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A true slice of Arab life in DIFF short-list for Muhr Arab Feature competition

Tue Nov 24,2009

Two football-themed movies join the finest selection of movies from the Arab world including a Critic Week Winner at Cannes in the short-list for Dubai International Film Festival’s Muhr Arab Features Awards this year.

The eleven films were selected from an array of entries from Arab filmmakers from the Gulf, Levant and Maghreb nations as well as Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

DIFF Director of Arab Programme, Erfan Rashid, said the feature films cherry-picked for the Muhr Arab Awards signal the creative excellence that marks Arab filmmakers. “Their canvas is sweeping and the subject matter is picked from the life around them. Their narratives are not only about war and strife, themes traditionally associated with Arab cinema. They also bring out the lighter and breezy side of every-day living.”

He added: “These films offer a unique insight into the Arab world, as perceived by today’s filmmakers, and will dispel the misconceptions associated with the region – one of the founding objectives of DIFF and celebrating the theme of ‘Bridging Cultures.’”

Much awaited by movie lovers will be Nassim Amaouche’s debut feature Farewell Gary, awarded the Critics Week Prize at Cannes. Amaouche’s poetic film dwells on the life, hopes and dreams of a family in a post-industrial French suburb and features a brilliant French-Arab cast that includes Jean-Pierre Bacri, Dominique Reymond, Yasmine Belmadi and Alexandre Bonnin.

The film revolves around conscientious Francis, his recently freed ex-con son Samir, neighbour (and Francis’ illicit lover) Maria and her imaginative son José – who deals with escapes into a Wild West fantasy world where his father is cowboy hero Gary Cooper.

Swel Noury and Imad Noury’s The Man Who Sold The World, set in a war-torn zone is a modern day interpretation of the classic Dostoevsky story “a weak heart”, which narrates the journey of a young man who gives up his idyllic existence for a nightmarish spiral into insanity.

The debut of Cherien Dabis is another much-awaited movie, Amreeka, which chronicles the adventures of Muna, a single mother who leaves the Palestinian West Bank with Fadi, her teenage son, with dreams of an exciting future in the promised land of small-town Illinois.  In the heart of the Midwest, the Arab newcomers arouse a variety of reactions – but as her son navigates high school hallways the way he used to move through military checkpoints, the indomitable Muna scrambles together a new life cooking up falafel burgers at the local White Castle fast-food joint. A Dubai Film Connection 2007 project, Amreeka made its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the prestigious FIPRESCI International Federation of Film Critics prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

This year’s competition features two football-themed movies One-Zero from Egypt, set against the backdrop of the nail-biting 2008 African Nations Cup final, and Kick Off, in which a friendly football match turns into tragedy.

Kamla Abu Zekry’s pacy treatment of One-Zero, is reminiscent of the classic era of Egyptian cinema. The eight main protagonists, drawn from across all strata of Cairene society, demonstrate that the football-crazy city exerts a pervasive effect on the kaleidoscopic array of characters.

Filmmaker Shawkat Amin Korki’s Kick Off sees an idealist, Asu, arranging a football match between Kurdish and Iraqi boys living in a half-destroyed Iraqi football stadium, only when the big day arrives, the lives of all involved are thrown into chaos when unforeseen tragedy strikes. Kick Off won the New Currents prize on its debut at Pusan Film Festival and Dubai hosts its second screening.

The lives of three women clash when they take the same bus for a day’s journey inland to a Beirut men’s prison in Everyday is a Holiday, directed by Dima El-horr. Together, the women face a terrifying catastrophe along the way. The film was screened as part of the Discovery segment at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, where El-horr was described as a major new voice in the cinema of the Middle East,’ and Every Day is a Holiday as ‘a striking debut with a strong perspective, smart formal choices and real heart.

Unlucky, from Director Fatma-Zohra Zamoum, provides a brilliant insight into modern-day Algeria, through the viewpoint of three distinct protagonists, photographer Alia, ageing writer Cherif and taxi driver Farid. Zamoun’s stylish film heralds a significant watermark in Algerian cinema. Zamoum plays herself in this highly original and intriguing debut, interweaving a documentary-style account of her return to Algeria to shoot her film, employing members of her family along the way, with three mysterious, artfully-shot, fictional narratives.

Algeria also comes under the spotlight in Harragas, veteran director Merzak Allouache’s tense drama set in the port city of Mostaganem. The film focuses on three refugees, Rachid, Nasser and Imene who pay a smuggler, Hassan, to take them to Spain in his rickety boat. The title refers to the hordes of refugees, the ‘Harragas’, who smuggle themselves out of the country via any means possible.

Acclaimed director Michel Khleif’s Zindeeq, a world premier, is a story of a Palestinian filmmaker, ‘M’, who returns from Europe to Ramallah to film witness accounts of the 1948 Nakba. It not only explores the events of that tumultuous era, but places them in context with the uncertainty and tension of present-day Palestine. Witty, complex and occasionally surreal, the film presents a novel depiction of an exile’s relationship with Palestine.

Rounding off the entries is Nile Birds from Egypt, in which Abdul Rahim moves from his village to the bright lights of the city in search of love. The film is directed by Magdy Ahmed Aly.

Now in its sixth year, DIFF 2009 is held in association with Dubai Studio City and will be held from December 9 to 16.  Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airline and Madinat Jumeirah are the principal sponsors of DIFF and the event is supported by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture).

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