Thu Nov 27,2008

First Year of New Muhr Competition Offers Magic, Love and the Pain of Youth

The Dubai International Film Festival has selected fifteen feature films that will compete in the new Muhr AsiaAfrica awards, introduced this year to encourage filmmaking in emerging markets.

Nashen Moodly, Director of DIFF’s AsiaAfrica Programming Segment, stated: “The Muhr AsiaAfrica Awards received over 450 submissions from 111 countries, which extends DIFF’s mandate of inspiring and encouraging up and coming talent. There are a number of debut features in competition, as well as prize-winners from festivals earlier in the year. Festival goers have a chance with the Awards to be able to see films that will be immensely popular next year as they are being discovered—a perfect reason to come to DIFF and be exposed to the freshest new cinema the world has to offer.”

Films from three different cultures focus on the human fascination with magic as a healing force. Heaven On Earth, by acclaimed director Deepa Mehta,  portrays Chand (Preity Zeita), an Indian girl in an abusive arranged marriage with Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj), an Indian émigré living in Canada.  When a friend gives Chand a magical tree root, it leads Chand into a parallel existence. Baksy (Native Dancer) introduces Aidai, an old Kazakh lady widely known for her powers of second sight who is evicted her from her home on land belonging to rich businessman Batyr. When Batyr’s son is kidnapped,  he realizes that his only hope lies in locating her again. Director Vinh Son Nguyen’s Trang Noi day Gieng (Moon at the Bottom of the Well) introduces Hanh, a dutiful wife in a rural Vietnamese village. Her childlessness plunges her into scandal and despair until she meets a mysterious spiritual guide.

The transformative power of love suffuses two of the offerings: Turkish actress Ayca Damagci plays herself in Gitmek (Marlon and Brando), based on true events during the US invasion of Iraq.  In love with Kurdish Iraqi actor Hama Ali, Ayca decides against all advice to make her way to Iraq and Hama through some of the most dangerous territory in the region. In Kyuka (Vacation),  Hirai is a prison guard whose monotonous life is lightened only by his upcoming marriage. But first Hirai must act as a supporter to a prisoner scheduled for execution. In Treeless Mountain, a semi-autobiographical story from director So Yong Kim, two girls are sent from relative to relative by their impoverished mother. They finally arrive at their grandparents’ farm, where the two neglected innocents find security and love.

The urban/rural divide looms large in three other selections: in Teza, Anberber returns to Ethiopia after several years studying medicine in Germany, and finds that even the peace of the countryside is no refuge from violence. Asa, the main character of Tulpan,  is a shepherd in Kazakhstan,  and is in love with his beautiful neighbour Tulpan. But a wind of change blows,  and Asa has to decide whether to stay in the simple steppe life or try his luck in the city. In izulu Lami (My Secret Sky), young orphans Tembi and Kwezi’s thieving aunt sells their possessions and abandons them. Tembi convinces her brother to hitchhike to the terrifying metropolis of Durban, where they find themselves adrift.

Two films explore politics in the Subcontinent: Indian actress Nandita Das (Fire,  Naalu Pennungal), makes her directorial debut with Firaaq, an ensemble drama based on the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Ramchand Pakistani is Pakistani director Mehreen Jabbar’s debut feature, based on a true story. Tension along the Indo-Pakistani border is high when Ramchand, a Pakistani Hindu boy, stumbles over the border into India with his father in search of him. Their subsequent incarceration provides emotional heft to this story of international relations gone wrong.

The status of young people caught between childhood and adolescence is epitomized in several films in the competition: Zimbabwe is a harrowing tale of poverty, migration and exploitation by director Darrell James Roodt (Cry, the Beloved Country). Zimbabwe,  a 19-year old orphan in a remote Zimbabwean village, escapes slavery by emigrating illegally to South   Africa, but faces an uncertain future living in fear of the law and at the mercy of her employers. 3 Doa 3 Cinta (Pesantren—3 Wishes 3 Loves) is set in a small village in Indonesia where three teenage friends’ adolescent hopes and dreams change following September 11, when they are arrested on suspicion of belonging to terror organizations. Aram Bash Va Ta Haft Beshmar (Be Calm and Count to Seven) depicts Motu, one of the dozens of young men retrieving stashes of contraband along the beaches of Iran at night. Pressure mounts in this debut feature by director Ramtin Lavafipour. Dada (Dada’s Dance),  by trailblazing Chinese director Zhang Yuan, is a portrait of a young girl’s search for her own identity amidst self-doubt, insecurity and victimization by her stepfather.

The Muhr AsiaAfrica Awards enjoy their first year of competition at DIFF 2008, which runs from December 11 to 18.

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