Netflix, Cannes, and the Incredible Growth of Lebanese Cinema

The plot of Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya’s Film Kteer Kbeer (English Title: Very Big Shot) centers around drug-dealing brothers, and their attempts to smuggle a large shipment of drugs out of Lebanon. We won’t ruin the plot and tell you whether or not they succeed—but we won’t be spoiling anything by telling you that the movie itself has successfully made it out of Lebanon.
Yesterday, Netflix announced that they had acquired the international rights for Film Kteer Kbeer. Very soon, this Lebanese feature will be available to Netflix subscribers in over 190 countries worldwide.
For Film Kteer Kbeer—as for many Lebanese films before it—the path to international distribution ran through the Cannes film festival (the movie was one of Netflix’s festival purchases.) Cannes has long opened the door for international recognition to a large number of Lebanese films, documentaries, producers, actors and directors. From 1958’s “Ila Ayn?” by Georges Nasser, “Where Do We Go Now” from Nadine Labaki, winner of the prestigious “Prix Francois Chalais”, Cannes has featured Lebanese cinema, and helped bring these movies to the world.
Lebanon’s 2016 at Cannes wasn’t just about Film Kteer Kbeer—it was a banner year for Lebanese cinema at the festival more generally. Submarine, a short film set in modern Lebanon dealing with themes related to the garbage crisis, and Tramontane, a movie about a blind musician traveling Lebanon, were also featured at the festival.
The success of Lebanese film internationally is a reflection of the overall strength of the industry. Lebanese cinema has been on the rise for the past four years, reaching 31 produced films in 2015 with an estimated investment value of USD 32.4 million. Film production has grown a staggering 675% since 2004, according to the Investment Development Authority in Lebanon (IDAL).
This growth did not happen by accident. It is the result of concerted interventions by private sector firms, independent organizations and associations, and the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese ministry of tourism has been partnering with organizations such as the “Fondation Liban Cinema –FLC” currently presided by Aimee Boulos to put Lebanon in the spotlight as a filming destination for foreign producers and directors. Financial guarantees are also being granted to encourage investment in the sector. In April 2016, for instance, Banque Du Liban issued circular 416, which provides financial institutions and commercial banks with guarantees for 1%-interest-rate loans to film production and post-production companies.
On the production side, groups such as Ezekiel Production, co-founded by the Lebanese banker and businessman Antoun Sehanoui, offer financial support for films—most notably, in the case of Ezekiel, for the film L’Insulte by the cinematographer and director Ziad Doueiry. On the distribution end, Lebanon’s Investment Development Authority- IDAL has been supporting the promotion and marketing of Lebanese films. Moreover, Lebanese firms sponsor the film festivals that take place every year in Beirut (the Beirut Film Festival and Lebanese Film Festival, among others).
The growth of the domestic market and of domestic production and the successes of Lebanese films in the foreign market show that the country has serious cinematic talent and potential. With continued support for financing, production and distribution, Lebanese cinema will continue to grow and thrive.

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Photo from Executive Magazine

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