Rising from the rubble: Beirut’s Sursock Museum to open its doors after 2020 Beirut Port blast

Rising from the rubble: Beirut’s Sursock Museum to open its doors after 2020 Beirut Port blast
The Sursock Museum pictured in 2015. It has now been restored to this former state following the destruction caused by the Beirut Port blast in 2020 (Courtesy of the Sursock Museum)
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Updated 21 April 2023

Rising from the rubble: Beirut’s Sursock Museum to open its doors after 2020 Beirut Port blast

Rising from the rubble: Beirut’s Sursock Museum to open its doors after 2020 Beirut Port blast
  • Three masterpieces were restored by the team at the Centre Pompidou in Paris before the reopening of Beirut’s Sursock Museum
  • Thanks to lengthy reconstruction and funding from various international organizations, the museum will reopen its doors on May 26

DUBAI: Just under three years ago, Beirut’s Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum was wrecked after several thousand tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Beirut Port on August 4, 2020. Parts of the early-20th-century townhouse were completely destroyed, artworks were damaged, and the Lebanese capital’s oldest independent cultural establishment, the center of Beirut’s cultural scene in the 1960s, was forced to close.  

Now, thanks to a lengthy reconstruction and funding from various international organizations, it will reopen its doors on May 26 and recommence its programming. 

Jean Khalife's 1977 work 'La Peur,' part of the 'Beyond Ruptures' exhibition. (Supplied)


“Despite the ongoing crisis the country is facing, it is important to celebrate the museum and the work that has been done for it to reopen,” Karina El-Helou, who was appointed as director of the museum around six months ago, told Arab News. The museum’s previous director, Zeina Arida, now heads the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.  

“The reopening is not just celebrating the museum, but the people who stayed and worked on it over the past few years as the country continues to face economic collapse,” El-Helou added.  

Kees Van Dongen's portrait of Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock, circa 1926-1930. (Supplied)

While the reconstruction was taking place, the museum resumed a few activities, such as art festivals and artists’ talks, but its exhibition spaces have been closed since the explosion. Its reopening, as Lebanon continues to battle several nationwide crises is a feat in itself, symbolizing the city’s resilience and belief in the power of art and culture even — perhaps particularly — during moments of intense hardship. 

A postcard from the Fouad Debbas Collection before and after the coloring process. (Supplied) 

Restoration of the museum included the replacement of all windows — including its iconic stained glass; the repair of all doors, elevators, drop ceilings, and skylights; the repair and cleaning of the electro-mechanical system; and the restoration of the traditional wooden panels on the museum’s historical floor, El-Helou explained.  

The museum has raised a total of $2,376,751 since the blast, with both the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas and the French Ministry of Culture providing half a million dollars each, while Agenzia Italiana Per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo (AICS) in partnership with UNESCO-Li Beirut providing $1million.  

It wasn’t just the building that was damaged in the blast either. Around 50 artworks have also been restored, including two paintings— “Untitled (Consolation)” by Paul Guiragossian and a portrait by Kees Van Dongen of Nicolas Sursock, the Lebanese art collector who died in 1952 and bequeathed his private villa to the city to be used as a museum — that were restored by the team at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. 

The museum will reopen with an ambitious program of five exhibitions: “Je Suis Inculte! The Salon d’Automne and the National Canon,” which revisits the legacy of the annual juried Salon d’Automne in Beirut from the Sursock Museum’s inauguration in 1961; “Beyond Ruptures: A Tentative Chronology” exploring three periods of the museum’s history and local socio-political events through works by prominent Lebanese artists including Akram Zaatari, Aref El-Rayess, Jean Khalife and Shaffic Abboud; “Earthy Praxis,” a group exhibition of contemporary works reflecting on land appropriation and ownership in Lebanon; video installation “Ejecta: Zad Moultaka”; and “Beirut Recollections,” an exhibition of photographs from the Fouad Debbas collection and the Paris-based tech-event company Iconem that looks to provide creative solutions to the world’s cultural heritage losses.  

It's a remarkable return for an institution whose future was, at points, in serious doubt. And its significance, El-Helou stressed, is considerable.  

“We are more than just a museum,” she said. “We represent the memory of Beirut. The situation is still very difficult in Lebanon, but there is a positive energy in the museum now. With so many having left the country, what we stand for is the memory of a city and a country.”

