BEIRUT: Time was, filmmakers were a bit like other artists. They learned their trade from more experienced filmmakers, then went on to work in an ad hoc fashion. Depending on competence and contacts, aspiring filmmakers might be absorbed by one image-making industry or another – if not film then television or advertising or, later in the 20th century, music video or Web series production.
Artistically minded independent filmmakers remain relatively aloof of industrial image-making but various efforts have been made to discipline independent film as well. Since the Sundance Film Festival created its network of film labs, film development has now become a fixture at major – and aspiring-to-be-major – festivals the world over.
The latest addition to film development in the Arab world is Talents Beirut. Between Sept 17 and 22, 20 artists from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Tunis and Morocco will descend on Metropolis Cinema for five days of intensive workshops, the first of what Metropolis intends to be an annual gathering.
“We received over a hundred applications around the region, mostly from cinematographers,” says program manager Rabih Khoury. “We’re happy to find that the applicants were strong enough that we could privilege talent over geographical distribution.”
The workshops on offer during Talents Beirut focus on cinematography, film editing and sound design/film scoring. Program director Hania Mroué, who founded Metropolis eight years ago, says there are several reasons to privilege these three facets of filmmaking.
“One is that these [photo, sound and editing] ‘technicians’ are not only technicians but a crucial part of the production team,” Mroué says. “They are themselves artists who take part in the creative aspects of production. Yet their work is usually seen as technical, not creative.
“Second, in this region these ‘technicians’ – especially the editors and sound designers – learn a lot in film school but, because there is no real regional industry, they usually get their know-how from working on music videos and ads.
“This makes them brilliant technicians. What is sometimes missing is a theoretical grounding in their work and their colleagues’ work.
“Third, when we started to work on this program we came to realize how little we know about the region’s best technicians. If you ask for the names of the major [directors of photography] it’s easy to give you international names, but we know very few people in the region, outside Lebanon. We want to promote them,” she said.
Talents Beirut is the offspring of a workshop series originally called the Berlinale Talent Campus, founded in association with the Berlin International Film Festival (aka Berlinale) in 2003.
During each festival Berlinale Talents assembles 300 filmmakers – writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, actors, editors, distributors, production designers, composers, sound designers and aspiring film journalists – to mingle with international film industry professionals.
The work of many Talents alumni later appears in the Berlinale’s film programs, suggesting the workshops are effective.
Berlinale Talents went more global in 2008, launching regional platforms in Guadalajara, Buenos Aires, Durban and Sarajevo. Talents Tokyo gave the Berlinale a toehold in Asia in 2011. It was about this time Mroué met Matthijas Wouter Knoll, then Berlinale Talents program manager, now head of the European Film Market.
“They didn’t approach Metropolis specifically,” Mroué recalls. “I think they intended to do something with the region and in the region but they still didn’t know with whom and where and when. But we had a very interesting discussion and felt we agreed on several points.”
Berlinale Talents’ February guest list and program is unconnected to the various International Talents platforms – as is its budget: Germany’s Goethe Institute is shouldering the cost of Talents Beirut – but there is a strong organic link between Berlin and its regional satellites.
“They’re very much involved on all levels,” Mroué says.
“The program, the mentors, the participating talents: They have a great deal of input.
“The technical aspect – the call for participation, the rules and regulations – also follow the Berlinale [regime]. It follows a certain template and is recognizably a Talents program, not just another workshop series.
“All the regional talent programs follow almost the same format and components. Yet they’re very open to suggestions, and they listen very carefully when we talk about the needs in the region. They trust their partners.”
The key to a successful coaching program is the mentors. The seven coaches recruited for Talents Beirut have worked on a range of international award-winning films.
The cinematography section will be led by Germany’s Stefan Ciupek and France’s Caroline Champetier.
Ciupek’s 30-odd features have seen him work as director of photography such films as Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours,” and Lars Von Trier’s “Manderlay” and “Antichrist.” Champetier’s filmography includes Leos Carrax’s “Holy Motors” and Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men.”
Leading the workshops on sound design and composition will be the U.K.’s Larry Sider and France’s Nicolas Becker. Sider created the soundtrack of the Quay Brothers’ “The Piano Tuner of Earthquake” and Dave Mckean’s “Mirror Mask.” Becker made the sound design and ambient sounds for Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis.”
The film editing side features Germany’s Peter R. Adam, Tunis’ Nadia Ben Rachid and France’s Yannick Kergoat. Adam collaborated on Volker Schl?ndorff’s “The Ninth Day” and Wolfgang Becker’s “Good Bye, Lenin!” Ben Rachid has worked on Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” and “Life on Earth,” as well as “The Challat Tunis,” last year’s mockumentary by Kaouther Ben Hania.
“We tried to invite mentors who have worked on very large projects that made it to the big festivals and won prizes,” Mroué says, “as well as small budget indies that very few have heard of.
“Most of the people in the region cope with very small budgets. So it’s good to have people who are familiar with working with very modest means in difficult conditions.”
Mroué says Talents Beirut is quite unlike other regional initiatives, the film development platforms at the Gulf festivals for instance.
“The first difference is the budget,” she laughs. “Talents is different from what’s happening in the Gulf, and at the same time complementary.
“Some initiatives, especially [the Dubai film festival’s networking platform] Dubai Film Connection, are really important, but in that case the festival’s supporting films. All the development programs, and workshops and support are addressed to individual projects.
“We’re not talking about projects. We’re talking about artists, talents, individuals. They may have a project or not. They may have a project next year. It doesn’t matter. We’re building technical and theoretical experience.
“The purpose is to not only to mentor but to create real collaboration and exchange and dialogue. It’s the process that’s important, not the result. If this results in films, that’s wonderful. If they screen in the Berlinale, all the better. But there’s no hard connection between the two.
“It’s a very intelligent way for the Berlinale to stay young and fresh, and not become a private club for the same filmmakers, coming back every year.”