BEIRUT: In May 2001 Washington D.C. filmmaker Mark Ruppert came up with the outlandish idea of making a film in 48 hours. When he, collaborator Liz Langston and other D.C.-based filmmakers embarked on this experiment, the big question was, “Would films made in just 48 hours be watchable?”
The 48 Hour Film Project was born. Twelve years on, the concept has gone viral. WY suggests that last year 60,000 filmmakers made a total of 4,000 films in 96 cities across six continents, making the 48-hour film competition the world’s biggest film competition of its type.
Last year Lebanese-American filmmaker Mo Rida introduced the 48-hour concept to Beirut.
“Living in New York I saw the festival taking place every year and noticed that it was both fun and a great way to gather members from the film community together,” Rida recalls. “When I came to Lebanon I noticed that there were numerous short film festivals ... I saw the potential to go somewhere with it.”
The Brooklyn College alumnus concedes that last year’s festival was a complete experiment. A total of 24 films were submitted, 14 on time, and the screenings of the works in Masrah Beirut in Ain al-Mreisseh were packed.
Obviously the short turnover is the most challenging part of the competition. The Friday evening before filming commences, each team picks a genre, at random, out of a hat – anything from science fiction to comedy, fantasy to romance. Over the weekend they must create a film, from writing to editing, from scratch.
“In filmmaking ... there are always a plethora of opinions,” says Rida. “This can lead to conflict. Given the time pressure, differences of opinions must be resolved quickly to stop things getting too heated. We try to tell participants that it is an imperative to remain calm.”
Rida chooses three props – physical or verbal – which must be included in all submissions. These props provide signposts around which the teams can construct their plots.
“I try to relate the props to Lebanese culture and in particular humor,” says Rida. “I additionally look for things that transcend any particularist, sectarian affiliation.”
Last year teams had to incorporate “olive oil,” a bellydancer (female or male) and the Lebanese idiom “ruh ballet al-bahr” (“Go pave the sea,” which means something like “I couldn’t care less”) into their work. Incorporating these props across all films creates a sense of continuity, giving audiences something to seek out in the work.
Turnout for this year’s competition is expected to be similar to last year. Expansion of the largely self-funded event has been hampered by a lack of sponsorship, coupled with competition from a plethora of other summertime arts and culture festivals.
Rida remains enthusiastic. Aside from the fun and challenge the 48 Hour Film Project offers to participants, he says it is also an opportunity to nurture Beirut’s independent film community.
“It’s an opportunity for filmmakers to collaborate and network ... to develop contacts and relationships that could bread further successful projects in the future.”
The 48 Hour Film Project’s completed films will be projected at Tayyouneh’s Dawar al-SHAMS on July 6, 7 and 8. A “Best of” screening takes place July 13.