As this year’s film festivals begin to kick into gear, we here at AFMI are doing our best to keep you in the loop on all the Arab films being showcased at some of the biggest festivals all around the world! The Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, is one of the world’s leading film festivals and opening night is tonight! In preparation, we’ve gone through the festival’s entire program to bring you a comprehensive list of films by and about Arab people, culture, food and more. The films are organized by their program section.
Psst: Our fearless Executive Director is in Berlin, catch his updates on Twitter!
The Panorama section of the festival encourages “artistic vision, the courage to be different, a desire for the unfamiliar, a profound historical awareness or pioneering personalities” and seeks out films with new ideas to bring to the world. The Arab films featured in this section are also part of the subsection Panorama Dokumente which features 18 documentaries with a focus on social and contemporary topics.
Zentralflughafen THF (Central Airport THF) by Karim Aïnouz
Germany/France/Brazil – Documentary
Tempelhof Airport in Berlin is Europe’s largest heritage building. It became a symbol of both National Socialist self-aggrandizement as well as of freedom during the airlift of 1948/49. Since autumn 2015 several hangars have been providing temporary shelter for refugees. Like the other 2,000 people here who have fled their homeland, Ibrahim from Syria and Qutaiba from Iraq dream of being able to make a new start. Full of hope, they work with translators, doctors, language teachers and job agents to prepare for life in their new German home. The lack of private space and communication and administrative barriers are some of the challenges they face while, on the nearby recreation area of Tempelhofer Feld, Berliners and tourists escape their daily routine. Chaos and harmony: two very different worlds in one place.
Al Gami’ya (What Comes Around) by Reem Saleh
Lebanon/Egypt/Greece/Qatar/Slovenia – Documentary
‘One big family’ is how protagonist Um Ghareeb describes the ‘al Gami’yas’ in Rod El Farag, one of Cairo’s poorest districts. In these communities, which comprise several members of the quarter’s inhabitants, everyone regularly contributes a small amount of money into a pot. At weekly meetings, a collective decision is made as to who is currently the neediest, or who will receive some cash in order to purchase something they really need. Reem Saleh spent six years following the members of one such community with her camera. She reveals their daily struggle for survival and lets them have their say when it comes to their attitudes to tradition, sickness and death.
The International Forum of New Cinema, or Forum for short, is considered the most daring section of the festival. It includes avant garde and experimental work, essays, long-term observations, political reportage and cinematic genres that have yet to be defined. Four Arab films are featured in this section, while more are featured in the Forum Expanded subsection.
Apatride (Stateless) by Narjiss Nejjar
Morocco/France/Qatar – Narrative
They look like they don’t belong there, pitched on the sunny dunes. They flap indifferently in the wind, watched over by a soldier. For Hénia, these two flags, which mark the border between Morocco and Algeria, have determined the course of her life: in 1975, she and her father were deported from Algeria along with 45,000 other Moroccan families. Her Algerian mother remained behind; her father died soon afterward. Hénia has grown into a woman in the meantime, but she’s still trying to go home. Unfortunately, her papers disappeared along with her father.
Day after day, Hénia looks over to the other side from her house on the beach, while birds drift by as if there were no barriers, and the border soldiers of both nations, whom she already knew when they were all young, sing songs of brotherhood through the fence.
The prospect of papers finally leads her to marry an old widower, but once again she is the pawn of other interests. Hénia must take her fate into her own hands. A quietly sensual film set before a bewitching backdrop that recounts the consequences of a historical event whose effects are still being felt today.
Jahilya by Hicham Lasri
Morocco/France – Narrative
When cockroaches dream, they dream of dying a natural death – instead of being squashed by human hand. This prologue forms a leitmotif that runs through the entire third part of Hicham Lasri’s “Trilogy of the Dog”. The film’s frequently hyper-realistic sequences describe the current state of the violent emotional dynamics governing contemporary Morocco: those between men and women, parents and children, the powerful and the disenfranchised. Moments of human humiliation link together the fates of six characters, located in a luxury country estate, an urban environment, and a quarry, respectively: the rape of a young woman; a suicidal man caught up in medieval fantasies; an unmarried daughter’s pregnancy, her blind father only concerned about the racial purity of his family; a bigoted judge; a little boy desperately demanding mutton for a sacrificial feast banned by the king; and the shoe that hit George W. Bush on the head in Iraq.