Turkish film festival canceled over censorship controversy

Turkish film festival canceled over censorship controversy
Updated 30 September 2023

Turkish film festival canceled over censorship controversy

Turkish film festival canceled over censorship controversy
  • The Ministry of Culture banned the documentary "The Decree", calling it propaganda for the preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of being behind the coup attempt in 2016

ANKARA: An international film festival in Turkiye has been canceled after controversy over a documentary about judicial purges that followed an attempted coup in 2016, authorities said Friday.
The dispute centers on “The Decree,” a documentary about the plight of a doctor and a teacher affected by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sweeping crackdown after he survived the failed military coup.
The film was initially selected for Antalya’s “Golden Orange” film festival, but excluded from the competition last week, prompting an outcry from filmmakers who condemned the move as censorship.
The festival’s jury members threatened to pull out if the film was not readmitted and said they “reject the approach that looks for incriminating elements in a film and the normalization of censorship.”
The organizers gave in and reinstated the film, but it was excluded again after the culture ministry waded in.
“I regret to inform film lovers that we have canceled our festival, which was set to take place between October 7-14, due to external developments,” the mayor of Antalya said in footage shared on social media.
The Ministry of Culture withdrew its support for the festival, calling it propaganda for the preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of being behind the coup attempt in 2016.

Arab movies ‘Inshallah a Boy,’ ‘Bye Bye Tiberias’ join Oscars race 

Arab movies ‘Inshallah a Boy,’ ‘Bye Bye Tiberias’ join Oscars race 
Updated 29 September 2023

Arab movies ‘Inshallah a Boy,’ ‘Bye Bye Tiberias’ join Oscars race 

Arab movies ‘Inshallah a Boy,’ ‘Bye Bye Tiberias’ join Oscars race 

DUBAI: Jordan has submitted Amjad Al-Rasheed’s movie “Inshallah a Boy” and Palestine submitted Lina Soualem’s documentary “Bye Bye Tiberias” for consideration in the Best International Feature Film category at the 96th Academy Awards, it was announced this week. 

This means that both films are considered for the shortlist. If the Arab movies get shortlisted, they could then get nominated for an Academy Award.

“Inshallah a Boy” was the first Jordanian film to compete in the Cannes Film Festival in May. The feature film was chosen to compete in Cannes Critics’ Week, a subsidiary event that ran alongside the 76th edition of the festival. 

“Bye Bye Tiberias” is by Lina Soualem. (Supplied)

The film, titled “Inshallah Walad” in Arabic, portrays the narrative of a young widow, Nawal, and her daughter, who are about to lose their home. 

The 90-minute film was shot last year in the Jordanian capital Amman over the course of five weeks. It received a Jordan Film Fund and Royal Film Commission production grant in 2019, as well as a post-production grant in 2022. 

In the much-hyped documentary “Bye Bye Tiberias,” Soualem, who is French, Palestinian and Algerian, captures the stories passed on by four generations of Palestinian women in her family, one of whom is her mother Hiam Abbass, the actress whose credits include “Succession,” “Ramy,” “Inheritance” and “Munich.”  

Soualem accompanies her mother and questions her choices as Abbass returns to her native Palestinian village 30 years after she left in her early 20s to follow her dream of becoming an actress in Europe, leaving behind her mother, grandmother, and seven sisters.  

The film will screen in the Documentary Competition section of the 67th BFI London Film Festival, set to take place from Oct. 4 – 15, 2023. 

Jordan and Palestine are not the only two Arab countries that submitted movies for the Oscars. 

Egypt has selected Mohamed Farag-starring “Voy Voy Voy!” while Yemen has selected director Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened” and Tunisia is competing with Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters.”

Morocco has selected Asmae El Moudir’s documentary “The Mother of All Lies.” 

Emily Blunt wears Zuhair Murad at awards ceremony in New York

Emily Blunt wears Zuhair Murad at awards ceremony in New York
Updated 29 September 2023

Emily Blunt wears Zuhair Murad at awards ceremony in New York

Emily Blunt wears Zuhair Murad at awards ceremony in New York
  • Awards named after Albie Sachs, South Africa’s former chief justice and anti-Apartheid activist, honors those fighting for justice and equality

DUBAI: British actress Emily Blunt this week attended the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s Albie Awards in a hot red dress by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad.  

Blunt wore a flow-length gown with heart pocket details, accessorized with glitzy gold jewelry and a sparkly red clutch.

She posed for pictures on the gold carpet with her husband John Krasinski.

Blunt wore a flow-length gown with heart pocket details. (AFP)

This was the second annual ceremony hosted by the foundation which was founded by lawyer Amal Clooney and her actor husband George.

Amal attended the event, which took place at the New York Public Library, in a white Versace gown covered in crystals.

The guests in attendance included Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore, Andra Day, Julianna Margulies, Cindy Crawford, MJ Rodriguez, Charlotte Tilbury, Donatella Versace, Jodie Turner-Smith and Heidi Klum, who wore a fully embellished figure-hugging gown by Lebanese-Italian designer Tony Ward. 


