The New York City Arab and Iranian Film Festival
The first New York City Arab and Iranian Film Festival was held in New York this week between February 23 and February 25, 2000.
The 3-day long Festival featured a total of 16 films, as follows:
- Cactus: Patrick Bürge, Switzerland, 2000, 97 min.
Zuhaira Sabbagh, an Arab woman with an Israeli passport, runs a youth group in Nazareth during her free time. Armed with photographic equipment, the group goes looking for the ruins of Arab villages destroyed by the Israeli army in 1948. The photographic investigations are the way these young Arabs have chosen to peacefully resist Jewish attempts to impose their version of history and obliterate all traces of the Arab population that once lived in these villages. The peaceful exploration of this youth is met with strong opposition from the Israeli inhabitants of these villages. During her investigations Zuhaira Sabbagh runs into Swiss doctor Hans Bernath and his wife Madeleine, who have been in Israel for 50 years as delegates of the International Red Cross, living through all the most important phases of this Middle East conflict at first hand.
- Season of Men “Moussem Al Rigaal”: Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia / France, 1999, 122 min.
On the island of Djerba, "Aicha", 18, marries "Said" who works eleven months a year in Tunis. From the honeymoon on, Aicha expresses her desire to break free from the tradition of keeping house with her mother-in-law and leave with her husband for Tunis. The bold young woman proposes to weave carpets in order to earn enough money and make her dream come true. Said accepts on the condition that Aicha must first bear a son. In the beginning, the homecoming of the men, "The Season of Men", is a pretext for a celebration for which the women prepare with joy: applying henna and bathing are all set against the traditional art, costumes, and beautiful landscape of the island. Aicha gives birth to two daughters and a son, Aziz, who brings the dream closer to reality. However, this much-awaited son is autistic, a fact for which Said blames Aicha. Said sends his wife back to the old Djerba home to live with her mother-in-law, where she somberly reflects on the tragedies in her life, while trying to salvage memories of happiness and moments of friendship.
-Living in Paradise “Vivre au Paradis”: Bourlem Guerdjou, Algeria/France/Belgium/Norway, 1998, 105 min.
1961-1962, the Algerian War is under way. Lakdar, an immigrant construction worker, lives in the Nanterre shanties. He can no longer bear living alone without his wife and children whom he left behind in Southern Algeria. Once he succeeds in bringing his family to France, he starts looking for an apartment for them to have a decent life. In the mean time, he tries as best as he can to keep their heads above water and the hunger line. But he proves to be no match for the madness of misery. To obtain the apartment of his dreams, Lakdar becomes one of those profiteers who live off their fellow victims by renting sleeping spaces to them.
- Closed Doors “Al Abwab Al Moghlaqa”: Atef Hatata, Egypt / France, 1999, 105 min.
Set against the tense political atmosphere of the Gulf War, "Closed Doors" is a bleak drama of social realism. Revolving around the engrossing life of Mohammed, a teenager caught in an ever-tightening noose between incestuous longings for his beautiful mo ther and the religious fanaticism of his mentors. The film explores sexual anxieties and frustration, hypnotic religious brainwashing, the economic deprivation of the lower class to which Mohammed belongs, the exploitive hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie that the mother serves as a maid, and the flirting of Mohammed with his prostitute neighbor. Closed Doors pulls all these threads together in a narrative that, in spite of its tragic and un-redemptive conclusion, is at once compassionate and humane.
Winner: Best Actress, Best Screenplay - International Thessaloniki Film Festival,Greece; First prize - Bahrain Film Festival; Grand Prix- Montpellier Film Festival, France
- Willow and Wind: Mohammed Ali Talebi, Iran / Japan, 1999, 88 min.
The celebrated Abbas Kiarostami wrote the short story upon which Willow and Wind is based. Adults and children alike will appreciate this film about a young boy sent on a mission to replace a broken window in his schoolhouse. A fearsome storm and a torrent of bad luck threaten to thwart the determined boy, but his spirited resolve is as great as the massive window pane he carries. Talebi creates a convincing and moving world in which children doggedly face obstacles both seen and unseen.
- One More Day: Babak Payami, Iran, 1999, 75 min.
An illicit relationship and the antidote to loneliness both blossom on a Tehran bus stop bench in One More Day. Every day, a man and a woman wait at the same stop, travel the same route, and discover their growing dependence on each other in a culture that condemns interaction between the sexes. Payami presents a touching story of two people struggling against urban anonymity and personal heartache to forge a redemptive relation with each other.
- The Tornado “Al I'saar”: Samir Habchi, Lebanon, 1992, 90 min.
Controversial and banned in most Arab countries because of its religious symbolism and harrowing images of victims during Lebanon's civil war, dying Christ-like, gazing at the sky heavy with doubts and questions. "The Tornado" tells the life of Akram, an art student in the Soviet Union, who returns home for a family visit. Repulsed by the war destroying his homeland, Akram remains at first a witness to the chaos around him. However, he is slowly drawn into the cycle of violence until he commits his first murder. Akram realizes that the intensity of the civil war makes it impossible for him to stay neutral. He discovers that every observer becomes eventually a participant. In Habchi's film, Christ is killed on the roadside, in a church, as he travels with his disciples, or during a procession; he does not die alone so others might live but alongside and with his followers whom he fails to save. Cruelly, his mantle is taken and worn by a gunman who commits a horrible massacre. Habchi suggests that the death of God is an end in itself so others might no longer die in his name.
