Nov 25, 2013

Mission Accomplished: TEDxAzmiSt and Red Bull SoundClash Lebanon

The only fact that I spent last night with my all-time favorite Lebanese underground band, Mashrou’ Leila, is enough to get my hyped for the coming month, well how about meeting one of the most impeccably attractive voices of all and not recognizing her until the day after? Yes, I met Hindi Zahra and I couldn’t even recognize her then.

However, my morning was totally different.

A team of photographers had invaded the corridors of Al Safadi Cultural Center for the occasion of covering TEDxAzmi main event on November 23rd 2013, and I was to coach them throughout the day. 

They received well my hints and tips and therefore were more than ready to cover the event. We shared lenses and we exchanged batteries, I saw every one of them putting effort into getting those shots and making history until next year where the event’s assumed to get bigger and better. I never felt any prouder to have been the one to cover such an event from A to Z, with the help of my fellow photographers who were stars of the night.

“We act like ninjas” I kept telling them, and our black TEDx Tshirts served us well in this aspect. Rim, Rym, Farah, Lina, Fawaz, Abdallah, Rouham and Leila were the ones in charge of snapping those precious moments, for all the TEDx enthusiasts out there to enjoy later on and to share along. Having successfully gotten through with the event and having finished with collecting their photos, it was time I hit Beirut, again, to make it to the Forum De Beyrouth for my first professional photography job ever, covering the Red Bull’s SoundClash event hosting both of Mashrou’ Leila and Who Killed Bruce Lee.

The taste of Tripoli, TEDxAzmiSt and my fellow friends and colleagues back there was still in the back of my mouth, the faces I had met, the emotions we shared, the enthusiasm I was enthralled with, the happy faces and the gorgeous smiles, they were all put on hold for it was time to be disciplined. I had to be there to “work” for an organization, for a company. They had expectations, they had rules and they assumed I would do a good job, based on my portfolio. That certain issue left me all uncomfortable throughout the event, I felt all tied up. Yet, here’s the fun part.

The night started out with myself and the three other photographers gathering out in the middle of the arena, overlooking both stages where bands will be fighting off. It was time to put up a plan and assign roles in order to cover as much as possible. In the end, the event was extremely huge. More than 2,500 registered attendees, along with the invitees and the bands. With the entire rumble and the overly sized stages, it felt nearly impossible for me to cover such an event, even with all the gear we had. Decided to suck it up, and take it easy as I always do. Little by little, things started to work out pretty well.

Knowing I had already been with Mashrou’ Leila, it was more than obvious that I’d stick with the band for as long as possible, since they were already used to me and they were somewhat familiar with me. And that was totally true, Haig and Firas were so relaxed they actually started posing for me sometimes, all while Hamed was busy memorizing the lyrics and using Yamli every once in a while. A bit later it was Carl and Ibrahim who joined along, Hindi Zahra, whom I never had even slightly recognized that night, the thing I had regretted the most even with the tiniest fact that I was a few INCHES away from her, and them, Zahra was already there was enjoying the band’s company as well. Not to mention Karim of course, the band manager. Right after I had enough with the intimate personal shots of the members prior to the actual performance, it was time for a group photo.

The band was up in no time, and I did my best to catch the best shots I could ever take, god be my witness. It was the gear I had that forced me to stay in that corner of wide angles and Hi ISO for the entire night, which got me so frustrated I couldn’t even pull it up together and go through the night without resting every 15 minutes and taking a sip of water here and there. Yet, and with all the fatigue and the pressure I had, I assume I did a good job. In the end, I was chosen for a reason, and no matter what had happened earlier that day, the reason remains valid no matter what.

The moment it was all done with, and right after handing out my photos to the communication team, I felt extremely happy to bump into a taxi at the door that happily drove me home, where I had thrown my stuff around and flew right in bed. It was those few seconds right before I totally fell asleep where It all came back to me. I wouldn’t forget the chicken sandwich I snatched right from between the band’s boxes, I would never forget Elie, the Strobe operator who offered me his seat on top of that pillar where he was working, the morning brief for the photography team at TEDx, my breakfast that day which was nothing but two pieces of “petit four”, the amount of times I had to lay down whenever possible to ease my back pain a little bit, the light setting at Safadi that almost ruined all my photos up from the stage, the children’s faces staring at my lens whenever I jumped out in front of them, the way we gathered in the center of nowhere inside the Forum for not being able to find any decent seating, the thrill of being there among 2,500 more people and surrounded by such a humongous sound system that would shake every cell in your body. It was all but a dream, a dream that needed to end and call it a wrap.

