reuters. September 29, 2011.
  72. "FIFF – Palmarès de la 26e édition / Actualités". 2011-10-18. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  73. "Star shows, premieres mark DTFF closing". 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  74. Circumstance (2011) – IMDb
  75. 1 2 "The 48 Hour Film Project: Beirut". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  76. "The 48 Hour Film Project: Filmapalooza 2013". Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  77. Anoesis (2011) – IMDb
  78. Weissberg, Jay (August 11, 2011). "Beirut Hotel". Variety.
  79. ""Beirut Hotel" to premiere at Locarno film festival". 2011-08-07. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  80. Rue Huvelin (2011) – IMDb
  81. Né à Beyrouth [lb]
  82. "A Man of Honor". Doha Film Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  83. "About Us". Albany Films International. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  84. "A play entitled Sehnsucht". Albany Films International. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  85. "Awards — Doha Tribeca Film Festival". Doha Film Institute. Retrieved 2013-02-16.
  86. Archived December 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  87. "KVIFF | Film detail". Retrieved 2015-11-25.
  88. "Dubai International Film Festival - Films 2015 - 23 KILOMETRES". Dubai International Film Festival. Retrieved 2015-11-25.


Further reading

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