- The Circle “Dayereh”: Jafar Panahi, Iran / Italy, 2000, 90 min.
"The Circle," by prize-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi, is inspired by a true story recorded in the Iranian press, of a woman who killed her two daughters and then committed suicide. The film tells the story of eight women living in Iran, where they are not allowed to smoke in public, rent a hotel room, or ride in a car driven by a man who is not a relative. The film starts in a delivery room, where the birth of a girl is greeted with disappointment by her family. The film ends in prison, where the paths of the women finally cross. Unlike the Iranian cinematic tradition, there is little attempt at symbolism in this film, which gives a clear and vivid description of the plight of the victims, caught in the vicious cycle of "The Circle."
Winner: Golden Lion Award for best film - Venice Film Festival
- Mabrouk: Deriss Chouika, Morocco, 1999, 105 min.
The story introduces two worlds with different cultures and outlooks, symbolically at odds with each other. The world of Miloud, a humble, marginal, and eccentric craftsman, with Mabrouk, his only companion, an exceptionally perceptive and subtle donkey. The other world is the one of Lycénia, a young capricious and beautiful Westerner, daughter of a wealthy businessman. Lycénia constantly tortures her fiancé Arnold and her devoted assistant Regina. One day, fate leads Lycénia to Miloud's shop. Mabrouk, perhaps attracted by her beauty, to wink at her! Surprised then seduced, Lycénia demands to buy Mabrouk at any cost, but Miloud remains adamant: his donkey is not for sale.
- Shorts and Documentaries: Mahmoud Darwich: As the Land Is the Language
Simone Bitton and Elias Sanbar, France / Palestine, 1997, 60 min.
When the great Arab poet Mahmoud Darwich reads his works in Cairo, Beirut, or Algiers (or even in Paris and London), large crowds attend to listen to a poetry they know so well. "As the Land Is the Language," follows Darwich from the West Bank desert to Paris, via Cairo and Beirut, tracing the path of his exile from Palestine. It sets out to understand this popular fervor and to communicate the emotions distilled in Darwich's words and inimitable rhythm. This documentary not only allows the viewer to appreciate Darwich's poetic genius, but also puts his work in context politically, historically, and culturally.
- Profane Hunger: Mohammed Bayoumi, Egypt, 1923, 10 min. Silent short
Directed by one of the early pioneers of Egyptian silent cinema, Profane Hunger narrates the travails of Barsoum as he seeks employment and endures the pain of hunger and homelessness. A touching portrayal of a poor district of Cairo in the early 1920s, Profane Hunger stands out as a rare and eloquent essay in Egyptian cinematic history.
- Out of Place: Azza Al-Hassan, Palestine, 1999, 5 min.
In "Out of Place," images conjure up places that haunt the director Azza Al-Hassan. Be it heaven, hell, or earth, each space evokes the spirits of the past, present, and future, amalgamating history, geography, and fantasy into an experience that is unique, subjective, intimate and truthful.
- Ali and His Friends: Subhi Zbeidi, Palestine, 1999; 10 min.
Subhi Zbeidi believes that dreams come true for those who wish them and that hope is redeeming even in the most abject of situations. Ali and his friends, from the Jalazone refugee camp, near Ramallah in the West Bank, make one of their dreams come true and will take on the others one at a time.
- Upside Down “Maqlubeh”: Rachid Mashharawi, Palestine, 1999, 10 min.
Maqlubeh, Upside Down, is the name of a traditional Palestinian dish. Rachid Mashharawi uses the theme of food to explore the complexity of Palestinian identity with disarming humor and sharp wit. With the bucolic freshness of his shots, the director reaches his goal through his depiction of rural simplicity.
- Cyber Palestine: Elia Suleiman, Palestine, 1999, 10 min.
Elia Suleiman builds his impressions of Palestine on the religious tradition of the journey of Joseph and Mary before the birth of Jesus. Cyber Palestine transposes the story to modern times and uses the metaphor of displacement to ponder over present-day realities. Wrought with caustic humor and provocative freshness, "Cyber Palestine" addresses the tribulations of fate, encouraging his viewers to rethink history, lived or handed down.
- The Red Chewing Gum “Al 'Elka-l-Hamraa”: Akram Zaatari, Lebanon, 2000, 10 min.
A video letter inspired by a story of separation between two men. A visual essay on departure, adulthood and sexuality set within the context of a changing popular culture and transformed urban environment.
The festival also was accompanied with a number of discussions:
Panel discussion: Alia Arasoughly, Patrick Bürge, Joseph Massad.
Discussion with Samir Habchy.
Panel discussion: Mustapha Darwich, Caroleen Khalil, Magda Wassef.
Discussion with Moufida Tlatli.
Discussion with Deriss Chouika.
Panel discussion: Suzanne Fedak, Rodney Hill, Richard Pea, Magda Wassef.
Discussion "On Iranian Cinema" by Hamid Dabashi—Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)