AyamBeirut Al Cinema'iya, the first festivalto take place in Lebanon since the war, wrapped Sept 23 after a nine-dayfestival that opened with the world premiere of Michel Kammoun's Falafel, and screened 40 features,shorts and documentaries, mainly from or about the Arab world.

Now in its fourth year, thefestival has gained a following among Arab cinephiles, thanks in part to itsgrassroots approach and support for regional cinema. This year, even though Beirut's airport is still not fully functional, 40 foreignguests made the trip. Unifrance's director of festivals Antoine Khalife,representatives from Arte, and journalists from Germany and France joined film directors James Longley, IsmaelFerroukhi and Egyptian actress Layla Alwi, among others.

"Most of the guests broughtcameras with them, and some are considering making films about the situation,"said artistic director Eliane Raheb. Palestinian-UK film-maker Saeed TajiFarouky (I See the Stars at Noon),for example, is using the festival as a starting point for a documentary on the"cultural reconstruction of Beirut".In between screenings, some of the guests attended Hezbollah's victorycelebrations in southern Beirut.

One of the most popularfestival events was the screening of a collection of short films and videosmade during the recent war. "It was a very sensitive issue, and we debatedwhether to do it," said Raheb. "But on the day, we had almost 500 people crowdinto a 275-seat theatre." A debate about "the role of the filmmaker in a timeof crisis" followed the films. Festivals in the Arab world and Europe have since expressed interest in continuing the programme.

"The festival itself was extremely well-organized and surprisinglywell-attended," said Longley, who directed IraqIn Fragments. "As you might expect, the audienceswere very engaged and there was a huge spectrum of political and aestheticideas represented -- that makes it an exciting place to show a film."

Many of the screenings tookplace in the Metropolis, one of a handful of arthouse cinemas in the Middle East, which opened onJuly 11, a day before the war started, and hosted refugees throughout thecrisis.

Festival director and Metropolisfounder Hania Mroue entertained the homeless families from southern Beirut with daily screenings from the archives. The cinemarelaunches next week and hopes to be an outlet for independent film in thecountry, an approach endorsed by Khalife: "I am in discussions with the cinema-- theassociation between Beirut DC and the Metropolis will be very good forrealising European and Arab films in Lebanon."

Run by film-makers'cooperative Beirut DC, Ayam Beirut Al Cinema'iya (Beirut Cinema Days) startedas a forum for regional cinema, but expanded into more international fareduring 2004 and 2005 when the more established Beirut International FilmFestival (BIFF) suffered consecutive cancellations. This yearthe BIFF returns as the MidEast Film Festival, Oct 4-10, with a programme of 20international festival favourites, including Pedro Almodovar's Volver, Jafar Panahi's Offside, and Stephen Frears' The Queen. The festival closeswith Marwan Hamed's The YacoubianBuilding.

Festival director ColetteNaufal said that prints are coming in but organising the event is "very tough"given local circumstances. "Industry representatives from Europe and the US think three times before going to Beirut," she said. Nonetheless, Naufal is expecting guests,including Venice festival director Marco Mueller, who helped launch the festival, along with the MakeFilms Not War campaign.

Beirut has further events planned for local and regionalcinema: documentary festival Docudays is scheduled for Nov 3-11; local independentfilm and video festival Ne a Beyrouth, which was due to take place in August,has now shifted to early December.