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The power of cinema culture

How the cinema will look like, image provided by the Metropolis'

Lebanon’s resistance through the seventh art: Beirut’s Metropolis cinema makes a comeback

The Metropolis Cinema in Beirut, a significant cultural institution, is making a successful return after being away for four years due to the severe economic crisis, and the devastating 2020 port explosion. This revival is a testament to the resistance of the Lebanese people and their unwavering commitment to preserving cultural spaces despite facing numerous challenges.

Founded in 2006, Metropolis Cinema has been a cornerstone of Beirut’s cultural landscape, offering a platform for independent and international films that are often overlooked by mainstream cinemas.

Its first film program appeared on July 11, 2006, in a converted theatre in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood, coinciding with the onset of the July 2006 war with Israel. The venue shut down the following day, repurposed as a shelter for displaced families, primarily children, from the heavily bombed southern suburbs of Beirut and southern Lebanon. To keep the children occupied, the team started screening films, initiating the association’s commitment to introducing youth to cinema.

Following the end of the war in August 2006, Metropolis resumed its operations and film screenings. It organized a range of events including festivals, retrospectives, film cycles, and special screenings at its 80-seat theatre in Hamra.

In 2008, due to the increasing audience interest in independent cinema, the association relocated to the Empire-Sofil cinema in Achrafieh, a two-screen venue where it continued its programming until its closure in 2020.

Metropolis has now returned to Beirut after a four-year hiatus, finding symbolic significance in Mar Mikhael in a land that was given access to it by Unifoncière S.A.L.

“Despite all the challenges, reopening our cinemas was always a goal. Initially, we explored repurposing disused schools, abandoned cinemas, and derelict factories. Then came the idea of building our own venue,” Hania Mroueh, co-founder of the Metropolis Association, told NOW.

Its return after four years of closure is a beacon of hope and a reminder of the city’s rich cultural heritage. The reopening not only highlights the community’s dedication to maintaining cultural activities – but also serves as a defiant stand against the myriad of crises that have plagued Lebanon in recent years.

“This resurgence underscores the strong attachment of the Lebanese people to their cultural identity and their determination to rebuild and support artistic endeavors, even in the face of adversity,” Minister of Culture Judge Mohammad Wissam el-Mortada told NOW.

For Judge Mohammad, the cinema’s return is celebrated as a crucial step towards the cultural and social revival of Beirut, demonstrating that the spirit of the city and its people remains unbroken

“Metropolis has been a key venue for independent and international films, and its return marks an important step in the cultural and social revival of the city, reflecting the community’s strong attachment to their cultural heritage and identity,” he added.

Since its founding, Metropolis has been a vital part of Beirut’s cultural scene, providing a stage for local and international films. It champions independent, art-house, and experimental cinema, genres often overlooked by mainstream commercial theatres.

Zeina Sfeir, president of the Metropolis Cinema Association, expects the initial reopening to take place in June, with a grand unveiling planned for September. The new headquarters, designed and overseen by architect Sophie Khayat, will feature two cinemas, one with 190 seats and the other with 90 seats. Additionally, there will be an outdoor space for 350 people, which will include an open-air cinema and a cultural café.

“The revival of the cinema is not merely about resuming film screenings; it is about reclaiming a space for artistic expression and community engagement,” Zeina added.

For an impressive twelve-year period, festivals and activities flourished, serving as a beacon of hope for Lebanese and Arab talents, independent producers, and creators of experimental videos and documentaries. This vibrant scene also reached out to students, youth, and schools, fostering a broad and inclusive cultural community.

“The association remains dedicated to fostering collaboration with students, schools, and film screenings in educational settings,” Hania told NOW.

The reopening of Metropolis signifies a reclamation of normalcy and cultural vibrancy amid the country’s hardships.

“For me, and countless others passionate about the art of filmmaking, this cultural space represents far more than just a venue for watching movies, it’s a space of inspiration, creativity, and connection,” said Wesam Barakat, a television and film graduate from LAU.

For aspiring filmmakers like Wesam, Metropolis isn’t merely a theatre, it’s a sanctuary where they can immerse themselves in the richness of cinematic storytelling, learn from diverse narratives and filmmaking styles, and find solace in a shared passion for the seventh art.


Cinematheque Beirut: preserving Lebanese cinema

Metropolis Cinema in Beirut serves as the driving force behind the creation and implementation of Cinematheque Beirut, highlighting its commitment to preserving and promoting Lebanese cinema.

Cinema holds deep historical importance in Lebanon, yet efforts to preserve it have fallen short. Many films made before the 1990s were lost during the Civil War, with only a few remaining in poor conditions.

Recognizing the urgency of protecting this cultural heritage, the Metropolis Cinema Association launched the Cinematheque Beirut project in 2018. This endeavor aims to create a comprehensive and documented national film collection through an online database devoted to Lebanese cinema.

Additionally, it includes an oral history archive featuring interviews with influential figures in Lebanese filmmaking, along with ongoing screenings of classic and contemporary Lebanese films.

“This archival material not only enriches our understanding of Lebanon’s film history but also provides inspiration and guidance for future generations of filmmakers,” Zeina explained to NOW.

The Metropolis Association actively cultivates connections within the film industry. For instance, they recently participated in the Cannes Film Festival held earlier in May. This event provides a crucial networking opportunity, allowing the association’s representatives to interact with filmmakers, producers, distributors, and other industry professionals.


Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese-British journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @Rodayna_462

The views in this story reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of NOW.