Cyril Aris and Mounia Akl, a young Lebanese duo, intended on careers in engineering but took a different path and are becoming successful filmmakers.
The pair's love of cinema, acting and directing brought them together in 2009 when they produced a short film, "Beirut, I Love You" that earned them numerous international awards and more work.
"Beirut, I Love You" tells the story of Tarek and Yasmin, who meet on the Corniche promenade in Beirut. The narrative follows their relationship as they share what they love about the city. The two directors also play the lead roles in the film.
The film attracted 150,000 viewers on YouTube. Aris and Akl travelled to Geneva where they received the Coup de Coeur award at the International Oriental Film Festival and the Best International Film award at the 2010 Swansea Bay Film Festival in Britain.
The success of the first film propelled them in 2010 to write, act in, and direct a second film in 2010, "Kas Yalli Dallu". The film consists of three parts and salutes members of the younger generation who stayed in Lebanon and also addresses younger Lebanese who migrated.
The second film was aired on YouTube and competed in several international festivals, including the Manhattan Film Festival. "Kas Yalli Dallu" won honourable mention at the Los Angeles Movie Awards 2010 and a merit award at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood 2010.
The popularity of "Beirut, I Love You" prompted the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) to commission the pair to produce a 35-episode series inspired by the film.
"Beirut, I Love You" appears on television Saturday and Sunday evening each week. Each episode averages seven minutes in length.
Aris, 23, told Al-Shorfa, "Cinema has been a dream of mine since childhood, but I pursued electrical engineering as a major at a Canadian university. Then I went back to what I love, acting and directing, and took private lessons."
"I got my start with two short films on YouTube, followed by 'Beirut, I Love You' in 2009 with Mounia whom I met in acting and directing courses," Aris said.
Akl, 22, said, "I share the same interests with Cyril. When we wrote, acted in, and directed 'Beirut, I Love You' we did not expect it to attract 150,000 viewers, nor receive the awards we did."
Aris and Akl pointed out that many successful directors, such as Steven Spielberg, did not attend film school. The pair will enrol in a New York institute to study film directing, emphasising that winning international awards as amateurs validates the credibility of their work.
The series began screening in March 2011, and the pair started a second season in production which will include new characters that appear during the last three episodes of the first series.
There are slight differences between the film and television version of the story.
Akl says, "We took Tarek and Yasmin's characters from the film and added Tarek's mother and sister Farah, his friend Carlo, Yasmin's mother, and Tarek's neighbor, Hadi to the television version."
Aris said, "The common factor in all the episodes is the portrayal of the characters' daily lives and their problems. We try as much as possible to address our problems as a post-war generation."
He added, "We also address issues in dispute in Lebanon such as the status of heritage buildings and the subject of homosexuality and the religious community's position on it."
Asked about their ambition, Akl said, "Lebanese cinema is currently experiencing a prosperous start, and we want to share in it. But until we reach that stage, we will continue working on the series, and we’ll soon be filming music videos for a French artist and a band."
"We want to make a 90-minute feature film. We have something to say to the public," Aris said.
Hollywood to them is an achievable dream, but they want the film to carry a Lebanese identity. Aris said, "The idea for it is ready."