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01 December 2023

Rare collection of hand-painted cinema posters dating back to 1950s among AMF highlights

By E247

A future with wondrous possibilities is what we all dream of. There can be no denying though that the past often has a way of disarming us by projecting in vivid detail endearing moments from a bygone era into our minds at unexpected moments. Our minds are a storehouse of this inexplicable tapestry where the lingering sweetness of the past and the nervous excitement about the future merge in one intricate reel.

The Arab Media Forum in its latest iteration seeks to invigorate our minds with a discourse revolving around the dazzlingly bright future unfolding on the media scene and the quantum leap in technology that is setting the tone for all aspects of our lives. Even so, the event does not lose sight of the defining moments when the dreamers among us were touched by the power of cinema in its early days, when it was a new frontier by itself. So, it is only fitting that a trove of rare hand-painted movie posters dating back to the 1950s found pride of place at the AMF, very much like vignettes from a bygone horizon reflected back at us like the morning sunlight.

The AMF is a big draw for the media industry but it is an industry that is ever expanding its footprint be it through TV, cinema, digital and OTT platforms or AI. Year after year, the event has succeeded in attracting thought leaders and media luminaries thanks to the virtual kaleidoscope it offers to this eventful journey, weaving in the best of past, present and the emerging future.

The cinema posters featured at the AMF are from a prized family collection in Egypt and feature some of the gems of the golden age of regional cinema. The collection lives to tell its fantastic story having survived war, thieves and a cinema fire. It is being showcased at AMF courtesy of Mohamad A. Bibi, who started off selling tickets at a Beirut cinema in 1953.

Bibi continued promoting films at the cinema and, in the 1960s, rose to become general manager of Itani Cinemas, which owned the largest network of cinemas in Beirut at the time besides distributing and producing films. It was a time when film production was taking off in the region, especially in Egypt.

The technology needed to produce large-format printed movie posters had not yet made its way to the Middle East. Hence, the posters made to promote these movies were hand-painted. Some of the most famous artists of the day were commissioned for this work. They would watch the films before heading back to paint the posters in their studios, and then run off 30 copies on paper treated with zinc oxide.

Many of the silver screen stars of that era have become fond memories now and scant no one is using zinc-oxide paper anymore.

Bibi started collecting the posters during the course of his work, eventually running up an impressive stock of more than 2,000. Many were destroyed or stolen during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90). Still more were lost when a blaze tore through Beirut's iconic Piccadilly movie theatre in 2000. The collection has since found safe refuge in Bibi’s residence in Beirut and in Dubai, where his son Abed lives.

Chances to savour a spread like this come along but once in a lifetime for many. As for AMF attendees, it was part of a sumptuous menu to be enjoyed at ease.