Everyday Heroes: Cinema That Builds Bridges

Mon Nov 10,2008

Cultural Bridge Films Span Culture and Nationality to Appeal to the Human Element in All of Us

The Dubai International Film Festival today announced its lineup of films for the iconic ‘Cultural   Bridge’ programming segment, which epitomizes the festival’s credo ‘Building Bridges, Meeting Minds.’

The eight films presented in the segment represent a global search and include a selection of feature films, and documentaries, reflective of vast cultural differences and realities.

Hannah   Fisher, Programmer of the Cultural Bridge segment, expanded on her choices for the 2008 edition of DIFF: “Each year, we have the opportunity to scour the international landscape searching for films that articulate heightened sensitivity to our similarities rather than differences, promote the spirit of inclusiveness, and stimulate open ended dialogue with what we hope will be the attitude of compassion and truth.  Our goal is to create a lasting impact, and to prove without doubt that one solitary person can move mountains.  Seven of the films selected this year are based on true events, and the stories they tell will reach out to viewers by speaking of mutual humanity, compassion,  and hope in the face of adversity.”

Two films delve into the use of art, music and performance as a tool for life-affirming social change: Marco Pontecorvo’s debut feature Pa Ra Da chronicles the efforts of Miloud, a young circus clown living in Paris who resolves to help the street children of Bucharest.  He begins by entertaining them, coaxing out smiles, laughter and trust.  Eventually Miloud was able to teach the children clowning techniques, and the group performed in the main square of Bucharest.  By 1996, Miloud had established ‘Fundatia Parada’, an organization dedicated to providing shelter for children, as well as being an official circus company that performs for underprivileged children throughout Europe.

Pa Ra Da has been selected as the Gala film representing the Country Focus program dedicated this year to the cinema of Italy.

The World Premiere screening of El Sistema bears witness to the extraordinary work of Jose Antonio Abreu,  a man who believed that music could break the chains of poverty. Over a period of thirty years, Abreu established a variety of ambitious music programmes for children of the Venezuelan barrios.  The children of El Sistema - as they studied and practiced to make Western classical music their own - are enchanting, joyful, bursting with curiosity,  inspiration and hope.

Immigration and exile from ones homeland are both critical issues of our contemporary world, and ably represented in two films of the Cultural   Bridge program. An assured,  sweet feature from Uberto Pasolini, Machan is based on the true story of 23 Sri Lankans who vanished in Bavaria after a handball tournament.

Stanley is a fruit seller in Colombo, Sri Lanka whose get-rich-quick schemes have only succeeded in bringing his family to the brink of bankruptcy. When he hears that there will be a handball tournament in Germany,  Stanley coerces his erstwhile friends into forming the Sri Lankan National Handball Federation,  despite knowing nothing about the sport. Hijinx ensue as it becomes glaringly obvious that our “handball players” had their own agendas.

Return to Hansala begins with several bodies washing up on the Spanish shore near the coastal town of Algeciras. One of them is the young brother of Leila, a refugee, who had encouraged him to risk the boat crossing against their family’s wishes. Leila decides to repatriate his body and face the wrath of her parents. Teaming up with Spanish undertaker Martin, she embarks on the hazardous trip back home to the mountain village   of Hansala in the Moroccan countryside.  

The Stone of Destiny marries past and present with a story that revolves around a national symbol - the Destiny Stone of Scotland.  In 1296 the Stone was seized by King Edward I and taken to Westminster Abbey where it was housed, representing the potency of British rule over Scotland.   Fast-forward to Glasgow in 1950. Ian Hamilton, a passionate young Scottish nationalist is hatching a plan to “repatriate” the Stone from Westminster Abbey, along with a group of unruly student friends. Unbelievably, they succeed. England awakes on Christmas Day to find the Stone of Scotland has vanished, which infuriates the English, and delights the Scots.

From New Zealand, Apron Strings uses food as a metaphor for maternal love in parallel stories which all focus on familial strife. Lorna - born and bred in New Zealand - supports three generations of her family through her old fashioned cake-shop. Tara, closely aligned to her traditional Sikh heritage, is queen of her no-frills curry house. Tara’s estranged sister Anita holds court on her stylish Indian cooking program, but her perfectly controlled world crumbles when her only son Michael discovers Tara and ignites the inevitable confrontation between the sisters. No matter how tightly they are tied, the apron strings must be cut loose.

Heart of Jenin is the story of an act of compassion, a defining moment in life that takes place amid the chaos and conflict of the Israeli-occupied West   Bank. 12-year old Ahmed Khatib was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in 2005 as he played in the Jenin refugee camp. Following Ahmed’s death, his father, Ismael Khatib, donated Ahmed’s organs to critically ill children throughout the region, including an Orthodox Jew, a Bedouin and a Druze.  In the process, the Ahmed Khatib Centre For Peace was established for the children of Jenin. Ismael Khatib is currently working on a project called Cinema Jenin, an initiative to re-open the main cinema hall in Jenin, to serve the children and the camp inhabitants.

Recent awards for Heart of Jenin include the DEFA German Competition Award at the Leipzig Documentary Festival, and the Premiere Award at the Vallodolid International Festival in Spain.

Skin, selected as the Gala film for the Cultural Bridge program, is the narrative debut of award-winning documentarian Anthony Fabian. A true story, Skin, explores the grim absurdities of apartheid South Africa.  A white Afrikaner couple has a baby that is legally classified as black. Young Sandra Laing faces a lifetime subjected to the cruelties of segregation, despite her white family. Her parents stoically fight to overturn governmental oppression, but when Sandra at age 17 falls in love and elopes with Petrus, a black man; her father and brother disown her. Sophie Okonedo as Sandra stretches into the full spectrum of her character, from traumatic childhood through to maturity and her eventual life as a proud African woman.

Each film in this segment comes from a different country. They bring to light some of the global issues faced by different societies and cultures today. They highlight the enthusiasm and optimism for life that survive in societies despite the hardships of disadvantage, racism and war. Through their introduction, they leave you with messages of tolerance, understanding, optimism and faith.

The Dubai International Film Festival will run from December 11 to 18, 2008.

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