Tahia ya Didou by Mohmed Zinet
Algeria – Narrative
Blending documentary with fiction, Mohamed Zinet’s unique film Tahia ya Didou is an exquisite appropriation of a commission by the city of Algiers that doesn’t vacuously promote tourism but rather creates a poetic, acerbic and rapturous portrait of the director’s native city. The camera travels freely, through the port, market, streets and cafés, capturing everyday people, some of whom recur frequently enough to seem like protagonists. The nominal plot-line follows a French tourist couple’s leisurely visit to the city, the man having previously served in the army during the Algerian war. As they walk around, his comments betray his mindset’s racist colonial prejudices, while his wife reiterates asinine clichés. Their unhurried wandering is interrupted when he comes across a blind man and realizes that he tortured him during his army service. The film is punctuated with punchy sequences that show a poet named Momo delivering verse as an elegy for Algiers.
Upon seeing Zinet’s work, which was originally released in 1971, the commissioning authorities detested it so much that the film was shelved. In subsequent years, it was screened often at the Cinémathèque d’Alger and became a cult film.
Wild Relatives by Jumana Manna
Germany/Lebanon/Norway – Documentary
Deep in the earth beneath the Norwegian permafrost, seeds from all over the world are stored in the Global Seed Vault to provide a backup should disaster strike. For the first time ever, seeds held there from a major gene bank in Aleppo are now being replicated, after its holdings were left behind when the institution had to move to Lebanon due to the civil war. It is refugees from Syria who are carrying out this painstaking work in the fields of the Beqaa Valley. In the Levant, dry conditions and the power of global agricultural corporations are the biggest challenge, while in the Arctic Circle – where the seed vault was supposed to withstand anything – it is rising temperatures and melting glaciers.
Forum also includes a subsection called Forum Expanded. Launched in 2006, this section presents film, video, installations and performative works that go beyond traditional styles and presentation of films. Below are the Arab pieces featured in this section.
We Are Not Worried in the Least by Jasmina Metwaly
Documentary Video Installation
The historical background of the images presented in the exhibition is the turbulent political and social landscape of Egypt from the uprisings of 2011 until today: the constitution of civil societies, a time of new political imaginations towards new elections, the military coup restricting citizens’ rights and evacuating them from the street through the reinforcement of laws and legislatives therefore eliminating any opposition, marginalizing their existence and implementing fear. What gives different shapes to these moving images is an array of varying motivations for filming and recording testimonies, which determine shots, distances, and framing. In a historical moment in which political events get immediately spectacularized and distributed globally in the form of images, this exhibition asks what roles we play when we are producing images as well as when we are looking at them, and what these pictures, now presented in Berlin, could possibly achieve.
Celluloid Corrdiers: Timehelix by Dalia Neis, Andreas Reihse, Mohamed A. Gawad
Germany – Experimental Short
A-side of an audio-play about cinema: part film-manifesto, part audio-essay, part cinematic-séance, channeled via the voice and words of Cairo-based artist and writer Mohamed A. Gawad, with music, arrangement, and celluloid-splicing from Berlin-based Kreidler-chief, Andreas Reihse.
Shooting through archives across space and time. Spells of silence, ambient hum, celluloid glitch, vocal hybrids: “[…] focusing on the description of photographic film. Robotic echoes whirr away in the background, echoing the original sentiments, but abstracted into machine-like code, speeding up and slowing down as though being mistakenly spooled through a genetically imperfect machinated medium.”
B-side of an audio-play about cinema: part film-manifesto, part audio-essay, part cinematic-séance, channeled via the voice and words of Berlin/Salford-based FITH co-founder, filmmaker, writer Dalia Neis aka Dice Miller, with music, arrangement, and celluloid-splicing from Berlin-based Kreidler-chief, Andreas Reihse.
Voices summoned from the lucid realms of the technologically-spirited, more-than- human archive: “[…] backed with abstraction of classical instrumentation, with stabs of strings warped into a thousand fragments, brutally interspersed with piercing shrieks before bringing things back to earth with perfectly measured throbbing organic whirrs. Focussing on images, but […] bringing things almost chronologically forward, with the history of film being investigated.”
