Providing an overview of Arab film production in the past two years, the festival, which begins on Wednesday, will run from 15 to 26 September in the Lebanese capital.

"We tried to select quality films that were representative of what's happening in the region's cinema," Elaine Rahib, co-director of the festival, which is organised by Beirut Development and Cinema (BDC), was quoted as saying.

BDC is a cultural cooperative association, established in 1999, which promotes and defends independent Arab cinema.

Rahib said more than 300 films were viewed before the final 130 were selected for screening.

Thirteen features, 40 documentaries, 45 short films, video art as well as experimental and student films will be showcased.

Rahib said the documentary was "the genre that's shaping the identity of Arabic cinema right now".

Filmmakers' crisis

"Filmmakers in this region are in a crisis now ... They see the Western media representing the people of the Middle East as heroes, victims or terrorists and it is impossible to ignore"

Elaine Rahib,
co-director of the festival

Egyptian director Yusri Nasr Allah's film, Bab al-Shams (Door of the Sun), which focuses on the experiences of a group of refugees fleeing from Palestine to Lebanon, will be screened on the opening night of the festival. The film, an adaptation of the novel by Ilyas Khury, was screened at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. 

"Filmmakers in this region are in a crisis now," Rahib is quoted as saying.

"They see the Western media representing the people of the Middle East as heroes, victims or terrorists and it is impossible to ignore. If they take up these topics themselves it's because they're trying to position themselves relative to these issues. They're in a crisis, but trying to find a solution."

Palestine

As in the past, Palestine is a recurring feature of the festival.

More than 20 films on the subject, directed by Palestinian, Arab and foreign filmmakers will be screened. These include Suraida - A Woman From Palestine, by Tahani Rashid, Writers on the Borders by Samir Abd Allah, Ijtia by Nizar Hasan, Like Twenty Impossibilities by Anne-Marie Jacir, In the Ninth Month by Ali Nassar and Private Investigation by Ula Tabari.

The Sabra and Shatila massacres
are highlighted in one of the films

Bab al-Shams, in memory of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, will also be showcased in the Shatila refugee camp in an open air screening on the opening night.

Another director of the festival, Hania Mroue said the independent films that have been chosen are "films that have been made relatively free of the constraints of distributors and producers".

One of the highlights of this year's festival is a special section of foreign films, which take a look at the Arab world.

An example is a film called 2000 Terrorists, about four of the plaintiffs living in Sabra and Shatila, who filed a lawsuit against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a Belgium court. 

Alternating images of their daily lives in the refugee camps and the tribunal in Brussels on the other, the film is a story about the never ending struggle for justice. 

Vodka Lemon, a film set in Armenia by Iraqi Kurd Hinner Selim, is another.

Discussions

Apart from discussions taking place after each film, several roundtables and debates are scheduled for the festival. One discussion will focus on identity as shown in the Arab cinema today.

Some films focus on women as well, such as Women beyond borders, by Lebanese documentary veteran Jean Chamun, When Women Sing by Mustafa Hasnawi and Hala Galal's Women Chat.

While not competitive, the festival will award a prize to the best Lebanese film (short or documentary) based on audience votes, to encourage the winning director to produce a second film.

For further information, email: beirutdc@inco.com.lb