Expressions Of A Free Arab Cinema

  • by Francesca Dziadek (berlin)
  • Friday, February 25, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

Farhadi’s competition winner ‘Jodaeiye Nader az Simin’ (Nader and Simin, a Separation) is the story of a divorce, a family drama and a psychological exploration of people torn apart at a time of socio-political change when traditional values and the unstoppable thrust of modernity collide. Nader and Simin’s search for answers to personal and moral dilemmas, attempting to do the right thing but navigating in uncertainty, ends in tragedy.

In an interesting episode of synchronicity, as Farhadi and his cast returned home with the top prizes - Golden Bear for Best Film and two Silver Bears for Best Actors ensemble - two German journalists, jailed for interviewing the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, flew back to Berlin from Tehran accompanied by Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Since its early Cold War years as a propaganda showcase for the Allies, the Berlin International Film Festival has remained Europe’s most politically plugged-in Fest.

This year, a seat was left empty at competition screenings for banned Iranian director Jafar Panahi, and as a show of solidarity against the 20-year ban on filmmaking imposed on Panahi. There was also a sold-out discussion on censorship.

The days of rage and democratic revolutions waged in the Middle East and the Arab world resonated strongly among audiences in Berlin because of their immediacy.

The dramatic events sparked off in Tunisia and the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak were narrated by participant observer-activists around the world using mobile digital technology. Public broadcasters, like Germany’s ZDF, say they are 'just about coping to pull together what is happening'.

The euphoria surrounding the Tunis 'Valentines Revolution' of Feb. 14 was shared by short-film juror Ibrahim Lataief. 'Everybody was just out there filming whatever they wanted!' The unleashing of creative energies is bound to produce a brand new wave of films, according Lataief. Four of these films are in editing rooms as we speak, Lataief said.

Iranian filmmaker Sepideh Farsi used a mobile phone camera to shoot everyday life in ‘Tehran without Permission’ (2009), utilising a new medium to side step limitations imposed by censorship. With her hidden camera she captured street atmospheres and private living environments.

'It’s a devils game,' said exiled Iranian human-rights activist Mehrangiz Kar, during a festival discussion entitled ‘Censored Cinema’, but 'filmmakers cannot change the political constraints they are forced to operate under.'

Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed, who directed the acclaimed ‘The Yacoubian Building’ (2006), had a difficult time releasing a film set in Cairo depicting prostitution. The explosion of democratic aspirations and new economic possibilities are likely to provide fresh material and more demand for independent, issue-based content from the Middle East - stories that could not easily be told before.

‘678’ (2010) by screenwriter/director Mohamed Diab, an Egyptian film which tackles sexual harassment head-on, was picked up fast at the Berlinale as a good bet for European distribution. Premiered at the 2010 Dubai Film Festival, the film won pop star Bushra an actor’s award. Its Arabic trailer on YouTube has posts begging for English subtitles from viewers all over the world.

'I made this film to break the silence of women,' said Diab, who has been accused of humiliating Egyptian men. 'The short term solution for sexual harassment is that women should not feel ashamed when they get harassed and they should speak out.'

Many films and documentaries which focus on Middle East or Arab socio- political themes are financially dependent on co-production deals with Western partners.

The World Cinema Fund (WCF), Berlin’s International Film Festival investment initiative for innovative cinema is a win-win co-operation model which nurtures individual success stories, cherry-picking innovative directors from around the developing world.

‘Barzakh’ was awarded the Amnesty International Prize. It was filmed secretly in a zone of counter-terrorist operation. Director Mantas Kvedaravicius collaged images of emotional torture, the soul-destroying existence of those denied information about disappeared relatives, or even the joy of burying loved ones.

'Torture is everyday reality both in Chechnya and the Russian Federation, as insidious as it is covert,' explained Kvedaravicius in Berlin to stunned audiences. 'The important fact to understand is that torture is not simply the painful event that endures for the rest of one’s life but the moment when the desire for life is itself killed in that person'.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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