BEIRUT: Lebanon has been independent of French rule for some decades now, but francophone cultural production remains popular. It’s estimated that more than 4,000 visitors attended performances, workshops and exhibitions scheduled during the 2013 edition of Beirut’s Francophone Month, a number that doubles if you include attendance at events hosted by centers outside Beirut.
Organized by the French Cultural Center, this year’s Francophone Month, which opens Feb. 28, has scheduled workshops, film screenings, exhibitions, stand-up comedy shows and many other activities planned to celebrate French culture in Lebanon.
Belgian comedian Jos Houben will open the festivities Friday evening with his show “L’Art du Rire” (The Art of Laughter), in which he will scrutinize the causes and effects of laughter on society. His one-man show, which has been characterized as a comic conference, has attracted enthusiastic hoards of fans in Europe.
Also in the program is Lebanon’s Joe Kodeih, who will stage “JUJU,” a “Best of” compilation from his last five one-man shows. If you haven’t seen Kodeih on stage yet, this will be a good opportunity to discover his comic skills.
In fact stage acts seem to have pride of place in this year’s Francophone Month program, with two evenings of improvisational performance planned.
The first will draw upon the talents of Lebanon’s university students, with several acts gathering to stage self-devised improv acts. The second features the talents of the French troupe Les Z’Independants. The four comedians and saxophonist in this ensemble drive an act centering on improvising upon themes suggested by their audience. This is an interactive performance, calling on audience members to mingle with the performers.
Accompanying the performances are several exhibitions. Art aficionados will be able to enjoy the sketch works of France’s Benoit Guillaume, whose urbanist works draw upon his observations in Paris and Algiers among other cities.
Another show is comprised of images from the Fouad Debbas Collection, including satirical Illustrations from newspapers, photographs and many other items from the 1860s, which will surely shed light on the everyday comedy of a long-vanished Lebanon.
Ecrans du Reel, the French Cultural Center’s yearly documentary festival will also fall during the Francophone Month. Though the program for the 2014 edition has yet to be unveiled, this screening cycle has over the past several years brought a range of recent, world-class documentary works to Beirut audiences.
Parents with children in need of distraction will also find activities to their interest in this francophone month. Workshops devoted to dance, writing, theater and improvisation will give the youngsters the chance to learn and develop their creative sides. Another workshop will be devoted to how to draw a comic strip.
For those who prefer to enjoy others’ work, Cuban storyteller and comedian Coralia Rodriguez will be on hand to present her short stories for little ones. Parents and children alike will be interested in the 15th edition of the Festival of Tales and Monodramas, which returns to Ashrafieh’s Theatre Monnot. This iteration of the international performance event will gather local and foreign storytellers around the theme of “Woman.”
Lebanese author Charif Majdalani will host a conference to discuss his extensive range of literary works. On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of “L’Orient Le Jour,” Lebanon’s francophone newspaper, journalist Ziyad Makhoul will deliver a talk about his job as a member of the fourth estate.
Those living outside Beirut needn’t worry that they’re excluded from the festivities. Many interesting events have also been programmed for Jounieh, Nabatiyya, Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon and Deir al-Qamar.
At the French Cultural Center of Deir al-Qamar, for instance, artists Jean-Claude Frisque and Nomwinde Vivien Sawadogo will display photographs they took in Africa.
Parents wanting to enroll their children in entertaining daytime events may be drawn to the Festival of Francophone Songs, which will seek the best rendered French song among choral groups in several competing schools.
CCF Sidon, meanwhile will host calligraphy and graffiti contests, the winners of which will be given an opportunity to reproduce his or her artwork on a wall in the city.
The Francophone Month will kick off on Feb. 28 and continue to the end of March. For the full program, please visit www.institutfrancais-liban.com.