Written by Sanaa Nehme
NNA - The Russian Film Festival will take place this October in Lebanon, with a big launching preceding the event in both Beirut and Moscow, under the patronage of the Lebanese Ministries of Culture and Tourism, and with the support of the Russian Embassy in Beirut and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia.
The National News Agency on Saturday met with producer Maria Ivanova, founder and co-organizer - together with the Lebanese department of Rossotrudnichestvo - of the First Russian Film Festival in Lebanon, dubbed "5 Years in 5 Days", which will show the best Russian films over the past five years, between October 24th and 28th in Beirut.
Ivanova, who took the initiative to organize the event after her first visit to Lebanon six months ago, told NNA on how the idea came to be and talked about the desire from both Lebanon and Russia to deepen the already strong bilateral ties on all levels.
Born in Moscow, Maria Ivanova (33) became the youngest producer in the Russian capital, after graduating from Moscow State University's faculty of Journalism, with a degree in advertising and PR. Her company, Buta Films, now ten years old, started shooting documentaries and more than 100 sequels about celebrities, such as Dalida or Mireille Mathieu, which prompted the young producer to travel for location hunting. Four years ago, in Azerbaijan, she met with locals and her then business partner, Nasib Piriev, with whom she started working on the short movie "The Last One" (Sonuncu), a story about the last World War II veteran. According to Ivanova, high temperatures, long rides, and being a woman in a conservative Azerbaijani society were her main difficulties. In 2014, Sonuncu was on the list of the official selection of the 67th Cannes Film Festival and selected as one of the 8 best short film nominees in the world. She remembers that the costs for the preparations to Cannes Film Festival were higher than the movie budget itself. "The Last One" was shown this year at USEK University in Lebanon and will also make it to the Russian Film Festival in Beirut.
Then Ivanova started preparing her first feature movie, a psychological drama called "City of Strangers", with five countries - Russia, Norway, France, Germany and Azerbaijan - partaking in the production. Because of Azerbaijan's financial troubles resulting from its oil crisis, the movie failed to see the light.
It was then, after watching "Amy", a documentary about late singer Amy Winehouse that Ivanova decided to go back to shooting documentaries. She traveled first to Germany and then to Syria's Jaramana in Damascus to film the tragedy of the Syrian war by talking to the displaced and the refugees. Afterwards, she took a taxi from Damascus and came for the first time to Lebanon where she filmed Syrian refugees in Beqaa, Baalbek, and Beirut, with the help of the Russian Cultural Center in Lebanon. "I wanted to film the personal life of the people who fled tragedy and ran away from the war, I knew nothing about Lebanon," she said.
Later on, at a party hosted by Russian Ambassador, Alexander Zasypkin, she met with a number of locals who highlighted the need to emphasize more on bilateral projects.
So she thought of the Russian Film Festival and upon her return to Moscow, she suggested the idea to Lebanese Ambassador to Russia, Chawki Bou Nassar, and to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Russian Federation, Mikhail Bogdanov.
"Mr. Bogdanov likes Lebanon a lot so he appreciated the idea and said the Ministry would support it," she recalls.
In Lebanon, Ministers Raymond Araiji and Michel Pharaon, Makhzoumi Foundation, and Beirut Governor, Ziad Chbib, also supported the proposal. The financial assistance was ensured by Jezzine MP, Amal Abou Zeid, Techno car company, Russian agency Rossotrudnichestvo, Fransabank and independent sponsor Mr. Nidal Khoury. The partners of the festival are: ATTAL travel agents, Solidere, Russian Standard, Cinema Empire, and Hotel Phoenicia. The main media partner is RT channel.
She noted that time was her biggest difficulty. Preparations, advertisement strategies, and choice of movies had to be made. Technically, passports for 16 Russian journalists,from different culture and travel departments of the main Russian media,had to be issued and delivered in just two days. "Hectic" was the word she chose to describe the period of preparations. And then she smiled and added: "Russian journalists were very excited to come here, not just for the Film Festival, but also they were very interested to get to know Lebanon."
NNA asked the producer on the common things she noticed between Lebanese and Russian people. She said: "The wish and the willingness to help others." In her opinion, this is what creates such an important historical platform and contributes to deepening cultural, educational, financial, political, religious, trade, and business relations between both countries.
"A lot of people seem to think that now is a new era of cooperation between Lebanon and Russia whose ties go way back," she underlined.
She then announced that Lebanese renowned actor and producer Nadine Labaki's movie "Caramel" will be screened soon in Moscow's Russia cinema club within the framework of Russia's Year of Cinema, in front of an estimated 150 journalists.
"Caramel is an excellent movie by talented Nadine Labaki. It is close to women's mentality in Russia, it could tell their stories as well."
Ivanova was in Lebanon during the Beirut Music Festival earlier this summer. She told NNA that Lebanese were very similar to Russians when it came to their love of music. This is what got her to think about a possible bilateral music festival soon. She added that a very famous Russian saxophonist will be playing at the grand closing ceremony of the film festival on October 28th.
A press conference is scheduled to take place this upcoming Tuesday at Phoenicia hotel in Beirut to announce the launching of "5 Years in 5 Days" film festival. Twelve films - features, documentaries, short movies, and animation films - that were selected by the most prestigious film showcases in the last five years, such as Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and the Oscars, will be screened at Beirut Souks Cinemacity and Empire Metropolis Sofil (entrance free of charge). The opening movie will be "About Love", about five different love stories with a special twist.
Commenting on this special occasion, Mr. Bogdanov, who will preside over the press conference of the event at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow on October 18th, asserted that "the first Russian Film Festival in Lebanon gives the Lebanese public the opportunity to discover one of the Russian cinema's golden pages. Moreover, it strengthens the cooperation with Lebanon, and aims at further developing cultural relations between Russia and the Middle Eastern countries through arts."