'The Last Winter' Wins at Beirut International Film Festival

The Last Winter

The Kurdish-language drama took home best feature and best director

Iranian director Salem Salavati’s Kurdish-language drama The Last Winter took home both the best feature and best director prize, with Rani Massalha’s Giraffada, the story of a cooperation between zoos in the Palestinian West Bank and Tel Aviv in Israel, winning the jury prize for a feature.

French actress/director Julie Gayet presided over the jury, joined by actor Homayoun Ershadi (A Most Wanted Man), Protagonist Pictures CEO Mike Goodrich, former Sundance Institute director Alesia Weston, and The Attack screenwriter Joelle Touma.

The jury also awarded Kaouther Ben Hania the best documentary and best documentary director prize for her investigation into the identity of a slasher that attacked women in the Tunisian capital with Challat of Tunis, while the investigation into the war and uprising shown in Syria Inside by Tamer Alawam won the documentary jury prize.

Best short film went to Ali Asgari’s More Than Two Hours, and Karim Rahbani’s With Thy Spirit took the jury prize for shorts. Tofiq Amani’s Ants Apartment took second in the shorts second, while Adnan Zandi’s Butterflies and Celine Kotaiche’s Le Miroir tied for third.

The festival opened Oct. 1 with a screening of Sils Maria and Q&A with star Juliette Binoche.

Organizers also added two sub-sections this year, Public Square and Ecology/Environment, to showcase additional films from the region as it aims to become the main hub for independent voices from across the Middle East, according to festival director Colette Nufal.

“We opened up the sections because we received so many movies from Egypt, Iraq, Kurdish films, that touched on subjects that were taboo before. We weren’t able to take them all into the competition so we opened up that section and received a big number of submissions, as well as activist movies that talk about oil in the region, ecology, environment.”

“They have no other platforms, on subjects they didn’t talk about before,” she said. “Religious, social topics, and these don’t go to Europe, and you can be sure they don’t screen anywhere else in the Middle East, or in their [home] countries. They don’t take these sort of movies,” she said of other festivals in the region, such as Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

It’s only the fourteenth festival in eighteen years, due to cancelations because of various political situations including assassinations, and brief outbreaks of fighting in the city. Despite the war in neighboring Syria and U.S. bombing of ISIS targets, the festival held its largest event yet following a significant boost in funding and several high-profile guests including directors Pascale Ferran (Bird People) and Santiago Amigorena (Les Enfants Rouges) and Jonathan Nossiter (Natural Resistance) as well as execs from Wild Bunch, Elle Driver and Rouge International attending.

Organizers also brought in Sundance winner Lilting and Beijing International Film Festival winner Siddarth, in an effort to bring more independent international films to the region.

The increased profile of the festival however is always touch and go due to the constantly changing political situation. As tensions in the region heighten once again, Nufal added: “We can’t do much about that, and from now until next year, god knows where we’ll be. But for now, we will continue.”