BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Akkar region has been in the news recently for the wildfires that raged through Oudeen, Akroum, Wadi Jhannam, and Qubeiyat in July, and the significant loss of life and material damage they caused. Then there was August’s deadly fuel tank explosion in Al-Tleil, itself a symptom of the country’s economic collapse.
For all this, REEF (Rural Encounters on Environment and Film) Festival abides.
“We thought about canceling REEF 2021 because of the lack of the necessary infrastructure. We also feared that Akkar might not be ready for such an event,” REEF organizers admitted. “But speaking with the residents and our filmmaker friends and environmental activists, we felt how essential REEF was as an event affirming our moral commitment to our society and our role in ecological and cultural resistance in Lebanon.”
Running Sept. 9-13, REEF is perhaps the Akkar’s most-ambitious cultural event. Based in the town of Qubeiyat, the festival is a hybrid, mingling interests in activism, environmental issues and cinema.
For its third edition Qubeiyat will host a series of physical events connected to environmental concerns as well as a film workshop and projections. In addition, the film association Beirut DC, one of the festival’s co-organizers, will exhibit a wide selection of films online via its aflamuna streaming platform.
The festival promises musical bookends – an opening night concert with vocalist Jahida Wehbe, and a closing night show featuring the youth band of Akkar’s own LaMi music Conservatoire.
For those enjoying the festival onsite, REEF will organize a series of morning hikes that will include tours of wooded areas damaged by the recent fires. In addition to eyeballing the damage, there will be discussions with professionals about how best to protect such burnt sites. Arbitrary reforestation, it seems, can cause more harm to a delicate ecosystem that good.
Festival partner the Council of Environment has this year developed “Food from Nature,” a series of workshops devoted to wild plant and vegetable gathering. Agricultural engineer Marc Beyrouthy – a specialist in ethno-botany, biodiversity, and green management – will lead an interactive conference about the results of these workshops and introduce the dishes prepared with the foraged vegetables.
As in past editions, visitors will also be introduced to (delicious) locally produced victuals. This year Alexandre Paulikevitch (best known as a Beirut-based contemporary dancer and choreographer, but also a Paris-certified hôtelier recently relocated to Qubeiyat) will lead festival-goers on a tasting tour of nearly forgotten traditional bulgur-based home recipes.
Several activities will take up Lebanon’s lingering waste crisis.
REEF will organize forest clean-up walks and environmental and industrial engineer Ziad Abi Shaker and members of the Waste Management Coalition will offer tips in home composting and present waste-reduction solutions.
Al Salon Al-Thaqafi Youth animation workshop will lead a training session for aspiring local filmmakers, the aim of which is to produce a short film by from the region about waste and recycling.
The film program is a central part REEF. The third edition includes a short film competition on the theme of ‘waste.’ The contest includes 17 titles in all. With titles like “Repurposed,” by Pamela Nassour. “I am wasted,” by Hussein Ali Ghandour, and “Mama is a Tree,” by Tamar El Dahr, these works are expected to offer reservoirs of youthful imagination.
The short film competition will also be held online to allow public voting for the Audience Award. Some prizes will be awarded by a jury comprised of Hania Mroué (Director of Metropolis Cinema), “Ghadi” director Amin Dora, Ziad Abi Chaker (Environmental and Industrial Engineer) and actor Joseph Zeituni.
The noncompetitive program to be projected in Qubeiyat comprises eight features and four shorts. Though heavily weighted toward titles from the MENA region, the features include films from around the world, all of which are either critically lauded, prize-winners, or local crowd-pleasers.
Among the popular films are Amin Dora’s 2013 fiction “Ghadi” and Oualid Mouaness’ 2019 fiction “1982,” whose adult cast includes Rodrigue Sleiman and Nadine Labaki. Prize-winners include “You Will Die at Twenty,” the feature film debut of Sudanese national Amjad Abu’l Alaa, and another coming-of-age tale, “I Am Not a Witch,” by Zambia’s Rungano Nyoni. For lovers of feature-length documentary, the selection includes “Child of nature” by Canada’s Marcos Negrao,
In addition to the physical sessions of REEF, an online film program will commence Sept. 13 on www.aflamuna.online. The program will dive into the "Myths and beliefs in the rural environment." This selection will include several of the titles being projected in Qubeiyat, with Arab films supplemented titles from Turkey, Iran, Mexico and several African countries.
For further information about REEF’s program, see: www.ruralencounters.org; Faceook: ruralencounters