AUB’s second annual short film festival: the good, the great, and the ugly

On Tuesday, the 11th of April, 2017, AUB’s Media Student Society hosted its short film festival for the second year in a row to a packed auditorium of film lovers at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

Headed by Mona Jouni, a Media-Comm and English Literature senior, alongside her cabinet members, the event — which was a culmination of weeks of hard work — was a solid addition to AUB’s film legacy thus far. The films were: Err by Ayeesha Starkey, Elevator by Marwa Traboulsi, Twenty by Nour Masalkhy, Citizen and Human by Noura Baghdadi, Recovery by Salwa Mansour, About Two People by Sara Inkidar, Crunch by Serene Habbal, and Right Behind Her Eye by Tia Murr.

Having attended last year’s event, there was a lot more to love this time around and certain parts that could have been done better. So, let’s break it down.

Last year’s edition of the film festival featured a wide array of films from different genres, including a 30-minute documentary that would eventually be crowned victor. While the documentary looked great and was well-shot, I didn’t know how fair it was for it to be featured alongside the work of amateur student film-makers, let alone win the thing. This year, the rules were changed and the longest entry didn’t surpass the 10-minute mark. All eight selected films were short films that looked like they were made by students without any professional help. Further, while some entries paled in comparison to some of their competitors (Err, Citizen and Human, and to some extent Right Behind Her Eye and Crunch come to mind), the quality of the films generally surpassed that of last year’s. That being said, something I missed from last year was hearing from the film-makers themselves.

The remaining four entries each left me with something more. Whether it was the nuances of the cast’s mannerisms in Elevator, the powerful words of the narrator in Twenty, the eerie appeal and message of Recovery, or the gorgeous sound-text conversation in About Two People, the work done in these four movies stands testament to the talent of these young film-makers and the untapped (and therefore uncultivated) potential of the AUB student body with regards to the arts generally, and cinema specifically.

The night ended with a two-way tie between Recovery, a story of resistance and strength in the face of an eating disorder, and Twenty, a coming-of-age short chronicling twenty as a pivotal age of choices. And while Elevator poised itself as a well-made, cute love story with a twist, the night’s champion was clear in About Two People, a musical short detailing the rise and fall of a relationship. Congrats to Mansour, Masalkhy, and Inkidar!


Source: Beirutiyat

Filling in the awkward silences of the evening were the hosts, Nour Annan and Rami Mehio, a notable step-up from last year’s duo (one half of which was rather lackluster if I’m being honest). The two were dynamic and fed off each other’s energies as well as the crowd’s, and managed to breeze through the night with a few successful jokes here and there. I was especially thankful for them when they drowned out some of the judges’ at times rather stupid  baseless comments. And that brings us to the low point of the evening: the judges.

Due to emergency circumstances, the judges were down one Georges Khabbaz, renowned theater and TV star and returning judge, and thus became a trio: acclaimed stage actor and Dancing With the Stars’ most recent winner Badih Abou Chakra, theater director Zeina Daccache, and screenwriter, professor, and playwright Doyle Avant. Throughout the night, Avant proved to be the only judge addressing the directors as exactly who they were: aspiring student film-makers. He often gave them solid feedback as well as constructive criticism, never forgetting to applaud their efforts; Abou Chakra’s comments were generally vague and pointless (I’d even venture to say useless); and Daccache offered at times sound judgement but seemed to cling to certain points and look for what could not and needed not be found in some of the short films screened. I don’t have any formal training with film, and outside of this blog, I can’t really say I have anything to firmly stand on, but films, short or otherwise, are not meant to check off a list of elements like plot and story. I see a great deal of stifled talent in such a mode of uniform production.

I would like to see Avant return as judge next year (wasn’t much of a fan of Khabbaz last year, so I could do without him) and hope the organisers are able to find a more appealing panel — bigger doesn’t always mean better!

The night featured a short musical performance by rising AUB duo The Unplanned (Mostafa Elfakhani and Ezzat Chebaro) who got the crowd moving to hits like Vance Joy’s “Riptide” and — to everyone’s pleasure, I might add — Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” — a much-needed addition to the night’s line-up.

Whether a rousing success or a colossal disaster, there is something that will always make this event an important one: AUB students’ need, nay, the university’s need for a program that supports the performing arts (again, generally, but cinema specifically), from the people behind the camera to those in front of it.


Source: Michael A. Nabhan

I offer my congrats to the cabinet and to each and every one of the eight film-makers — winners or not — who were chosen out of a pool of applicants to screen their film in the festival. It is but the beginning of what I hope will be a memorable career.

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