BEIRUT: The Beirut Cultural Festivals Association has big plans for this spring. It intends to bring new life to an ancient city.
Headed by first lady Lama Salam, the association aims to host something it says has never been done in Lebanon. Its opening event is “The Story of Beirut.”
“The Story of Beirut” is an hourlong 3-D show sketching the city’s history, from the Phoenician period to today. The event will include music, dance, theater and nearly 20 3-D projectors brought in specially from Paris.
Renowned composer and pianist Guy Manoukian has been tasked with creating the event’s live soundtrack. “I loved the idea,” Manoukian said. “It’s very inspiring. As an artist, you always look for something to inspire you and bring [you] out of your routine.
“It’s not only for a cause,” he continued, “but it’s a tribute to the city you love and grew up in. It’s something much bigger than myself or anything I’ve done before.”
The musician said that the scale of this project has made it his most challenging so far, yet he looks forward to showing off the score he has composed for over 70 musicians of Lebanon’s Philharmonic Orchestra. The songs will follow the show itself, tracing different eras of Beirut’s history through music.
He said close attention was paid to capturing the essence of times gone by. Some pieces are sweet and nostalgic. Others are more painful, including the tension leading up to the Civil War that ravaged the city for 15 years.
“We knew there was something wrong,” Manoukian recalls. “We knew Beirut was too good to be true.
“I want people to leave feeling a bit ashamed of what we did to this city, but with hope to change. We’ve been in denial for so long.”
“The Story of Beirut” is meant to raise the curtain on a number of other events that include performances by local pop stars Ragheb Alama and Nancy Ajram and international DJ’s as well as motor sports.
“The whole idea was not to do another copy/paste of other festivals,” explains Daniel Georr, CEO of Its., a communications company responsible for the event’s PR.
“This festival has something special. To tell the story of Beirut, the rationale was simple. No single person could tell the story except for the buildings themselves. They were hit, they were rebuilt.”
BCFA approached Georr to design the show. He says “The Story of Beirut” includes digital reconstructions of Beirut’s historical and contemporary architecture, accurate to the millimeter. It will tell several stories. While most 3-D mapping shows run 25 minutes, this one takes things to another level.
“From the moment you step in to the moment you step out” Georr says, “you’re submerged.”
BCFA board member and Its. CEO Waddah Sadek described bringing Formula One racing to Lebanon as a long-held dream for this country.
“We have the chance to hear the voice of the cars,” he said. “We will see them on our streets.”
Sadek’s dream, indeed the entire festival, nearly fell victim to the city’s uncertainties. Originally planned to be held in Nijmeh Square, the events had to be relocated because of unrest late last year.
“The biggest setback is the fear you have all the time that you’re in Lebanon and something could happen to cancel the event,” Sadek said.
“The biggest surprise was everyone cooperating,” he said.
This cooperation has witnessed the construction of a 3600-square-meter dome on the Beirut waterfront, as well as a replica of the Sa‘at al-Abed clock inside. The structure will house BCF events and can hold up to 1800 people.
Its interior walls will also act as a screen upon which “The Story of Beirut” will be projected. The complex audiovisual files of the projection had to be reprogrammed to work on a sloped surface.
The scale of the Beirut Cultural Festivals has demanded cooperation from hundreds of individuals. From construction to programming to composition, organizers say the common goal of instilling sense of hope in Beirut has inspired a rare degree of effort on the part of many.
“The first is ... to keep on living. We will not accept otherwise,” Sadek said of the two central messages he hopes BCF will convey. “If we have these political situations, if we have war, we will keep on living and dance and have fun. We are these kind of people. We wanted to tell everyone in and out of Lebanon that we can do it.
“For the outside, we want to tell the world that this is the heart of the country. We want to keep this heart beating and we will.”
Beirut Cultural Festivals opens May 17-19. Organizers say events will continue all year long. See www.beirutculturalfestivals.org.