Magical mystery tour: Project brings an outlandish bus and a mobile movie theater to an outdoor square near you (Lebanon)

TIBNEEN, Lebanon: As the sun set on a recent, balmy evening in Tibneen, a small village southwest of the Lebanese city of Tyre, a crowd of around 100 residents drifted toward a grid of white plastic chairs arranged in the outdoor courtyard of a municipal high school. Young, old and every age in between, the audience took advantage of the social setting as some chattered and laughed. Others remained silent, their eyes fixed on a cartoon flickering across a mobile movie screen set up in the square.


The animation began typically enough. A cartoon boy and a cartoon girl are walking merrily through the countryside. The weather is pleasant and the birds are chirping. Then they discover a curious object. It looks like a toy. But their curiosity is tempered by the arrival of a frantic yellow bird, who warns them - the cartoon children and by extension the real children seated in the courtyard in Tibneen - "This is not a toy. This is a landmine." Landmines are the most disgusting things invented," said Paolo Cernuschi as he watched the cartoon. "Unfortunately, it's usually the kids that get [hurt]. They see an object and say: 'Hey, what it this?'" Cernuschi trails off. Tebneen is a strong stone's throw from the Israeli border. Landmines leftover from the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon and subsequent conflicts, including the war last summer and its showering of cluster bombs, are an unfortunate reality here. Even if the area has been cleared by the UN anti-landmine initiative, UNMACC, it can never be guaranteed as fully safe, explained Cernuschi.
Cernuschi is the information officer for the ROSS Program, an offshoot of Italian Cooperation, which coordinates emergency projects in Lebanon and provides technical and strategic support for socioeconomic recovery initiatives. The movie screen, the projector, the cartoon and the open-air set up are all a part of CinemArena, a project financed by ROSS that is bringing a traveling outdoor cinema to 27 villages in Lebanon from now through October.
In addition to short films, animations and public service announcements about issues relevant to each particular village, CinemArena is screening a selection of feature films - from Roberto Benigni's 2002 version of "Pinocchio," which screened on this particular evening in Tibneen, to Michel Ocelot's "Azur et Asmar" (2006), Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" (2001), Ziad Doueiri's "West Beyrouth" (1998) and Vittorio De Sica's "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (1964), a classic piece of Italian neorealism starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. All of the films are projected in DVD formats, and the screenings are free and open to the public.
The project began on July 17 in the village of Hermel. CinemArena's crew of five is headed by a charismatic young Italian named Marco Ballerini. The team travels around in a colorful bus, reminiscent of the 1970s and driven by another young man named Naeem. The bus serves not only as a repository for CinemArena's equipment - the screen, the projector, the films - but also as a movable billboard announcing the project.
To underscore that point, whenever Naeem pulls the bus into a new village, Jamal Krayem, CinemArena's 27-year-old animator, climbs on top of the roof in full clown regalia. Children in the village typically follow Krayem and the bus all the way from the edge of town to the spot where the crew sets up the cinema, notes Adib Mufti, 27, another member of the team who is in charge of filming the project's progress. Sylvia Szajko and Assem Aridi, responsible for administration and logistics, respectively, round out the CinemArena crew.
CinemArena uses educational shorts to raise awareness about such issues as the risks posed by landmines, environment protection, children's rights, women's rights, healthcare, peace, stability and more. Representatives from the municipality in each participating village meet with Ballerini and decide which issues are most relevant to their particular situation. The list of issues is accompanied by a selection of shorts from Lebanon's Ministry of Social Affairs and an assortment of other agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO), such as IndyAct (the League of Independent Activists), WWF (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund), the UN children's fund UNICEF, the Spanish association Inter SOS and Save the Children Sweden.
Of the 27 villages on CinemArena's itinerary, Tibneen was the fifth. However, the list may grow longer as other villages invite the movie bus to visit them, too. The villages that have already been chosen tend to be those that have an Italian presence through NGOs or other projects in place. The CinemArena crew spends just three days in each locale, so collaboration with activities that are already underway helps the team gain familiarity with the villagers - and perpetuate the social awareness element of their work, explains Ballerini.
"If we arrive in the village for three days and talk about the environment and then leave, our work is like a drop in the ocean. If instead we integrate with a social campaign already in the village, our intervention is sustainable," says Ballerini.
In Tibneen, CinemArena's arrival was tied in to the revamping of Tibneen's local hospital, sponsored by Italian Cooperation through ROSS and UNIFIL, whose Italian contingent has a strong presence in the area.
On the first night, the team screened cartoons, educational shorts and "Pinocchio" (in English with Arabic subtitles). On the second night, they projected another feature film, preceded by a short on the village itself. These reportage pieces are filmed and edited on site by Mufti. "The objective of the reportage is social awareness ... to be useful to the community and to launch a message," explains Ballerini.
In Nabi Osman, the third village visited by the CinemArena team, the reportage focused on the village's agriculture cooperatives, documenting why they had been formed and how they worked.
Italian Cooperation has done the CinemArena project before, in Mozambique. The group brought the idea - and the equipment - to Lebanon after it proved successful in its first incarnation.
"We found it very relevant. It strongly delivers the message. People love to see themselves on film, to get attention and it helps them reflect on their situation," says Rosario Sapienza, ROSS's technical officer. "We don't do hard reconstruction," he adds. "We try to bring life, to have the occasion to start again the social life through the projects we do."
Mufti is shooting footage wherever the bus takes the CinemArena team. When the tour is over, the material will be edited into an hour-long documentary on the effect cinema has on people. "I can tell you that the effect is never the same," says Mufti. "It's different with each person, no reactions are similar."
Ballerini, for his part, believes the differences are marginal and the effect of cinema is positive overall. "I think a lot of the people from the villages would love to have a cinema. They really don't want it to leave" he says. Instead of staying in and watching television, an outdoor cinema brings people together. It's a social experience, he explains. "People don't just watch the film. They bring nargileh. They come with people. They [talk] to each other. It brings about social movement".

Von: , 08.08.2007, Maya Khourchid

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