Despite the challenges and restrictions that the pandemic has brought to our lives in general, and to cultural life in particular, Arab cinema is doing really well. Several films from the 12th ALFILM Home Edition have conquered festivals and audiences worldwide. After premiering at the latest Venice Film Festival, Ameen Nayfeh’s feature debut and this year’s opening film 200 Meters, went on to win three awards at the El Gouna Film Festival, including Best Actor for Ali Suleiman. Sameh Alaa made history at this year’s Cannes Film Festival when his film I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face won the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film, whereas Sofia Alaoui’s So What If The Goats Die was awarded the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and, more recently, the César of the Best Short Film. Sami Bouajila also won the César for Best Actor for his performance in A Son by Mehdi Bersaoui. Finally, The Man Who Sold His Skin by Kaouther Ben Hania is nominated for the Oscar of the Best International Feature, a first for Tunisia.
Striking cinematography, gripping stories and bold statements are at the heart of this year’s Official Selection alongside with strong protagonists who defy all odds and fight for change. The colorful documentary Amussu sheds the light on the struggle of Amazigh communities to maintain control on the natural resources of their lands and prevent the exploitation of their water reserves. Last Visit and Scales, both debuts from Saudi Arabia, center on protagonists who refuse to abide to the traditional gender roles assigned to them by their respective patriarchal societies. Adam and 143 Sahara Street paint portraits of strong women who, through their decisions and lifestyles, defy the status quo and take their destinies into their own hands, whereas Marianne Khoury undertakes the challenging task of telling the herstory of her family in her documentary film Let’s Talk.
Migration is also a central theme in the Official Selections of the 12th ALFILM Home Edition. Five fiction and documentary feature films tackle this issue, each exploring a different stage of the migration process. In The Man Who Sold His Skin, a young Syrian refugee is willing to turn his body into a piece of art in order to be able to move to Europe and be reunited with the woman he loves, whereas b immerses the audience in the radical and oppressive reality of a sinking boat transporting refugees across the Mediterranean. We Are From There follows two Syrian brothers in a journey of over 5 years that takes them from Damascus to Sweden and Germany and accompanies them while they try to establish themselves in their new found homes. Fortschritt Im Tal Der Ahnungslosen / Progress In The Valley Of The People Who Don’t Know, on the other hand, concentrates on questions like acceptance and integration as it tells the story of the unusual encounter between young Syrian refugees and workers of a former GDR factory. Finally, My English Cousin explores the life in exile of an Algerian man who has been living in London for over 15 years and who is torn between the two cultures to which he now belongs.
To further elaborate on a theme that is so prominent in this year’s Official Selection, a panel discussion on the question of Flight and Migration in Film will be held together with the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung and with Filmmakers Amal Alzakout (Purple Sea), Wissam Tanios and Milad Khawam (We Are From There).
A double feature brings together two films, The Sun And The Looking Glass and Fortschritt Im Tal Der Ahnungslosen / Progress In The Valley Of The People Who Don’t Know, who take a very different but equally compelling look on the topic of Place and Memory, and our short film program Fighting Against All Odds portrays children, men, and women who are placed in challenging situations and who have to find ways to overcome the obstacles that stand in their ways.
Genres Revisited: Visionary Imagery and Fragmented Narratives in Contemporary Arab Cinema.
Genre films such as horror, science fiction, adventure, thriller and comedy have increasingly moved from mainstream cinema to auteur films in recent years. Established and emerging Filmmakers from the various countries of the Arab world and their diaspora use the possibilities provided by genres to develop their own visual language beyond the socially critical realism that prevails the Arab film landscape, and by doing so, they make taboo and traumatic topics visible on the screen. Inspired by the socially critical late westerns or progressively discerning science-fiction films, these narratives use the conventions of mainstream genres to uncover social grievances and to create multidimensional characters and narratives. These films avoid the simple answers of traditional genres. The complexity of the worlds created through fragmented narratives, and often unreliable or subjective narrators, highlights the rift between reality and perception and makes it more tangible.
In Amin Sidi-Boumédiène’s Abou Leila (2019), the conventions of the road movie are used as an excuse to take us on a wild and suspenseful journey of exploration that investigates the relationship of two dissimilar friends and the depths of a tortuous mind. Culminating in horror and splatter sequences set in the middle of the desert, the dream-like narrative sheds the light on the destructive reality of the Algerian Civil War.
Divine Intervention by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman (2002) only resorts to the usage of the action genre conventions in the last part of the film. After a sharp and comedic exploration of the absurdity of life in Palestine under the Israeli occupation, the transformation of the protagonist into a ninja fighter capable of bringing down Israeli soldiers on her own, results in an implausible happy end. The use of the action genre conventions, all the while providing a joyful and cathartic moment to the viewer, emphasizes the absurdity of the situation of the Palestinian people: the solution to their struggles becomes all the more impossible as it is only to be attained in the unrealistic world of genre films.
The folkloric setting of a historical and dark fairy tale in Scales (2019) by Saudi director Shahad Ameen, is emphasized through low-contrast black and white photography. The highly stylized setting of the film enhances the struggles of the female protagonist, leading her to finally reveal the secret of the misogynous structures of her society.
The Last Man by Lebanese director Ghassan Salhab (2006) is an unconventional and enigmatic vampire film. Though faithful to the conventions of the genre, this bloodless art house film explores the inner psyche of a man who, similar to the Beirut he lives in, is neither dead nor alive.
Finally, the short film program Science-Fiction and Disrupted Worlds brings together three eclectic films. The haunting In Vitro (2019) by the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour about the history, future and memory of a nation and individuals. In this film, Sansour consciously combines expensive-looking special effects and glossy opera rooms to create the illusion of a bright future finding itself at the core of a break in civilization. The cinematographically striking Moroccan short film So What If The Goats Die by Sofia Alaoui (2019) explores the potential change brought by an alien invasion and a traditional society and the bewildering Elpide by Gaelle Azzam (Lebanon, 2019) centers on a young boy trying to escape a fate set by the strict rules of the dystopian society he lives in.
The topic of this year’s Spotlight will be further explored through film talks and a panel discussion with the filmmakers Ghassan Salhab (director of The Last Man), Larissa Sansour, (director of In Vitro).
Home Edition on Indiekino Club from 21st to 30th of April 2021
All films are in original version with English subtitles.
They are available in Germany only, during the entire period of the festival, and with an individual limit of views per film.
With the exception of the THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN which is only available until April 25th (included) and with German subtitles.
Once the ticket is bought, the films remain available for 48 hours each.
The films can also be streamed via Apple Airplay or Chromecast. More information here.