A post shared by TONY WARD (@tonywardcouture)

The event is named after South African lawyer, activist, writer and former chief justice Albie Sachs, who spent much of his life “defending people charged under racist statutes and repressive security laws.”

The event honor individuals who, at great personal risk, have devoted their lives to justice for the most vulnerable.

Review: ‘Shayda’ – a personal, powerful debut from director Noora Niasari  

Review: ‘Shayda’ – a personal, powerful debut from director Noora Niasari  
Updated 29 September 2023

Review: ‘Shayda’ – a personal, powerful debut from director Noora Niasari  

Review: ‘Shayda’ – a personal, powerful debut from director Noora Niasari  

TORONTO: Based on writer-director Noora Niasari’s own experiences, “Shayda” is an intimate yet striking drama that shines a light on the courage and resilience of women and mothers, more specifically single and immigrant mothers. 

Shayda (played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi who gained critical acclaim for “Holy Spider” in 2022) is an Iranian woman who immigrated to Australia to accompany her husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) while he finishes his university degree. Their relationship starts to get violent and in 1995, where this film begins, Shayda escapes with her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) to a women’s shelter. The story takes place during the two weeks of the Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz. What should be a joyous time celebrating with loved ones, Shayda has to deal with legal proceedings to gain full custody of Mona but while that’s underway, the courts allow Hossein unsupervised time with Mona. This unnerves Shayda because if Hossein wanted to, he could kidnap the child and flee. 

At the women’s shelter, Shayda tries to bring some normalcy to an abnormal situation for Mona and herself by participating in the customs of Nowruz. They put together their Haft-Sin and make decorations around a small table. Mona, however, has her heart set on fire jumping with the Iranian community, which is one of the events that marks the new year. Shayda is hesitant because it means having to meet the judgmental eye of her community. The shame and criticism a woman gets for leaving her marriage —even if it means protecting her life and that of her child — is a topic that Noora Niasari isn’t afraid to tackle because those cultural pressures are still prevalent today.  

While Zar Amir Ebrahimi shines in the titular role, it is Selina Zahednia as Mona who is the real star. It is a difficult role but the young performer is emotionally intelligent and hits all her marks creating a standout performance. 

Overall, it’s a fine piece of Australian cinema that will tug at your heart strings and open your eyes to an underrepresented community and stories we don’t often pay attention to. 

“Shayda” played as a part of the Centrepiece program at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. 

Kuwaiti director Zeyad Alhusaini, US actor Ron Perlman on ‘How I Got There’ 

Kuwaiti director Zeyad Alhusaini, US actor Ron Perlman on ‘How I Got There’ 
Updated 29 September 2023

Kuwaiti director Zeyad Alhusaini, US actor Ron Perlman on ‘How I Got There’ 

Kuwaiti director Zeyad Alhusaini, US actor Ron Perlman on ‘How I Got There’ 
  • ‘All the best filmmakers break the rules,’ says Zeyad Alhusaini

DUBAI: Great artists make the art they feel is missing from the world. For filmmakers, however, that’s easier said than done. For years, Kuwaiti director Zeyad ‘Zee’ Alhusaini was told that, to succeed, he had to either make a standard Hollywood movie, or another film highlighting Arab misery. He dreamed of something different — a cross-genre epic that merged the spirits of the films and the region he adored. He knew, deep down, that Gulf audiences craved a new path forward just as much as he did.  

Ten years after starting that journey, Alhusaini has been vindicated. His debut feature, “How I Got There” — a Saudi-Kuwaiti co-production — has just become the highest-grossing domestic film in Kuwait’s history, a few months after winning the Audience Award for Best Saudi Film at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. And after signing with international talent agency UTA, he’s now set to become a major voice in global film for years to come.  

“How I Got There” is Alhusaini’s debut feature (Supplied) 

“Years ago, when I first became a filmmaker, I met with all the major studios. But I had to ask myself: Do I want to just make a film, or do I want to make a film that changes someone’s life? I chose the latter. That’s what drove me, and that’s what still drives me today,” Alhusaini tells Arab News. 

“In both the region and the world, we’re in dire need of new perspectives to reinvigorate this medium. For cinema to move forward, we need a new wave, and I hope to be part of that evolution,” he continues.  

Alhusaini has always been something of a maverick. When he studied film at Columbia University in New York, he would often get into arguments with his professors, who would tell him again and again to follow the so-called ‘rules’ of what makes a good screenplay, a notion that the filmmakers he adored, including Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, never adhered to.  

