Traveling with the roof down Three days of short films at the 9th Cabriolet Film Festival

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When Brahim Samaha founded the Cabriolet Film Festival nine years ago, it was to support his local filmmaker friends. He had just moved back to Lebanon from Italy, and realized that young directors didn’t get many chances to show their projects, and often buried their beautifully developed short films as soon as they were officially presented. What started as an idea to give the public a chance to see more Lebanese short films, became a free, outdoor festival that also showcases international movies from various festivals.

Cabriolet — which means convertible in French and started out as a joke name, but stuck — is always held outdoors. Eager eyes can enjoy a series of short films on a large screen, this year bigger than ever, amid a vibrant atmosphere in one of Lebanon’s most iconic little nooks: the St. Nicholas stairs in Gemmayze.

38 short films will be screened from June 9-11, at 8 pm sharp — Brahim jokes that they want the festival to start on time: “tmene mish 3al Lebnene” (8 sharp, not Lebanese time). One of the biggest challenges of organizing the festival is choosing the right movies, according to Samaha, and each edition covers a different theme, this year being “The Traveler.”  

“The selection is tough,” he says, explaining that they put out a call for films and, while there are no restrictions on genre, they must filter out those that don’t fit the theme. The next layers of selection are more intricate, and he says the quality of films gets better every year. Samaha works with several international festivals on the condition that if Cabriolet plays their films, they must play Lebanese films. This helps local filmmakers widen their reach and exposes Lebanese cinephiles to great content.

One of Samaha’s favorites is the opening film on Friday night, the poetic “Gamers” by Spanish director Rodrigo Canet, because, “there’s only music, no words, but it gets the message across. It’s impressive that without any dialogue you still feel these feelings.”

Viewers can see travel in all its forms at the festival — from imaginary journeys to migrations of refugees, an increasingly prominent theme around the world. Fabio Palmieri’s powerful “Irregulars” tells refugee stories using a unique style, without actually showing any real footage. “Nowhere Line: Voices from Manus Island” by Lukas Schrank is an animation revolving around asylum seekers detained in Australia’s Manus Island, while Marc Raymond Wilkins’ “Bon Voyage,” a film about a couple on a sailing yacht who come across a sinking refugee boat, emphasizes changing attitudes towards them. Another powerful film, “Continental Drift” by Pietro Novello, is about a Moroccan immigrant who works at the Italian border welcoming refugees.

Other highlights include the Lebanese films “J’ai Envie de Voyager” by Thomas Hage Boutros and sci-fi “Gemini 5” by Marita Sbeih. “Subotika, Land of Wonders” by Germany’s Peter Volkart is a visually stimulating film to look forward to. On the other hand, Switzerland’s Vinz Feller tells the story of a suicide in “Montauk,” while his countrymate Josua Hotz’s “Nirin” is about the title character’s voyage of discovery around his native Madagascar, where things are not as he had imagined. “Orange” by Hala Alsalman was filmed in the Montreal subway, and is part of a series of short films nominated for Canada’s Gemini Awards, while “La Viaggiatrice” by Italy’s David Vigore was screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

In addition to the nightly screenings, the festival includes a daytime fashion photography workshop with stylist Cherine Khadra on Saturday. The full schedule of films is available online. A second edition of Cabriolet is held annually in Byblos too.

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