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Monday, 06.06.2011

Arab Spring

The Arab Revolt of 2011 will be one of the defining events of this Century. Ten films in the FILMFEST program come from the Middle East.

Women's role in society as a central theme: SALVE by Alireza Davoudnejad

Who would ever have expected the spark of freedom to ignite such a wildfire in the Arab world? The media have played a crucial role in the Arab Uprising of 2011, "old" media such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya as well as "new" media like Facebook and Twitter. For many years now, independent, creative cinema from the Atlas to Kashmir has been an invaluable outlet for repressed hope and subtle messages of resistance in the face of endemic censorship.

In light of the momentuous upheavals in Egypt, director Hesham Issawi's recollection of shooting CAIRO EXIT seem like a memory of a dark, distant past: "The censors got onto us, and shooting on the streets became a nightmare. To avoid being arrested, we had to shoot our scenes in twenty minutes. We would drive through town with our actors, looking for places where we wouldn't be noticed. Then we all piled out of the car and shot the scene as fast as possible. When I came home in the evening, I had no idea what would happen the next day: Would the actors show up? Would we find a location? I had to keep changing the script on set, to account for the location and the available cast."

A striking number of films from the Arab world deal with the role of women in society. CAIRO EXIT deals with a pregnant teen torn between a Muslim boyfriend and a Coptic family. CAIRO 678 by writer/director Mohamed Diab deals with the taboo topic of rape and sexual abuse, which earned the female leads Best Actress honors at  Dubai international film fest. The oppresion of women is even more blatant in I AM SLAVE, a British thriller which follows the fate of black African Malia, who is kept as a modern-day slave in Khartoum, Sudan and then in London, UK.  SAÇ by Turmey's Tayfun Piselimoglu deals with female beauty - specifically female hair - from a male point of view, that of a  wigmaker, who becomes obsessed with his fetish to the point of stalking.

Several films tackle political themes head-on. often with European support or participation. In the New German Cinema section, AFTER THE SILENCE by Jule Ott und Stephanie Bürger, follows an exceptional attempt at rapprochement between the survivors of a suicide bombing in Israel, the result of a documentary workshop with Markus Vetter, whose HEART OF JENIN won prizes worldwide. Vetter will also be showing excerpts from his unfinished CINEMA JENIN and discussing with the audience at a Special Screening.

In BARDSONGS, Dutch director Sander Francken recounts folk tales from the Sahara to Rajasthan . And Iraqi hit man thriller QARANTINA was co-produced by postpro house.

The theme of political awakening resounds loudly in MAJORITY by Seren Yüce from Turkey, in which a well-to-do son of an Istanbul construction magnate falls in with a "Communist" Kurdish girl. In AUTUMN by Aamir Bashir, a photographer disappears after a demonstration in Kaschmir, and his brother goes searching for him - finding evidence of what happened to him in his camera.

In Iran, where the movement for freedom and justice was drowned in blood and bullets, the films are much more subdued and quiet. The fittingly titled PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB by Mohsen Abdolvahab is an ironic comedy about people who don't dare speak up: The battered wife whose husband begs her not to report him; the cleric who doesn't dare ask the thief to return his wallet; and the elderly couple who don't dare open the door for the handyman. And in SALVE, a grandmother follows her granddaughter around, who has fallen into despondency and drug addiction.

The topic "Film-Land Near East"  is also the subject of this year's Interfilm Seminar, featuring discussions with a group of young Germans who traveled to  Israel and the West Bank this year, recounting their talks with Israelis and Palestinians, showing film footage and discussing with guests.

Collin McMahon

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