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Arts and culture

A Lebanese Brat Pack?...

BEIRUT | - June 10, 2014, 16h02
Par Sophie Spencer
From left to right: Nasri Sayegh, Panos Aprahamian, Kai Gero Lenke, Bottom left to right : Mounia Akl, Cyril Aris, Yasmina Hatem.
The constant re-appearance of a certain group of young Lebanese actors and directors in Lebanese cinema is reminiscent of the concentration of young American actors in the teen films of the 1980s. Are we seeing the emergence of a Lebanese Brat pack ?
As a regular attendee of the Lebanese Film Festival this year I have been noticing a general theme. Not a cinematic theme, but rather the same faces and the same names appearing in the credits. It takes me back to another era of cinema, when American teen films were saturated with familiar faces such as Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe in the 1980s. Despite their refusal to accept the grouping and the nickname, the actors of the two iconic films from 1985 ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘St Elmo’s Fire’ found this categorisation as the ‘Brat pack’, a take on the 1950s rat pack of Frank Sinatra, hard to avoid.

If you watch films from this era and in particular films by the director John Hughes, you will notice the same actors with different couplings. In fact, it can be quite amusing to spot these familiar faces, whose careers largely wavered at the end of the decade, acting in yet another film together.

I played the same ‘Spot the Face’ game at the Lebanese Film festival this weekend. Of course, there were no ‘teen movies’ and there were many exceptions, but there were a few names, mainly associated with the web series "Beirut, I Love You", which kept appearing.

Beirut, I Love You was a TV and web-series about young people living in Beirut. Following on from a short film produced by budding filmmakers Mounia Akl and Cyril Aris in 2009 entitled ‘Beirut, I Love you, I love you not’, "Beirut, I love you", ran for two series and gained huge popularity, especially from the online community. It is currently on hold as its creators pursue MFAs at the prestigious Columbia University in New York (Photo from Beirut I Love You Facebook page).

Almost everyone involved in "Beirut, I Love You" seems to have something to offer at this year’s festival. This includes Cyril Aris, who directed Siham and who co-created, co-wrote and co-directed "Beirut I Love You" along with Mounia Akl. Both of them starred in their webseries. Mounia Akl, the director of the short film Eva, also starred in Siham with Nasri Sayegh, who acted in the film God is the Greatest with Panos Aprahamian who played Walid in "Beirut, I love you". God is the Greatest was directed by the German director Kai Gero Lenke, who worked on Siham with Cyril Aris and acted in Eva as well. Also in the bunch is Yasmina Hatem who played Cyril Aris’ sister in "Beirut, I love You" but who entered the festival as a director this time, with her fiction Ash. The list goes on…

Innovation, experimentation, passion

So what? Is over-saturation a problem? Not necessarily. Although the careers of many members of the Brat pack seemed to peter out by the end of the 80s, some such as Rob Lowe and Demi Moore have enjoyed long-lasting successful careers. Additionally, the usual problem with over-saturation is that an actor becomes type cast in one specific role and has trouble leaving it. But as we have seen with the work of Nasri Sayegh (who starred in both Siham which was awarded a special mention in the fiction category at the festival and Incarnation of a bird from an Oil Painting which won best experimental film) alone, the projects of this group seem to be sufficiently different that the audience does not experience dejavu.

This is the real difference. With all due respect to those 80s kids, they aren’t really known for their artistic integrity or versatility. Whereas this new group of Lebanese stars are demonstrating the inseparability of the different professions involved in filmmaking. A director who also acts and produces is able to look at a film from all perspectives and therefore produce beautiful results. The body of work of these young artists is a testament to innovation and experimentation, which cannot be said of the samey films of the 80s Brat Pack.

Given the current state of Lebanese cinema and in particular the lack of funding for filmmakers, it makes sense that filmmakers will work with their friends. Many of these films were in fact funded through crowd funding on websites such as Indiegogo, showing that no matter how much exposure these artists are getting, finding financial support is still an issue. For that reason, seeing a director switch roles and step in as an actor for a friend seems like a logical move.

Whether they adopt this grouping or not, it is likely that we will continue to see the same group of artists collaborating with each other for years to come. Unlike the 80s actors who were unimaginatively cast together again and again by bigger fish in the Hollywood pond, these filmmakers are bound by a shared passion. It is this passion that will ensure their permanent presence in Lebanese Cinema.
#Lebanese_cinema, #Lebanese_Film_Festival
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