A Conversation About Baalbeck Studios’ Collection

Still film image from KOULLNA FIDAEYOUN by Gary Garabedian (1969)

Project presentation with films, guests: Monika Borgman, Ayman Nahle
Sep 4, 2021 16.30 Arsenal Cinema, free admission

Eons ago when Scheherazade told the story of the many adventures of Sinbad the Sailor in “1001 Nights,” she concluded the tale by describing that while Sinbad lived on for some time after he returned home safely from his last voyage, death, “the terminator of delights and the separator of companions,” prevailed inexorably over his human frailties. Stated otherwise, Sinbad’s death rather than his return home marked the real end of his lifetime of adventures. The point of this quote from the mythical storyteller is not made as a rhetorical courtesy. Instead, Scheherazade instructs us that a decisive end will indeed befall all stories and sagas regardless of how exciting and engrossing they may be. Such was the case for the Lebanese as Baalbeck Studios’ final days, then hours, ticked down into oblivion: no tears to be shed, no eulogies to be given.
Once upon a time, there was Baalbeck Studios, a thriving and contributing presence at the intersection of Lebanon’s progressive and booming, yet disparate, business and arts sectors. For over two decades, starting in 1963, Baalbeck Studios was the source of many of the soundtracks and visuals experienced and “consumed” in Lebanon, but also other Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. The best sound studio attracted the who’s who of singers and voice-over artists, and sent its engineers across the region on assignments. To commercial, documentary and feature film directors, producers and DoPs, it was the go-to place for equipment rental and a sought-after laboratory.
Yet near the end of February 2010, the Baalbeck Studios facility was slated to be demolished, and the contractor hired for the project by the building’s caretaker had been given carte blanche to dispose of its contents. UMAM D&R, a Lebanese organization focused on collecting Lebanon’s memories and archives, intercepted the materials at their final hour and salvaged them. In doing so, the organization chose to not wait and hope for the appropriate, official Lebanese institutions, which have never been in any particular hurry to salvage such items of history, to salvage such items, and instead took unilateral action to compensate the contractor in exchange for some of the Studios’ contents, especially analog film material and paper documents.

The conversation will feature presentations by the UMAM D&R co-founder Monika Borgmann and Ayman Nahle, filmmaker and archivist, and will include screenings of a sample of preserved and digitized film materials.