Lebanon/Germany – Documentary
The story of this film project revolves around the biggest film production studio in the Arab world, and its lost archive. Located on Charles Helou Boulevard in the east of Beirut, the remains of Studio Baalbek, a white villa with open doors, broken windows, and a garden full of wild plants and pine trees, appear like a lifeless place. But even though the once thriving production house, established in 1962, fell victim to the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990), it has nevertheless left behind a treasure of an archive of voice recordings and films that still are famous throughout the entire Arab region, spanning productions from Erbil to Amman, and from Damascus to Cairo. Negligence by the Lebanese authorities has led to mold growing on parts of this archive inside the damp underground warehouses.
Bayna Hayakel Studio Baalbeck shows the ruination of film heritage in Lebanon, navigated through the country’s cinematic heydays in the late 1960s and early 1970s – a period that witnessed a rise of Egyptian producers and directors moving to Lebanon to make films partly due to Nasser’s nationalization of Egyptian cinema.
Ard al mahshar (Land of Doom) by Milad Amin
Lebanon/Syria – Documentary Short
The film depicts the last days of eastern Aleppo’s siege. Just before its fall, Milad Amin, residing in Beirut, follows up with his friend Ghith, an activist and photographer, who like so many other civilians still remains in the besieged city. Following Ghith via his camera through the ruins of the city, we hear the two friends talk about people’s situations while waiting for their fate amidst the fighting parties. The film is an intimate and personal recording of civilians’ sufferings during this time of siege, hunger, and war – and a recording of both the relationship of activists brought together during the civil movements and of the geographic distances that separate them due to violence, bombing, and killing.
Aala kad al shawk – Le Voyage immobile (As Far As Yearning) by Mohamed Soueid, Ghassan Salhab
Lebanon/France – Documentary Short
A yearning in an unsettled space that, once, was shared and breathed by two cineastes, living in two different cities, trying to sustain their longing through each other’s scattered images, sounds, and monologues, pieced together in one film, one dialogue, one soul flown away by loneliness and fallen apart like a forsaken angel.
Aala kad al shawk – Le Voyage immobile (or As Far as Yearning) is that dialogue-in-progress taking the shape of a film composed by sound, performed by words, perforated by images still in motion. Ghassan Salhab and Mohamed Soueid are embracing a sense of survival. This film is a sixth sense they nurtured in a world that has become faceless. Their film essay is a personal attempt to be two in one. Disguised as men, they walk among men who left behind their shadows.
Greece/Egypt – Documentary
After landing in Cairo as a stranger shortly after the 2011 uprisings, maverick underground American/Lebanese musician and ethnomusicologist Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls, Sublime Frequencies) teams up with three young Egyptian musicians to translate his old songs into Arabic. Under Bishop’s mentorship, this unlikely collaboration transforms into a band, The Invisible Hands. The film unfolds between the two crucial elections that marked the post “Arab Spring” period in Egypt. Structured around fly-on-the-wall scenes, archival ghost apparitions, absurd cameos, and poetic diary narrations by Bishop, the film juxtaposes the tragicomedy of politics and art-making in the so-called periphery.
‘abl ma ‘ansa (Before I Forget) by Mariam Mekiwi
Egypt/Germany – Narrative Short
A science-fiction story set in an indistinct coastal region, between land and sea, above and below water.
El Captain disappears, one of his disciples takes a journey in the ocean to cut off the internet cable, the water level is rising, an amphibian woman appears at the shore looking for her mother, and the memories of two women in a ward intertwine. Scientist Dr. Sharaf is trying to congregate all of them – the members of the secret society of amphibians – in an attempt to save the world.
RIOT: 3 Movements by Rania Stephan
Lebanon/United Arab Emirates – Documentary Short
In the summer of 2015, Lebanon faced a sudden and surreal garbage crisis that lasted over six months. The government’s incompetence put the people and environment at serious risk. The leaders preferred to postpone taking any action or decision until they could benefit from the solution and agree on a way to divide up the spoils. The face of their callous corruption was revealed in full. Mountains of garbage covered the streets, rivers, sea, and mountains themselves. Citizens took to the streets; large demonstrations lasted over six months. What started as joyful, inventive, and gregarious gatherings was crushed by force and infiltration. Lassitude crept in as internal divisions weakened the protest movement.
Today, the solution to the garbage problem is still temporary. And nobody has taken responsibility for the mismanagement of the crisis, taking a heavy toll on the land and the population. RIOT: 3 Movements captures the last of these demonstrations. It’s an attempt to understand how bodies form in a space of contestation. How they organize and dissipate, take on singularity then disappear again. A pretext to interrogate the idea of our fleeting victories and enduring defeats.
