Sat Dec 06,2008

Memory, Identity, War and Love Examined in 15 Fascinating Films at DIFF

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), celebrating the third year of its Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema, invites audience members to immerse themselves in compelling characters, bizarre situations and daring exploits in the dramatic Documentaries in Competition segment.

DIFF’s Arab Programme Consultant Erfan Rashid said: “The Muhr Documentaries let viewers feel the pulse of the Arab world. The films offer hard-hitting commentary on pressing issues, like the recent war on Lebanon; histories that might otherwise be forgotten, like Moroccan ‘comfort women;’ and psychological issues like memory and exile that are difficult to put in words, let alone in images. For topical cinema, these films cannot be beat.”

Two stories of family life in the midst of chaos prove that laughter and love can flourish in the most unlikely locations. In Hayat Ma Baad al Suqoot (Life After the Fall), Iraqi director Kasim Abid charts the optimism of 2003 Baghdad descending into despair through the struggles of his exuberant, eccentric family. Likewise, Engi Wassef’s Marina of the Zabbaleen presents an innocent and dynamic 11-year old girl who lives in Zabbaleen village, where over 2,000 tonnes of refuse arrives each day to be sorted, recycled or destroyed.

Apres la Guerre, C’est Toujours la Guerre (After the War…) is a unique perspective on the Lebanese war of 2006 by director Samir Abdallah, who documents a group of journalists trying to launch a newspaper despite the siege. Samaan Bildayaa (One Man Village) is first-time Lebanese director Simon El Habre’s documentary on the life of his elderly uncle, the only remaining inhabitant of a small village outside Beirut. El Habre highlights the impact of the country’s 15-year civil war on countless similar towns left deserted and ruined.

Three films excavate turbulent pasts that continue to affect the present: La Chine est Encore Loin (China is Still Far), by director Malek Bensmail,  visits a small village to unearth stories that reflect the Algerian struggle to define a future while dealing with the legacies of the past. Nos Lieux Interdits (Our Forbidden Places) charts journalist Leila Kilani’s three-year investigation into the lives of families making their way through Morocco’s Equity and Reconciliation Commission on state-sponsored disappearances. Hanna Musleh’s Thakirat al Sabbar: Hikayat Thalath Qura Falasteenia (Memory Of The Cactus: A Story of Three Palestinian Villages) is an account of three Palestinian villages that were razed in 1967 to make a park for Israelis.

A fascinating window into society of two Middle Eastern countries is offered by Madeenatain Wa Sijn (Two Cities and a Prison), which follows an interactive theatre group’s 2008 Syrian tour, where they stimulated audience discussion on taboo issues and visited a jail where prisoners recounted their stories in a play, providing a fascinating commentary about contemporary Syria. In Hakim Belabbes’s Hazihi al Ayadi (These Hands), globalisation is on the march, but age-old traditions and customs are still an integral part of Moroccan life.

Photography and its impact on story-telling and history are explored in Open Shutters Iraq, which chronicles a photography project where Iraqi women created photo diaries of their lives. Film maker Maysoon Pachachi focuses on the project’s manager, who risked death and physical harm to travel across Iraq in search of participants. Abdelsalam Shehada’s Ela Aby (To My Father) is a deeply personal film that looks back at fifty years of Palestinian history through photographs, reportage and the voices of the photographers today.

The vagaries of culture, memory and identity across the geographical boundaries of exile are examined in He! N’Oublie Pas le Cumin (Hey! Don’t Forget the Cumin!),  by Syrian film maker Hala Al Abdalla, that revisits the collective memories of a group of Syrian friends who live in exile throughout the world. Likewise in Samia, two Palestinian experiences are contrasted: an exiled painter reminiscing about her homeland and a young girl living there today.

Two of the films deal with gender in the context of culture, history and politics. Fadma, the compelling central character in Dalila Ennadre’s frank J’Ai Tant Aime (I Loved So Much), presents an intimate portrait of Moroccan ‘comfort women,’ employed for Moroccan soldiers during the Indo-China War. Egyptian director Saad Hendawy’s Malaf Khas (Private File) tackles the semi-taboo subject of contemporary male-female relations.

All Muhr Awards screenings will take place between December 11 to 18, 2008. Muhr Awards winners will be shown on December 19 and 20 at Cinestar Mall of the Emirates and the Grand Cinemas at Festival   City.

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