Still from "Stove" by director Jad Andari

Stove: A visual poem and radical exploration of Bzebdine, Lebanon

Écrans du Réel is one of Lebanon’s most renowned film festivals. Organized by Metropolis Cinema, the festival, running from June 18 to July 30, will showcase 21 local and international documentary films. 

Metropolis Cinema is a longstanding cultural institution that recently shuttered its doors. With that, a common space dedicated to film was lost. And the list keeps growing. The semblance of space and place is ever changing in Lebanon as staples are losing the ability to stay afloat, being forced to shut down.

For Écrans du Réel, Metropolis decided to organize a guerrilla-style festival, combating complacency by situating itself in different spaces and places across the country. Many of the featured movies attest to this notion of place, and the temporariness it exudes. Hosting screenings in Beirut, Saida, Hammana, Beqaa, and Maaser El Chouf, the festival will be accessible to many across the country. 

Screened on June 30 at Cinema Montaigne at the Institut Francais du Liban was a mid-length feature documentary film titled “Stove.” The film was shot completely in 2019 in Bzebdine, Mount Lebanon, and pays homage to a special place and time right before the protests of October 2019. This year, “Stove” won best documentary at the Montreal Independent Film Festival.

The film is a montage of footage of the people of the village, snippets of conversation, and moments of pondering and appreciation. The director, Jad Andari, who grew up in Los Angeles, California knows the village well, spending his childhood summers playing in the streets of his mother’s village. He decided to return to Bzebdine to record the nuances of the place.

The stunning visuals, shot by Director of Photography, Ramzi Hibri, ponder on an inviting community. Close-up shots fill up any space between the viewer and the subjects of the film. Ramzi Hibri was nominated for “Stove” for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography Award at the Lonely Wolf: London International Film Festival. 

As a documentary, the film has no storyline or narration of any kind, but follows the flow of the village and the people that call it home. The film was edited by Carine Doumit. As we move through different spaces in Bzebdine, a small village in Lebanon’s Metn region, it is the colors, sounds, and senses that we connect to. The sound was recorded by Ralph Atallah and designed by Shakeeb Abu Hamdan.

Photos: Stills from “Stove” by Lebanese director Jad Andari

Everything we need to know about Bzebdine is told to us in transient moments, through the warm eyes of a man or the voice of a child. Racial and ethnic diversity, which is normally ignored in Lebanese society, is noticed, as the director converses with the intricacies of the subject place. Trash piling up on the side of the road is not shied away from, holding space in the background. 

The film embarks on radical exploration of the essence of place, both under the light and in its shadows. Approaching space spiritually, the director archives a magical place in time, recording moments for future generations to catch a glimpse at what it looked like then.

The director of this visual poem is currently working on a feature-length film, this time drawing on the temporality of place. The epic drama art film is set in the early 1700s in another village in Mount Lebanon. 

Écrans du Réel is organized by the Metropolis Cinema Association in partnership with Institut français du Liban, with the support of GIZ Civil Peace Service, and in collaboration with Ishbilia Theatre & Art-Hub, Beirut Art Center, Action4Hope, Al Fundok and Hammana Artist House. 

You can catch the next screening of “Stove” at 8 pm on July 10 at Hammana Artist House. For more information on Ecrans du Reel’s programming, you can check out their schedule here.