This is to all of you, Mashrou' Leila Fans and TEDxAzmiSt enthusiasts :)

All pictures above are taken by me, Natheer Halawani.
All pictures related to SoundClash event are courtesy of Red Bull Corporation.

Nov 17, 2013

What Happened at the Tripoli Film Festival

The Tripoli Film Festival Committee representatives welcomed us at the entrance of the city complex venue, where [Journey of stars into the dark night] by Arnel Mardoquio was scheduled to play as part of the film festival that day, Friday November 15th 2013. The place was packed, friends have come over together in groups, families as well, couples and enthusiasts from all around Tripoli only for the sake of watching that renowned 117-minute movie. It was the free entrance that I found most serviceable, for it was convenient and an added value to the residents of this poor town.

How lovely would it be to read this kind of review about the film festival in Tripoli? First paragraph is a lie, oh no wait, I’d better say It was my personal vision of what I had wanted to see, my own aspiration, my expectations toward the event the moment I knew about it, regardless of my frustration at the organizers and the absolute lack of coverage and exposure for the festival. In fact, what happened that night was the total opposite, went as follows.

It was during that same day that I had heard of the Film Festival in Tripoli for the first time, at first I thought it was a joke, a tentative by some cinema students probably to push things into really happening maybe? But apparently, there was indeed a film festival that set the different venues in Tripoli ready to be showing a collection of movies that were announced on the festival schedule earlier apparently. Went through the whole thing to find out that, in Tripoli only, there would have been 30 movies playing in the city, spread over three major venues, offering over nationalities and the whole spectrum of genres as well. Failing to have seen any prior marketing or advertisements about the event, and knowing how the organizers have messed up in that direction, I did my own share of exposure and decided, at the same time, to take part as soon as I reach Tripoli that night.

All it took us, me and Naji, was a 5 minute bike trip. The place was practically empty, in fact, at 22:00 the movie center would be usually getting ready for wrapping up and calling it a day, but then that night, a movie was about to start, of a two-hour duration. Besides the crew who were easily identified by their uniforms, and who were all a bunch 6 to 8 employees, there was this young guy in casual standing up against the ticket booth, having this little and fast argument with one of the customers.
-          I’m sorry buddy, I don’t want the ticket no more. Is that of a hassle to you?
-          No problem, I’ll just cancel it, 3adi, it happens.
In the process of figuring out what was happening, I told myself the customer was obviously an unsatisfied customer, who got annoyed and decided to not watch the festival movie, all while that guy, whom I thought was one of the organizers (at least) was dealing with it. In fact, the guy decided to leave once he knew there was a 4$ charge, and the guy in casual was the theatre manager. There was nobody from the festival committee, not even a teenage desperately looking for some cash in and totally willing to wear a costume with a badge and stand there for a 30 minutes. But no, there was nobody.

Still wanting to encourage the initiative, I paid the 8$ and went in, all with my photography gear on my back, thought of covering the event and writing something about it. To my utmost surprise, the place was empty, literally. Add to it, and I apologize beforehand for not being the best critic there is, the movie sucked. Filming was awful, camera shaking and little to no dialogue was there. In short, I spent the next 30 minutes between the camera tripod testing and playing with my camera, trying out different seats at the theatre (WHAT? It was my first time being there with no other people, gosh..) and of course a good time watching both women’s flimsy acting throughout the movie. Thirty minutes later we were out. The staff were surprisingly happy, it seemed the group of 10 employees was working overtime only for the two of us, and decided to wrap things up once we left.

Fast forward 20h afterwards, I found myself with my two Beiruti friends rushing to watch the [The President's Last Bang] which was playing at Safadi Cultural Center, free of charge. A text message from my friend who was already there, saying the movie was in Korean with French subtitles, made it definitive that we’re going somewhere else instead of running around to catch the movie.

Tripoli International Film Festival Logo -
A couple words could summarize what needs to be said: the festival could’ve been the hit the citizens of Tripoli have been waiting for, not to mention the growing number of cinema and movie enthusiasts, film makers, producers, actors and energetic audience, waiting the littlest spark of ingenuity and novelty around town. Media coverage could’ve been drastically larger than what was done, broader, better. I mean, Tripoli’s got a huge collection of bloggers, activists, journalists, interested individuals. I’m more than certain a couple more shares on facebook and a handful retweets here and there at some point last week could’ve filled these theatres at least with 20 more people each play. Too bad for what happened, yet cheers go to the organizers for their efforts.

That was my own experience, with only one film. Care to share what you witnessed? Throw in a comment and let us know what happened as well.