An Untimely Film For Every One and No One by Ayreen Anatas, Rene Gabri
In 2007 Ayreen Anastas made a journey through Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia, collecting materials for a film with the working title A Film for Every One and No One. The film was intended as an adaptation of Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in the contemporary Arab world. Since that initial material was collected, much of the region and the world have been thrown into ever-greater tumult. The relevance, force, and meaning of the materials have also shifted significantly. The film remains unfinished.
In a collaboration with the artist Rene Gabri and the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, an attempt is made to approach the material in a collective manner and make an untimely version of it. For Nietzsche, untimely meant, among other things, something not belonging to the order of the tastes, expectations, and procedures of its time. If the original film was to stage an encounter between the writing and thinking of Nietzsche and the contemporary conditions of life as manifested in the Arab world, then this film stages that encounter in the lapse and disordering, in the historical black hole which has opened up in the ten years since the meeting was staged.
Generation is a section devoted entirely to children. Films in this section compete in either Generation Kplus or Generation 14plus. All the Arab films in this program are competing in Generation 14plus and thus will be judged by a seven-member Youth Jury comprised of members ages 14 to 18 years old. This section “integrates children and youth into the festival’s film-aesthetic discourse. At the same time the section is a place for encounters between people of all ages.”
Three Centimetres by Lar Zeidan
United Kingdom – Narrative Short
A moment of floating, standstill. Four girlfriends are sitting in the gondola of a Ferris wheel. The camera takes in the view of the Mediterranean sea on the Lebanese coast, watches the girls boarding the gondola, turns a round with them, rides up to the very top. Then, the wheel suddenly comes to a halt and so does the camera. Their conversation has just comes to an abrupt end when Manal confesses that she has a girlfriend.
What Walaa Wants by Christy Garland
Canada/Denmark – Documentary
Having grown up in a refugee camp while her mother was incarcerated in an Israeli prison, Walaa doesn’t want to marry young and start having children, nor is she much interested in school. She’d rather be a police officer, with the Palestinian National Authority, the body governing the Palestinian territories. The documentary follows this defiant and resilient young woman over the course of over five years, from age 15 to 21. Always maintaining a level playing field with her young protagonist, Christy Garland gives an intimate look at the rebellious girl fighting at times uncontrollably but tenaciously for her dream.
The Culinary Cinema section focuses on exactly the topic you’d expect it to: food. Films in Culinary Cinema explore both the pleasant and the dark aspects of food. One Arab film is included in this year’s program.
Soufra by Thomas Morgan
USA – Documentary
Soufra follows the unlikely and wildly inspirational story of intrepid social entrepreneur, Mariam Shaar – a generational refugee who has spent her entire life in the Burl El Barajneh refugee camp just south of Beirut, Lebanon. The film follows Mariam as she sets out to change her fate by launching a catering company, ‘Soufra’, and then expand it into a food truck business with a diverse team of fellow refugee woman who now share this camp as their home. Together, they heal the wounds of war through the unifying power of food while taking their future into their own hands through an unrelenting belief in Mariam, and in each other. In the process, Mariam is breaking barriers, pulling together Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese women to work side by side and form beautiful friendships while running this thriving business. Soufra will shine a new and revealing light on people inside the largest refugee crisis in human history, but ultimately this film is about hope, grit, passion and the common bonds created by bringing people together around food as a bridge to overcome all barriers.
LOLA at Berlinale
LOLA at Berlinale is a program that features films that are long-listed for the German Film Awards (LOLA) by the German Film Academy. One Arab film is included in this year’s program.
Taste of Cement by Ziad Kalthoum – Screened at AFF2017
Germany/Syria/Lebanon/UAE/Qatar – Documentary
In Beirut, Syrian construction workers are building a skyscraper while at the same time their own houses at home are being shelled. The Lebanese war is over but the Syrian one still rages on. The workers are locked in the building site. They are not allowed to leave it after 7p.m. The Lebanese government has imposed night-time curfews on the refugees. The only contact with the outside world for these Syrian workers is the hole through which they climb out in the morning to begin a new day of work. Cut off from their homeland, they gather at night around a small TV set to get the news from Syria. Tormented by anguish and anxiety, while suffering the deprivation of the most basic human and workers right, they keep hoping for a different life.