The annual Lebanese Independent Film Festival (LIFF) in Beirut has been marred by allegations of an attack during one of its screenings that led to social media users branding it as a festival of “thuggery”.
The event, which ran from Friday to Sunday, showcased dozens of films from local Lebanese filmmakers as well as from European directors, with support from the Canadian embassy.
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On Saturday, an attendee took to social media to complain about the poor organisation of the festival. Then, she says, her phone was taken away and she was physically assaulted by festival organisers.
“People were walking in front of the screen in the middle of the movie, and chairs were being added in,” Farah Darwish said in a reel she posted on her Instagram page.
After the screening, she says she was hanging out with her friends on the rooftop when a woman approached her and asked if she was the one who had complained about the organisation. She asked Darwish to follow her downstairs, where a man and another woman were waiting, and the three began arguing with Darwish.
“They told me if I’m not satisfied with the organisation then I should leave. I replied that it’s my opinion, but then they took my phone and refused to give it to me, then they pulled my hair and started beating me,” Darwish said, trying to hold back tears.
“Everyone was watching me getting beaten up inside and outside … Then everyone else came and started yelling at me, blaming me for what was happening, even though they were the ones hitting and attacking.”
The co-director of LIFF, Dineta Williams-Trigg, issued a video statement, which she later deleted, in which she said she regretted the “unfortunate incident”.
“On behalf of LIFF and our audience, I would like to apologise to our audience, to the guest, and to the station who was hosting us,” Williams-Trigg said. “I want to assure you that LIFF stands for independent artists by providing a platform for important stories to be shared with the world.”
“Our intent was to speak to [Darwish] but unfortunately instead of a dialogue it escalated into a heated discussion,” she added. “We do not support any form of abuse to anyone anywhere, verbal or otherwise. I regret that calmness did not prevail.”
The festival has faced a backlash from hundreds of Lebanese people on social media after thousands more viewed Darwish’s reel. Many are calling for a boycott of the festival and for Darwish to file an official police report.
However, on Tuesday, a statement issued by a lawyer representing the LIFF said that a “woman” – appearing to reference Darwish – had caused the incident after she had been asked to leave for shouting. The statement also said that Darwish had attacked one of the organisers and that a law firm had been asked to file an official complaint against her for slander.
One of the people accused of being involved, festival director Gauthier Read, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that Darwish had “twist[ed] what actually happened, saying that we attacked her when in reality she hit one of our volunteers and knocked her to the ground”.
He added that the LIFF had witnesses to corroborate the story.
“This is clearly a smear campaign against us,” he said. “It’s a shame that some media outlets decided to go with [Darwish’s] version of the story without even reaching out to us to hear our side. Our sponsors and jury judges are all standing by our side.”