Best of contemporary cinema focused on the Arab world by international directors in DIFF 2010 ‘Arabian Nights’ slate

Wed Nov 24,2010

The Festival’s Arabian Nights segment, a DIFF mainstay since its 2004 debut, this year includes dramas, comedies, musicals and thrillers by international directors depicting slices of life in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, Algeria and Mauritania. They include two world premieres, one international premiere, six that are new to the Middle East and two new to the Gulf region; and a host of unusual collaborations.

Set in Iraq but made in Italy, 20 Cigarettes is the story of one man’s journey back from the brink of death. The film pivots on a 2003 suicide bomb attack on a police station in Nasiriyah. Italian Aureliano Amadei, newly arrived in Iraq as part of a film shoot, is part of a group of men targeted in a truck-bomb blast within hours of his arrival. The seriously wounded Amadei was the only survivor, and the autobiographical film is his story.

Two documentaries look at the cathartic power of cinema. Made in the Netherlands, Baghdad Film School is the true story of Iraqi-born filmmakers Maysoon Pachachi and Kasim Abid, who decided to open the first independent film school in Iraq only a few months after its liberation. The powerful film charts the lives of a group of young Iraqi students who try to fulfill their dreams of making films in the midst of chaos, fear, death and hardship.

Farther north in Iraqi Kurdistan, British filmmaker Mark Cousins discovers that despite being a thriving community, the people of Goptapa are still haunted by Saddam Hussein’s genocidal massacres. While trying to capture the village’s collective memories of war, Cousins manages to tap the fertile imaginations of its children. His documentary, The First Movie, documents the children’s joy and excitement as they encounter cinema for the first time and then start to create their own short stories.

Also set in Iraqi Kurdistan, Bullet Time tells the story of two humanitarian workers who brave curfew to save their interpreter’s son, wounded by a landmine. All through the night, lives are shattered, secrets told and knots undone as they race destiny.

The Flowers of Kirkuk, probably one of the first Italian-Iraqi film collaborations to date, looks onto star-crossed lovers and doctors Najla and Sherko who know they can’t be together as one is Kurdish and the other from a prominent Arab family. Meanwhile, a handsome officer in Saddam’s army is also ardently pursuing Najla, adding to the love triangle.

In Cairo, director Sérgio Tréfaut’s The City of the Dead takes a closer look at the sprawl of ancient tombs, mausoleums, and crypts in the heart of the city. The area, dubbed ‘El Arafa’ (The Cemetery), by the locals, is also home to a community of nearly a million Cairenes living amongst the long-dead. The film takes viewers into the heart of this thriving necropolis, exploring the lives of its diverse inhabitants.

In Fragments of a Lost Palestine, filmmaker Norma Marcos tries to show her friend Stefan how normal people try to live normal lives outside of the occupation, and that there is a vibrant side of Palestine that exists outside of grim reports of violence and war.
Iranian director Taha Karimi sets his first, beautifully filmed, dramatic feature against the violent yet stunning backdrop of the Qandil mountains, where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq meet. The Qandil Mountains, featuring veteran stage and screen actor Qotbeddin Sadeqi, attempts to draw the common concerns that link Arab with Kurd, Turkmen with Persian.
Antonia Carver, Consultant for DIFF’s Arab Programme, said: “These are incredibly diverse stories, yet the films are universal in their approach, focusing on individuals, families and communities, and touching on the extraordinary within these ‘ordinary’ situations. If we had to look for one constant, it would be the integrity and bravery of the filmmakers and their crews, who have made films in the most extreme of circumstances, with total humanity, making for such rich and compelling films.”
Masoud Amralla Al Ali, Artistic Director of the Dubai International Film Festival, said: “The films in this year’s Arabian Nights programme have an entirely different approach. We’re seeing foreign films based in the region and starring Arabs and non-Arabs, Arab films starring celebrated stage actors, and Arab films made entirely outside the region. People are experimenting more, and the results are very worthwhile discoveries.”

Arabian Nights 2010 also includes Il Padre E Lo Straniero (The Father and the Foreigner) by Ricky Tognazzi, a suspenseful drama from top crime novelist Giancarlo De Cataldo involving a rich Syrian businessman based in Rome who finds himself accused of terrorism. The film, starring the Arab world’s Nadine Labaki and Amr Waked alongside Alessandro Gassman, follows a Roman bureaucrat with a handicapped son who strikes up a friendship with the businessman, also the father of a severely handicapped boy, which ends in a chase through the crowded streets of Rome.

Mohammed Soudani’s El Mektoub (Taxiphone), about a young Swiss couple whose truck breaks down halfway through the Algerian desert leaving them to come to terms with the surrounding community, is also a Middle East premiere. As the days wear on, the couple adapt to their surroundings in different ways. Ultimately, the pair are forced to question their own lives and fundamental beliefs – and are forced to make life-changing decisions. 

Finally, Adrift: People of a Lesser God, is the story of an incredible odyssey made by multiple Pulitzer Prize-nominee undercover journalist Dominique Mollard as he sailed with 38 African migrants from Mauritania on a quest to reach Europe and a better life.  All aboard are packed together in a leaky fishing canoe as they set off on their harrowing journey.

The seventh edition of Dubai International Film Festival 2010 will be held from December 12 to 19; the box office will open in late November. DIFF 2010 is held in association with Dubai Studio City. Dubai Duty Free, Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airline and Madinat Jumeirah, the home of the Dubai International Film Festival, are the principal sponsors of DIFF. The event is supported by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority.

The DIFF 2010 Box Office is now open.

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