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On May 30, 2024, the Beirut Spring Festival, organized by the Samir Kassir Foundation, was inaugurated. During this opening, the premiere of the eighth season of the documentary series Zyara was screened. The event took place before an audience of journalists, artists, and an audience passionate about the golden era.

The 16th edition of the Beirut Spring Festival kicked off yesterday, May 30, 2024, at 9 PM at Martyrs’ Square, marked by the absence of its founder, Gisèle Khoury. A tribute was paid to the great journalist who created the Samir Kassir Foundation after the assassination of the intellectual and writer in 2005. Randa Asmar, the festival director, honored the memory of the great absentee before giving the floor to Denise Jabbour, who announced the premiere of the eighth season of the documentary series Zyara (Visit).

This season of the internationally awarded series is a tribute to twelve great Lebanese artists, among the most prominent names in the fields of dance, theater, television, and music: Georgette Jbara, Roger Assaf, Rifaat Tarabay, Randa Kaadi, Fayek Hmaïssi, Ziad Al-Ahmadiyya, Mireille Maalouf, Takla Chamoun, Harout Fazlian, Omaima Al-Khalil, Nicolas Daniel, and Randa Amar.

The screening, organized by the association Home Cine Jam, was followed by a discussion session between the participants and the series’ commissioners, producer Denise Jabbour, director and cinematographer Muriel Abu Al-Rous, and the stars of the eighth season. These testimonies, which will be shown at international festivals, will be available in their entirety on YouTube starting mid-June. They focus on each artist’s beginnings and their vision of Beirut.

Georgette Gebara

“While the Lebanese were fleeing the daily bombings and massacres of the war, I was building, stone by stone, the Zouk dance school. Built on an area of 1,240 m², it was like thumbing one’s nose at death. The choreography of The Dream Maker, by Raymond Gebara, I created under the bombs, in the shelter of the building. We brushed with death but we continued to work and we won prizes for Lebanon. I lived in Hamra. I had to go through several checkpoints before arriving in Jounieh, then take a boat to Larnaca and catch a plane to Carthage or Baghdad.”

Roger Assaf

“I am from Beirut, what can I say about this city? In one of its neighborhoods alone, there were 15 cinemas and a street entirely dedicated to books! All ideologies flourished, all religions coexisted with respect, all places of worship rose next to each other. Beirut was freedom, the possibility of communicating between very different people. They say: ‘Beirut will rise from its ashes like the Phoenix.’ I believe they have completely destroyed it.”

Mireille Maalouf

Actress Mireille Maalouf confides, “The worst moment of my life was seeing Beirut after 2019, when the failure of the revolution gave way to inertia. I did theater in 1968. My father, who was a serious man and a well-known lawyer, did not know how to introduce me to his friends. ‘My daughter is an actress!’ Might as well say a whore! Everyone tried to dissuade me. Lost cause. A leopard can’t change its spots. The first time my father saw me on stage, I was playing with Peter Brook in Paris. My memory of Beirut? Hamra was like Broadway. We met writers, poets, artists. We were happy.”

Rifaat Torbey

The choice to become an actor earned him the mockery of his father, especially since his family was politically engaged in Batroun. “‘You want to end up as a mountebank, a pitiful clown?’ my father scolded me. Mounir Abou Debs entrusted me with a role in his play Jesus. The next day, my photo, taken from the play, made the front page of An-Nahar newspaper. The cat was quickly out of the bag. Beirut is more important than Lebanon. Who was the godfather of this cultural ferment? A café named The Horse Shoe, opposite the An-Nahar building. All the political class, writers, playwrights, painters, sculptors, choreographers, musicians gathered there. The great Arab intellectuals made the trip to Beirut just to attend a play or an artistic event and took the plane back immediately after. This was the greatness of Beirut.”

Oumeima al-Khalil

Between two refrains, Oumeima al-Khalil recounts, in a sad voice, “The years of the war were horrifying. I saw the wounded and the corpses arrive in the village. But we were united for the same cause. The first time I went down to Beirut, I was dazzled by the lights! Beirut is dark today. She is a fallen queen, but one who retains a mysterious, indescribable charm.”

Fayek Hmaïssi

The mime king recounts his beginnings in France, when he was fighting to continue his studies and earn “his daily bread.” One day, he comes across the terrible headline of the newspaper Le Monde: “Lebanon is finished.” “I didn’t want to continue working, or even eat. This war was rigged, predetermined by the country’s geographical divisions. It was not caused by social inequality. I decide to return to Beirut. In 1972, an actor could perform a mime show, without saying a word, with his face painted white! That’s a testament to the avant-gardism of Beirut!”

Randa Asmar

“Before the war, Beirut had all the means to make its inhabitants happy. It was the capital of elegance in every sense of the word, with infinite horizons, culture, the arts… I owe all my cultural potential to the Beirut of the 60s, 70s and even during the war. Today, I no longer love Beirut, which no longer resembles itself. I no longer recognize its streets, its theaters or its inhabitants. Justice is dead at home. My motto: ‘Art is a way to transform pain into creation.'”

Randa Kaadi

“We lived in Ain al-Remmaneh, until the war came and shattered my dream of becoming an actress. My mother was injured and we returned to the village. My father wrote me sketches to calm my thwarted desire. The war stole everything from me. How to forgive my homeland for being an infanticidal stepmother? Why did the children of Lebanon die dismembered? I once played the role of the bereaved mother of a martyr. We are schizophrenics, who agree to suffer unspeakable violence.”

Nicolas Daniel

“As a child, I loved to play. We managed with the means at hand to create a play. Beirut was the most beautiful city in the world. The memories of al-Burj Square and the souks of the capital remain engraved in my memory. Beirut did not sleep. I would never have believed that it would be destroyed in such an abominable way. Every time it gets up, it is dealt a fatal blow. But we are condemned to hope.”

Takla Chamoun

“They crammed us, women and children in one corner, and the men they led to death in another. The ‘warlords’ caused us terrible traumas. When I went down to Beirut, I was impressed with the life that was bubbling there. The Faculty of Fine Arts was located on the demarcation line. Shells were raining down and snipers were never idle. I believe in the healing power of love, capable of sowing joy and triggering the creative act.”

Ziad Ahmadie

“I was born and grew up in Kuwait and when I returned to Lebanon in 1989, I was surprised by the strength and know-how of young Lebanese. I was much less experienced than them, having lived in a very stable country. I fell under the charm of Beirut, its freedom, its great openness, its culture. Despite the troubles of Beirut, it still bewitches Europeans who find it has a unique flavor.”

Harout Fazlian

The denouement is nevertheless announced with a note of optimism, in the words of the philharmonic orchestra conductor Harout Fazlian, “As a child, I accompanied my father, Berge Vazlian, to the rehearsals of the Rahbani brothers. I stood there, happy to listen to Fairuz. Who would have thought that I myself would conduct the orchestra that accompanied our diva Fairuz in Lebanon and Amsterdam?! Life is really beautiful! I hosted four evenings in Baalbek, including the one that was broadcast in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. I wanted my music to have the effect of electroshocks that revive the dying. Why expatriate? To eat camembert instead of halloumi? We will stay here and we will build…”



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