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French Version

Lebanon and Iran pitch tents in Cannes

Cinema Foundation hopes to build a sustainable Lebanese film industry

On a balmy evening, against a background of lapping waves and lingering sun, the Fondation Cinema Liban (FCL) officially opened its film tent in Cannes this week. It marks the first time an Arab country has had a presence at the film festival's international pavilion.

Announcing the FCL's plans to promote and engage in building a sustainable film industry in Lebanon, vice president Gabriel Chamoun told The Daily Star, "For a long time Lebanon had a somewhat negative reputation. Now there's nothing to be scared about."

Cinema attendance in the Middle East has mushroomed. Territories such as the U.A.E, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain saw regional admissions reach 12 million last year. It's an audience Chamoun is keen to tap.

"Lebanon is already a regional production center," Chamoun commented from Cannes' Plage Royal. "By coming to Cannes we're hoping to give the Lebanese film industry international exposure. I'm very optimistic about the future. Lebanon has a lot to offer in terms of filmmakers, technicians, crews and locations."

Chamoun wants to see the development of a sustainable production base in Lebanon. He aims to see six or seven Lebanese films made every year, consolidated by international productions in the country. The Middle East has already become an attractive filming location for Western studios, with Morocco and Tunisia boasting a number of big-budget shoots every year.

"Morocco is definitely a big production center," he said. "I'm confident we can offer an alternative without being a competitor. Also we're looking to attract productions away from East European locations such as Romania, Czech Republic and Hungary."

Lebanon currently faces an uncertain future following the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a nearly thirty-year presence, and crucial elections set for May. Chamoun is aware of the risks that political instability could pose to foreign investors.

"Stability is important. It's the one thing that the foundation can do nothing about," he joked. "If we keep waiting for things to become 100 percent stable, then we could be waiting a long time. Which country in the world is 100 percent stable anyway? Just last night there was a bomb in Corsica, which is in French territory, yet here we are only a few miles away in Cannes and everything is going on as usual. We can't let these things affect us."

Iran also has its own tent at Cannes for the first time. Iranian cinema, of course, is a giant on the world stage. In the last 27 years there have been 12,000 presentations of Iranian films at film festivals across the world. The country produces more than 80 films a year and since 1979 has seen its filmmakers pick up 1,000 awards at international festivals, making it the most lauded cinema in the world.

Iran's "arrival" at Cannes was noteworthy given the current international political pressure on the country. Mohammad Atebbai, director of international affairs for the Khaneh Cinema Institute believes that cinema, and events like Cannes, are valuable tools for opening dialogue.

"Iran and the U.S. have no political relations yet nearly 30 percent of Iranian film presentations take place in the U.S.," he said. "Despite there being no official diplomatic relations, through cinema Americans are in touch with Iranian people and Iranian culture. The Iranian culture minister recently commented that Iranian cinema is the most important ambassador of Iranian culture and art throughout the world. Cinema is at the forefront of all these relations."

Beirut,05 23 2005
Ali Jaafar
The Daily Star
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