Unseen Cinema Scene
A Liverpool-based exhibition titled ‘Lives in Montage: Beirut’ is set to showcase exciting, eye-opening works about contemporary life in Lebanon.
"We're very socially minded and community committed, but this is also really interesting stuff," Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre Director, Kiersten Fishburn, tells us. "Works that are being made in diverse communities are often the most exciting art. So we're not just doing it to be ‘right on'; you actually get to see some really cutting-edge and engaging works."
Fishburn is not mistaken. The Liverpool-based Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre has always been driven by the aim to promote cross-cultural art (especially given the cultural diversity in the area), and their latest exhibition is Lives in Montage: Beirut, a three-day video art and documentary event, which presents works that highlight and grapple with the complexity of Arab cultural and political life. While the exhibition will hopefully find an audience with the Arabic speaking community who reside in Liverpool, these stories are just as significant for those interested in the radical, exciting and fascinating cinema scene, which has emerged in the wake of unrest in The Middle East.
What's the motivation behind running this exhibition?
Casula Arts Centre is the major cultural facility in the greater Liverpool area. We've got a very large Arabic speaking population in our community and we also have a broader community who are interested in engaging with different cultures and issues. We identified that there's really interesting filmmaking occurring in Lebanon, which is telling contemporary Arabic stories that you don't normally get to see anywhere else. So, on one hand, we wanted to provide people from Arabic descent with access to their stories. On the other hand, we also wanted to provide an opportunity for broader exposure to the diversity of Arabic filmmaking.
What's the filmmaking scene in Lebanon like?
Well, Beirut DC [an independent video and film collective], who we're producing the mini-festival in conjunction with, are thriving. There isn't really an engaging filmic culture that exists in Lebanon broadly, and we thought that this was a good opportunity to actually show that this does exist, and that it's not just television making or whatever people think they're going to get out of Lebanese screen culture. Actually it is contemporary, hard-hitting and as engaged as filmmaking in any other country.
The documentaries look really hard-hitting...
Beirut DC are very politicised in the sense that they're interested in engaging with contemporary Arabic cultural and political life. They've selected artworks that really highlight their vision. Also, you're not going to see these films anywhere else. If you're lucky, you might see them at Sydney Film Festival, but otherwise there simply isn't exposure to this type of filmmaking.
How did you connect with Beirut DC?
Through our community development officer who is also an artist. He's a videographer himself and in fact, he won the Blake Prize [Australian prize aimed at rewarding religious art] for his video work. So he's been well aware of the work of Beirut DC for many years and he's been practicing in and out of Lebanon himself.
Beirut DC aims to support independent Arab filmmakers in Lebanon where individuality is generally restricted. How does coming to Australia and presenting these films further this aim?
In terms of their capacity as filmmakers, I wouldn't want to speak from my perspective sitting in Sydney about what it must be like to be an artist in Lebanon at the moment. But in terms of their broader aim to engage people with the fact that there is such diversity in Lebanon and in the Arab community, I think that being able to provide exposure to an Australian audience helps further that aim and that conversation. One of the messages that we've seen come out of the Arab Spring is the desire for Arabic speaking communities to have the Western world actually understand the complexities of their lives.
How do you think the films will work to strengthen ties between Australians and the Arab community?
There is a real power in the arts to make people open their eyes and have more awareness of both our similarities and differences. Obviously, a mini-film festival isn't going to totally heal the riffs that we do see in the community, even in somewhere as diverse as south-west Sydney. But I do hope that the opportunity to have exposure to a different way of looking at Arabic life, and at life in Lebanon, will maybe make people stop and think a little bit more about the experience of their neighbours and their community.
You've mentioned the fact that the Arabic community will get the chance to see their stories on screen. Who else is the exhibition trying to reach?
In terms of target audience, I would say definitely the Arabic speaking community and people who are interested in video-art and documentary filmmaking, which is actually quite a large community. We're also trying to reach people who have been socially and politically engaged with issues around the Arab Spring, and by extension, Lebanon. But I'd like to hope that somebody might just wander in on Saturday or Sunday and have their eyes really opened too.
Lives in Montage: Beirut will run at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre April 27-29. For more information and to book tickets, head here.
Picture caption: Still from Kinda Hassan's Yet Another Shot, playing at the exhibition.