Ron Perlman in “How I Got There.” (Supplied)

“I remember one particular exchange. My professor told me: ‘I just want to help you write a better film!’ I responded, ‘I feel like you’re trying to make us all write the same film with different characters!’ I wanted to do something different, because all the best filmmakers break the rules,” Alhusaini says.  

With “How I Got There,” Alhusaini took heavy inspiration from Scorsese films such as “Casino” and “Goodfellas” to craft something singular; the story of two best friends who stumble upon a gun shipment in Kuwait and try to get rich quick, only to be pulled into a dark world of crime and terror, with action, drama, suspense, and a surprising dose of comedy. Alhusaini aimed big, even writing in an American mercenary that he imagined could be played by American actor Ron Perlman, the star of “Hellboy” and “Sons of Anarchy.” To his surprise, Perlman was interested.  

“In most scripts, you can predict where they’re going next, but in Zee’s script, I had no idea,” says Perlman. “I was hooked. It was truly great writing. We met in LA, and I could see that this was a serious filmmaker who was really dedicated to putting some heavy-duty stuff on the screen. And that's my language. I knew this was an adventure that I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in.”  

3 Alhusaini (center), his wife Latifa Aljasmi, and Perlman attend the screening of “How I Got There” at the Red Sea International Film Festival in December 2022. (Supplied)

The experience was eye-opening for Perlman, who, like most Americans, had only ever been exposed to the Arabian Gulf through sensationalist news stories, without having the chance to experience its culture first-hand. 

“My understanding of the Middle East was strictly from headlines on CNN. That’s a problem. When everything’s coming through the lens of socio-political news stories, you’re not being immersed in real culture; they’re not shining a light on the true humanity,” says Perlman. 

“One of the great privileges of my career is that I got this invitation to participate in a Kuwaiti-Saudi film, to see the human side of this amazing place. Zee gave me this incredible gift that few have gotten to experience: to be able to experience Kuwait and this region, to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone I never knew I would have a relationship with, as equals, and to present a work of art to the world with pride and love,” he continues.  

Perlman, who has just returned to the US after attending the film’s Kuwait and Saudi premieres, stars opposite a host of talent from across the region. While there are some established names, such as beloved Kuwaiti veteran actor Jassim Al-Nabhan, Alhusaini primarily opted for up-and-comers who had yet to enter the film world, including Kuwaiti TV veteran Yaqoob Abdullah, Bahraini pop star Hala Al-Turk, and Kuwait-born Iraqi actress Rawan Mahdi, star of Netflix’s acclaimed series “The Exchange.”  

Bobby Naderi (left) and Rawan Mahdi in “How I Got There.” (Supplied)

“I spent three months with the actors, basically stripping away the habits of television and replacing them with new habits,” says Alhusaini. “That was crucial, because I wanted us to get to the point where we could have our own little language. When Ron came in, he made everyone so comfortable because he has this contented spirit that is just infectious. You can’t help but feel welcome around him.” 

While Perlman, 72, admits he has grown more and more comfortable in his own skin as he’s gotten older, he doesn’t revel in being the guy on set that everyone looks up to.  

“I don’t like being the elder statesman at all. My knees hurt, my ankles hurt… I remember being the kid they ordered to go get a cup of coffee for them. Those were the days!” says Perlman. 

“On this set, a funny thing happened. We were all so curious about each other’s cultures that we kind of diminished our own experiences. The other lead actors might look at me like I’ve cornered the market on success, just because I've been around longer and I’ve done a larger number of projects. When that happened, I said to them, ‘You just gave a performance that blew my mind. That’s what you need to know. You don't need to hear anything from me. You don’t understand how special you are.’” 

Yaqoob Abdulla (center, left) and Hamad Alomadi (center, right) in “How I Got There.” (Supplied)

Alhusaini now counts Perlman as a friend, a welcome end to a journey that began when he first entered the script into the IWC Filmmaker Award at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2013, and began shooting the film in 2018.  

Now, as he nears the end of a successful theatrical run in the region, he waits to see what the future holds for international release. He knows the right streaming partner could turn his film into the sort of cult classic that could inspire a new generation, just as the films of the 70s, 80s, and 90s inspired him. 

“This has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but never for a second did I think to stop. I always wanted to find a way, because I knew this would be an important film. I matured as a filmmaker, I got to meet great people, and I got to present something that I feel is important for people of Kuwait and the Gulf,” says Alhusaini.  

“For now, I need to rest, but the next journey begins (soon). My next film will be set in the US, and then I’ll return to the Middle East for the one after that, and so on, in a cycle. And if all goes well, Ron and I will be working together again on the next one, in a very different style,” he continues. “There’s so much left to do, but the new wave is coming.”