Arab Spring, Freedom, and Family
Central Themes for Arab Films at the 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival
Arab spring and its aftermath; the growing concerns of people constantly pursuing the optimal change; freedom, thoughtful debates and social security; family and its ongoing transformations; life, love and their intersection; confronting political oppression and future uncertainties and the prerogatives of its mass divisions…
These are some of the major themes underlining the concerns of some outstanding Arab directors who have made exceptional, eye-opening films that have been announced today, October 1, 2013, as part of the 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival program. It is becoming increasingly evident that there’s a strong yet selective Arab film production surge emerging from the region, with youth comprising the majority of its promising filmmakers who have made best use of generous contributions from development funds which have become an essential ingredient to a thriving, sustainable Arab film industry -- by increasing local film productions, organizing influential film markets, fostering international collaborations, ensuring a strong presence in key film fests around the word and holding screenings in some of the world’s most popular film theaters to celebrate Arab filmmakers and their growing aspirations.
THE NARRATIVE COMPETITION
A great example of the evolving cinematic style coming from the region is Egyptian director Ahmed Abdullah’s triumphant Rags and Tatters selected in the Narrative Competition. It was received with considerable media praise in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) before playing at the Official Competition at the London Film Festival, which starts on October 9. From the visionary director of Heliopolis (2009), and Microphone (2010), the film uses a semi-documentary style with minimal dialogue and intriguing characters, to tell the touching stories of citizens ravaged by severe political incidents, driving them to seek real change, freedom and means to defeat their despair by maximizing the power of the youth to write a new history for a country in turmoil. The story centers around the protagonist, Asser Yassin, who manages to escape from prison after the assault on prisons during the 2011 uprisings, and his relentless search for safety and ways to end his oppression – a representation of a huge sector of Egyptians seeking to get hold of their aspirations.
Similarly, Algerian veteran Merzak Allouache has brilliantly depicted the everyday life in the Algerian capital and the worries, hopes and aspirations of its inhabitants as seen from rooftops. A unique dramatic storytelling style comes into play in another fascinating film from the director of Omar Gatlato (1971) and the Repentant (2012): Es-Stouh weaves very different stories together in a unique style that stays true to popular storytelling. Through five social moments, the film brilliantly points out to a political discussion on the verge of exploding.
From Iraq, visionary directors Mohamed Al Darradji and Hiner Salim have chosen two different stories about the despotism of politics and the brutal robbing of social security. Following his two recent films, Ahlam (2006), and Son of Babylon (2010), Darradji chose to once again confront the previous Iraqi regime in his latest film In the Sands of Babylon by selecting a pivotal historical angle during the Kuwaiti war, and what followed as a popular uprising that prevailed in southern Iraq. The story focuses on a young Iraqi soldier who was suspected to be one of the rebels after he deserted his military uniform during the bloody turmoil. A compelling look at love and power, Hiner Selim's My Sweet Pepper Land, previously shown in "Un Certain Regard" at the Cannes Film Festival (May 2013), recounts a love affair between a young Kurdish teacher (Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) who decides to teach in a remote village at the intersection of borders between Iran, Iraq and Turkey, and the handsome police chief who gives up his prominent position in Erbil and ends up living between mountains, dissidents and smugglers, before he falls in love.
NEW HORIZONS: EMERGING TALENTS
Playing at this year’s New Horizons Competition, Tunisian director Nejib Belkadhi’s latest work Bastardo is an engaging drama centered around the young foundling, Mohsen, who fights people's indifference towards him by coming up with a smart idea nobody can deny as he joins his friend Khalifa in installing GSM device that enables villagers to use their mobile phones and captures their hearts.
Palestinian Rani Masalha’s Giraffada is a melodrama about the relationship between the young Ziad and the two giraffes in the Qalqilya Zoo, before Israeli missiles kill the male giraffe. With rare persistence and with the help of his father, widower vet Yassin (Saleh Bakry), Ziad seeks to find a replacement for the lovely female giraffe. Except that there’s one problem: the only choice is available in the Israeli Zoo Ramat Gan Safari!!
Egyptian director Ayten Amin brings a closer look at life, illness and death, in her debut feature Villa 69, an intriguing story of Hussein who lives in voluntary seclusion before it is breached by people with contradictory intentions, like his sister and his nephew, Seif, who dramatically change his ideologies and lead him to come up with new reflections on love, relationships and emotional needs.
A strong showcase of an emerging Arab talent, Iraqi Kurdish filmmaker Hisham Zaman’s first film Before Snowfall tackles honor crimes, told through an engaging road drama that focuses on Siyar’s persistent attempts to chase his sister, Nermin, who defied her parents and fled to Europe to marry her lover. But when he meets the young girl Evin who is on a quest to find her father who had abandoned her as a child, he comes to realize new things that lead up to his “upcoming crime”.
This year’s documentary competition slate features intriguing and thought provoking titles. Poverty, misery and despair are at the heart of Tunisian documentary El Gort by Hamza Ouni who uses the film as a visual diary of people in a small town, living under difficult conditions where poverty, unemployment and hopelessness are prevailing.
A fascinating look at fear, occupation and terrorism, is brought along by Iraqi director Kassem Abed (known for the gripping documentary Life after the Fall) whose Whispers of the Cities, a 3-part documentary that required ten years of work between Ramallah, Baghdad, Erbil and Kurdistan, deals with the facets of life under occupation and terrorist attacks and appalling daily deaths.
Egyptian director Sherief El Katsha will take audiences to an immersive journey to the ever changing, crowded but buzzing Cairo, in his third work Cairo Drive - a documentary shot between 2009 and 2012 which recalls the significant changes the city went through before the January 25 revolution, and the incredible aftermath seen through the eyes of taxi drivers and their passengers.
Adding a fresh look and an analytical docu-style to this year’s slate, Lebanese filmmaker and critic Mohamed Soueid (Tango of Yearningand MyHeartBeatsOnly forHer) returns with Hanging Dates Under Aleppo’s Citadel (aka The Boy from Aleppo), rendering a portrait of a young man whose father was improsined by the Syrian secret police in the early 1980s as he recounts his experiences in the revolution, starting as a singer in mass protests before ending up a fighter in the streets of Aleppo.
Ziad Al Khozai