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New documentaries shine light on Arab world

United Arab Emirates: Sunday, December 09 - 2007 @ 12:01

There are three World Premiere documentaries in the Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema, an important DIFF initiative that will award Gold, Silver and Bronze prizes of $40,000, $30,000, and $20,000 to the best documentary films.

DIFF’s Artistic Director and Coordinator General of Competition Masoud Amralla al Ali commented: “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 the glory days of Tunisian boxing and trends that might otherwise be invisible even though they are in front of our eyes, like the economic situation in Syria that forces many men to take second jobs driving taxis in Damascus. The most imaginative fiction writers in the world would have difficulty creating more interesting characters and stories than you will find in these films.”

Perhaps the best example of larger-than-life characters is found in Osama Qashoo’s Ana Falastini (Soy Palestino), which introduces the ‘Palestinians’ of Havana, poor black migrants from the east of the island of Cuba. The film depicts Louisito, a charismatic musician living in a small wooden box on wheels covered with instruments made from junk, who entertains other homeless ‘Palestinos.’ The film documents Qashoo’s journey with Louisito to Cuba’s ‘Palestine’ to visit his mother for the first time in five years.

Two other films deal with more somber aspects of Palestinian experience. Journalist, writer and filmmaker Nassri Hajjaj’s Dhil al Gheyab (Shadow of Absence) attempts to explore the particularly Palestinian anxiety about what Hajjaj calls ‘the site of burial’ through interviews with Palestinians from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, France, the UK, Bulgaria, USA and Vietnam.

Palestinian director Buthina Canaan Khoury’s Magharat Maria (Maria’s Grotto) explores the taboo subject of honour killing, a brutal event with few legal consequences for the killers, often the woman’s relatives.

Two of the films deal with the events of summer 2006 in Lebanon. 33 Yaoum (33 Days) tells some of the untold stories that forever mark the lives of the people who survived those terrifying weeks. Award-winning director Mai Masri brings another insightful documentary from a place where other filmmakers would fear to go. Also shot in Lebanon, renowned musician Anouar Brahem’s debut film Kalimat Ba’ad al Harb (Words in the Wake of War) presents interviews with Lebanese artists and intellectuals in the wake of the ceasefire. People of diverse ages and faiths describe what they have been through as Brahem searches for the cultural devastation that lies beneath the physical damage.

The impact of conflict on veterans, often years after the war is over, informs Lawn al Tadheyah (The Colour of Sacrifice), by Belgian filmmaker Mourad Boucif, which gives voice to immigrants who served for France in World War Two. Ignored by the schoolbooks, many have been reduced to begging in the streets, and receive a minute military pension. Mahmoud al Massad wrote, produced and shot Ea’adat Khalk (Recycle), which follows Abu Ammar, a former mujahadeen soldier disillusioned by his experience in the Soviet–Afghan War in the 1980’s. Forced to collect cardboard from the streets of Zarqa, Jordan, his situation deteriorates until he is forced to make a decision to save himself and his family. DIFF is the film’s World Premiere.

Two of the films deal with the sport of boxing: Qamar 14 (Full Bloom) introduces Faraj Darwish, the 21-year-old winner of the Arab boxing championship in Algeria in 2004, who lives in a Palestinian camp in Jordan. He dreams of an Olympic medal, but is banned for life from training because in a 2006 international championship he refused to fight an Israeli. Director Sandra Madi is a rising talent from Jordan. Shoft al Nojoum fe al Gayleh (And I Saw Stars…), by director Hichem ben Ammar, portrays the deep determination that fuelled the glory days of Tunisian boxing in an epic history from the beginning of the twentieth century to today.

Sit Kosas Adyyah (Six Ordinary Stories) takes us to Damascus, where director Meyar al Roumi interviewed some of the many teachers, engineers, and even military men earning a second wage by driving taxis. They have become a symbol of the economic degradation throughout Syrian society, and identifying the situation and denouncing its absurdity acts as a release for them.

Two of the films are personal reflections on belonging and exile: Franco-Egyptian Karim Goury’s stylistically unusual Soneaa fi Masr (Made in Egypt) follows a Frenchman as he searches for his Egyptian roots, exposing himself to emotional surprises he might not be able to endure. His only clue to his father’s identity is a photo of his parents together in a Cairo restaurant in 1967. www.gilgamesh21.com comes from Danish-Iraqi director Tariq Hashim, and epitomizes modern exile: two distant locations linked through a long-distance call. Tariq@Copenhagen expresses his terror for Baghdad, and basim@Baghdad describes the horrific reality. The two men are linked in exile from an Iraq that no longer exists.

Muhr Awards screenings are open to the public and offer a glimpse of ground-breaking cinema from across the Arab world. They will take place throughout DIFF 2007, which runs from December 9 to 16.

DIFF’s Principal Sponsors are Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates and Jumeirah.

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Sunday, December 9- 2007 @ 12:01 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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