Sun Nov 17,2013

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) today announced the line-up of shortlisted documentaries for its coveted Muhr Arab Documentary Award, which will recognize the Best Film, Special Jury Prize and Best Director for the year’s freshest and most daring Arab documentaries.

Established in 2006, the Muhr Arab Awards reward innovation and artistry in Arab cinema, nurturing talent and promoting new stories on the festival’s international platform.

This year’s field proves without a doubt that creative documentary the use of personal perspectives and experimental techniques to tell a non-fiction story has taken hold in the Arab world, said DIFF’s Artistic Director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali.

He continued: “Documentary has always been strong in the region, but we are now seeing an artistic freedom and poetic sensibility that brings another dimension to the way the region is portrayed. This year’s documentaries reflect the ethos of change currently rocking the Arab world. The stories are giant, sweeping political stories told in the intimate detail of the lives of individuals living through events that have changed the face of the region over the past decades. Documentary is the ideal tool to uncover the lives affected by grand historical narratives, and this year’s Muhr Arab field is packed with vivid testimony that the personal truly is political.”

In Sarah Francis’ Birds of September, a camera ‘hidden’ behind glass explores the streets of Beirut in a van. Along the way, people are invited to share a personal moment in this moving confessional, which is brazenly public and startlingly intimate at the same time.

My Love Awaits Me by the Sea, by Mais Darwazah, is a poetic documentary narrating the director’s first journey to her homeland. Following an imaginary lover, Hasan, a Palestinian artist, she discovers a beautiful and utopian world where fairytale and reality interweave in a powerful statement on the need to believe in dreams.

My Name is Mostafa Khamis, by Mohamed Elkaliouby, uncovers documents hidden for more than sixty years that reveal the events behind the August, 1952 strike at the Kafr Eldawar mills in Egypt. Following hard on the July protests of that year, the strike raised hopes for the working poor, but resulted in the execution of two of the mill’s labourers. In another reflection on the past, Searching for Saris by Jinan Coulter is a film in search of the interconnections between past and present, Nakba and occupation, and a testimony to the persistent dream of return. It shifts between the stories of Saris refugees in Qalandiya Refugee Camp in the West Bank, and fragments of a car journey by three of the refugees in a powerful metaphor of loss and exploration of the past.

Imprisoned women, whether mothers or daughters, take center stage in Scheherazade’s Diary, a documentary filmed throughout the drama therapy/theatre project set up by Zeina Daccache in 2012 in Lebanon s’ Baabda Prison. The women inmates mine the depths of personal experience and confront patriarchy as they prepare and present the first theatre play staged inside an Arab women’s prison.

Underground on the Surface, by Salma Al Tarzi, follows three stars of the new, underground Mahraganat hybrid musical genre. Despite their fame, Oka, Ortega, and Wezza are not accepted by respectable society. But as they gain notoriety, they are torn between going mainstream in search of money and fame, or rebelling against mainstream values to maintain a truly revolutionary musical genre.

The Mulberry House is an intensely personal documentation of the journey taken by its director, Sara Ishaq, back to her father’s house in Yemen after an absence of ten years. She accidentally lands in the heart of an emerging revolution, and at the same time revolutionizes her own place in Yemeni society, including her relationship with her father and grandfather.

Reflective of recent regional happenings personal reflections on the impact of conflict is a strong theme in this year’s submissions. The Square, by Jehane Noujaim, is the story of the Egyptian revolution from behind the headlines. From the 2011 overthrow of a 30-year dictator to the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi in the summer of 2013, the film follows young revolutionaries armed with nothing more than cameras, social media and a willingness to sacrifice all to liberate their society from oppression.

Waves, by Ahmed Nour, is another personal film that depicts the Egyptian revolution as starting in Suez, already a departure from the conventional media focus on Tahrir Square. But that is not the film’s only unique point: Waves portrays five special periods of the director’s life as waves, and uses voiceover, animation and a poetic, experimental style to add Nour’s unique voice to the narrative of Egypt’s chaotic period of change.

Mohamed Amine Boukhris’ War Reporter follows six conflict reporters through the violence and upheaval of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria since the beginning of the Arab Spring. The film asks what drives these journalists to risk injury or death to capture the very heart of the action. Taking a different perspective on this theme, Bloody Beans, by producer/director Narimane Mari Benamer, is a creative documentary that uses the unusual device of children’s play to illustrate the deep-set trauma of the conflict that has consumed Algeria for decades.

Heritages is an endearing family story that unfolds in the turmoil of the Levant. When director Philippe Aractingi is forced to leave his motherland for the third time, the realisation dawns on him: his ancestors have been fleeing wars for five generations. Exploring his roots, Aractingi goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of Israel and the Lebanese Civil War.

Moving away from the focus on conflict, The River, by Abdenour Zahzah, follows the mighty El Oued river from its sources in the peaks of the Atlas of Blida to the mouth in the Mediterranean a few kilometres from the capital Algiers, exploring the many faces of Algeria and a wealth of human relationships and traditions.

Dalila Ennadre, who received a Dubai Film Connection award in 2011, returns to DIFF with a new documentary, Walls and People, which takes the viewer to a series of homes in Casablanca to speak to their inhabitants about topics such as illegal immigration, sexuality, unemployment and relations between North and the South.

Diala Kachmar’s Guardians of Time Lost excavates the world of marginalized young men known as the ‘thugs of Al Lija’ in Beirut. At once bullies and security guards, gangsters and law enforcers, their world exemplifies the complexities of social and political realities in Lebanon.

Erfan Rashid, Director of the Arabic Programme added: “The line-up of 15 documentaries in competition this year are powerful and hard-hitting that showcase an impressive range of storytelling from talented filmmakers. The common theme is of course the wider revolutions that have engulfed the Arab world over the last year and will put many of these works on the map. The Muhr competition continues to be innovative, exciting and audiences will see situations unfolding from a unique perspective”.

The Muhr Arab Documentary prizes will be presented at the closing ceremony of the tenth annual festival, to be held December 6 to 14, 2013.

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