"Minister of Culture Ghattas Khoury,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the opening of the European Film Festival in Beirut. It is the 24th time we host this festival here in Lebanon which we - in all modesty - think has become an essential part of the cultural calendar here.
2018 is special for us because it is the European Year of Cultural Heritage. We celebrate this year under the headline "Our heritage: Where the past meets the future". Throughout the year, we will honour our diverse cultural heritage across Europe.
Cultural heritage is not just an expression of our past. It is what helps us understand the present and look forward to the future. Cultural heritage takes many shapes and forms. Films are obviously one important art form that lets us express our heritage and share it across borders. But it is also a form of expression that has the ability to touch upon every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and as communities.
This is why we are proud this year to present 32 movies from 20 different European countries. Sad movies and happy movies, difficult and more light movies, scaring and touching movies, but all of them have in common that they illustrate aspects of Europe's varied and diverse societies and the cultural heritage we bring with us.
Many of the films shown during the festival have earned prizes and praise in important festivals in Europe and internationally in the past year. I will not mention all of them, but just say that two of the films we are screening during the Festival - Sweden's 'The Square' and Hungary's 'On Body and Soul' - were yesterday nominated for an Oscar for best foreign movie.
As in Europe, Lebanon is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage. This is expressed in many ways every single day, but not least in this country's creative and dynamic film industry. Take 2017 for example where many acclaimed movies were released, some films made it to international festivals and others were nominated for some of the most prestigious film awards. But the biggest news came yesterday, when the Lebanese film The Insult by Ziad Doueiry was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. And I don't think I need to remind anyone here that this is the first time a Lebanese film has been nominated for the Oscars.
We want to see the Lebanese film industry continue to flourish. We are, therefore, happy to continue the tradition of honouring two prizes to short films produced by talented students from Lebanese audio-visual schools and hopefully give them a gentle push into the limelight. We are also excited to close the festival with the Lebanese Film "Heaven without People" by director Lucien Bourjeily, who was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Dubai International Film Festival.
I would like to thank H.E. the Minister of Culture Dr. Ghattas Khoury for his patronage of the festival and his presence with us tonight. Also, the embassies of the European Union Member States, and this year's special guests, Switzerland and Serbia. Without their support, the Festival would not have been possible.
A special tribute goes to l'Institut Français du Liban for their invaluable cooperation in organising the screenings in eight cities outside Beirut in coordination with local European and Lebanese partners. Also, a big praise to Metropolis Cinema for their great work with the EU Delegation organising this festival and to the LBCI for once again promoting the festival.
On first of January, Bulgaria took over the rotating Presidency of the European Union. I am therefore thrilled that we open this year's festival with the film 'Monkey' from Bulgaria. I have not yet had a chance to see it myself, but I have been told that it fits all the categories I mentioned before, funny and sad, strange and moving. That is exactly what a good movie should do and why we are proud of our strong European cultural heritage as the world's most diverse film producing continent.
Enjoy the movie!"