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Docudays film festival at UNESCO Palace features 57 films from 31 countries

If there is one film festival in Beirut that grows bigger and bolder as it gets older it is Docudays, the annual film week dedicated to new documentaries from around the world.
Opening at the UNESCO Palace on Sunday night with the Swiss/Dutch/German feature "Asshak: History of the Sahara," by Ulrike Koch, the seventh Docudays continues tonight and all this week at the Medina Theater in Hamra, featuring a varied selection of 57 films from 31 countries under the general theme "Inside Stories."

Arguably the most informed and intelligent film festival dedicated to documentary films in the Middle East, Docudays was launched in 1999 by its founder and director Mohammad Hashem to raise public awareness of the nonfiction genre of film-making and to create a focal point and international meeting place for professionals in the industry.

As well as screenings and discussions and a selection of student productions showing nightly, for the first time a new industry section has been added to the program where Arab and international producers, directors and broadcasters can meet and communicate.

"It has been incredibly exciting to put together Docudays this year," Hashem says. "Of 600 entries the international jury (five industry professionals) picked the 57 final films including works from the first Saudi Arabian woman director and first Yemeni woman director.

"The theme 'Inside Stories' can be taken in many ways but includes investigating situations on a personal level and national level and all the films are informative and hard-hitting. The student films are also impressive this year," he adds.

The works which range from shorts to feature length productions include a number of documentaries from Lebanon, Egypt and Syria and the prizes up for grabs include Best Long, Best Short and Best Student documentary from the Arab world and the same in the international category.

Particularly exciting is the closing film of the festival next Saturday, "Improvisation" from Palestinian director Raed Andoni.

Finally this year's lifetime achievement award will go to the Lebanese filmmaker Burhan Alawiye, and a retrospective of his films shown. Born in 1941 in South Lebanon, Alawiye studied film-making in Belgium before returning to Lebanon to work. His 1971 debut film "Poster vs Poster," proved a great success before what Hashem calls Alawiye's masterpiece - the 1973 work "Kafr Kassim." The filmmaker is also known for a series of documentaries he made during the Civil War including the brilliantly cinematic "Beirut Is On Fire." - Ramsay Short

"Inside Stories: Docudays" begins at 5 p.m. daily at the Medina Theater from tonight until Saturday. For more information call +961 3 771880 or see a full program of screenings and events at www.docudays.com

Beirut,11 07 2005
The Daily Star
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