ABOUT BAALBECK STUDIOS...

...And Other Lebanese Sites of Memory
By Monika Borgmann & Lokman Slim 
© UMAM D&R, 2013

No tears to be shed, no eulogies to be given. Once upon a time, there was Baalbeck Studios, a thriving and contributing actor in Lebanon’s progressive and booming business sector, which had the ability to unite the often-disparate areas of industry and the arts.

Eons before, when Scheherazade told the story of the many adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, 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. The event was like a page taken from One Thousand and One Lebanese Nights: a set of travels undertaken by other adventurers, which ultimately ended in the demise of that uniquely Lebanese institution. It is worth noting that this abstract attribution 
is given to Lebanon rather than to the Lebanese people.

After all, those who established Baalbeck Studios in the 1950s included Palestinians Badih Boulos and the intriguing Youssuf Baydas (also spelled Bedas). But they were certainly not the only "non-Lebanese" harbingers of the country’s audiovisual communications and arts industry. Indeed, although they seem to have been lost to history, perhaps Italian Giordano Bedutti, Syrian Joseph Fahda, Iraqi-Armenian Gary Garabetian and many others deserve to be mentioned each time the relevant conversation turns to two key words: cinema and Lebanon. These were the visionaries who created Lebanon’s film
and cinema industries—among other achievements in which the "Lebanese" take pride—which may help explain why Baalbeck Studios should be considered an asset of Lebanon per se. Importantly, those same adventurers, whether forward-looking businessmen or idealistic filmmakers, also represent one of the country’s most fundamental characteristics: Lebanon is anything but a closed community.

But in what direction is this missive traveling? Will it focus exclusively on Baalbeck Studios or does it address more generally the audiovisual industry in the country? In this text, are we examining Lebanon in the sense of its national philosophy and pervasive multicultural "laboratory," or are we discussing its past, present and future? In truth, the document seeks to encompass all these topics; how they eventually converge
and diverge, con ate at times and implode at others. But to paraphrase the inimitable Victor Hugo, there is always more. And here, our use of the word "more" is carefully chosen because that extension, that continuum, that et cetera is what really gets to the point of this entire matter! Yet even though this notion of more actually incorporates the smallest proportion of the focus adopted in the epistle before you, it also represents the theory all of us are testing. It is certainly a demanding test, administered among the remains of the country and scattered haphazardly throughout its geography, but also in the midst of the ruins of a particularly unique cultural, artistic and industrial facility: Baalbeck Studios.

It is a "situation" reminiscent of another sad reality that involves what remains—or what was permitted to remain—of other public and private concerns and pursuits, such as the documents that represent Lebanon's shared memory. As mentioned previously, these memories are attributed most correctly to Lebanon rather than the Lebanese to ensure that none of those who helped create them are ignored.