At this year’s Arab Film Festival we will be presenting 17 North African films from 9 different countries! We’re so excited by the North African films presence at this year’s festival and we’re especially excited to be highlighting these North African films from countries we don’t often receive submissions from such as Sudan, Libya and Mauritania. Here are all of North African film which will be screening throughout AFF2019.
From Sudan we will be showing aKasha, the first narrative feature film from filmmaker Hajooj Kuka. Kuka is known for creating low-budget and urgent films about Sudan. He previously directed a documentary entitled Beats of the Antonov (2014) and is the founder of Refugee Club.
aKasha is a comedy that tells the story of Adnan, a revolutionary war hero whose love for his AK47 and fighting are only rivaled by his feelings for Lina, his long-suffering sweetheart. When Adnan is late to return to his military unit after his leave, the army commander, Blues, launches a “kasha”: the rounding up and arresting of truant soldiers. Adnan, distracted by Lina, is caught-off-guard and makes a run for it. He joins up with Absi, a lover-not-a-fighter who is dodging the kasha. Together the two unlikely friends plot ways to reunite Adnan with his gun — and Lina — while avoiding their fellow soldiers. Through a series of wry incidents over 24 hours, aKasha explores life and ideology in rebel-held areas of contemporary Sudan.
From Libya we will be showing Freedom Fields, the debut feature documentary by Naziha Arebi. Arebi is a Libyan-British filmmaker who is known for her educational shorts created for the likes of Hivo, Oxfam and UN Woman. She is the founder of HuNa Productions, a production company that amplifies the voices and stories of post-conflict Libya.
Freedom Fields is the story of a group of women, all from different walks of life, who make up Libya’s newly formed football team (that’s soccer for the Americans). Team captain Fadwa is a petro-physicist, Nama is a student whose family are internally displaced and goalkeeper Halima is training to become a doctor. Against the backdrop of a country in strife — with conservative opposition threatening the women’s safety, as well as the national federation unwilling to take a clear position to support them — the team’s spirit is nothing short of inspirational. Filmed in the years since Libya’s 2011 revolution, Freedom Fields is a captivating tribute to a young generation trying to build the future they want, all the way down to hand-cutting the grass of their future training pitch to ensure that no matter what, they will play.
From Mauritania we will be presenting Flesh Out, the latest work from Italian director Michela Occhipinti.
In the film Flesh Out, a young woman, Verida, is due to marry in three months; the marriage has been arranged by her loving parents. According to a tradition still practiced in Mauritania that adheres to accepted standards of beauty, she has to gain weight to attain the kind of well-rounded, fuller figure that will appeal to her future husband. Three months before her marriage, her routine unfolds quietly and steadily as she sets about consuming no fewer than six meals per day and regularly weighing herself to assess her progress. An obedient daughter, she does not for one moment question the goal of twenty kilos her mother has set for her; nor does she put up much resistance to being woken up in the middle of the night to eat one more bowl of milk and another of couscous. But the process gets harder as it progresses and this puts an increasing strain on her, both physically and emotionally. Verida, who has in the meantime attracted the attentions of another man, begins to ask herself if this is what she really wants.
Flesh Out will be screening on October 13th at The Roxie Theater.
From Djibouti we will be showing Yemen: The Silent War, a short film directed by Sufian Abulohom. Abulohom is an independent Yemeni filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He is currently studying for his MFA in Film Production at the University of Southern California.
Yemen: The Silent War tells the widely unheard stories of Yemeni refugees living in Dijibouti’s Markazi refugee camp.
We are excited to present North African films from Tunisia this year. The first is a narrative feature entitled Tlamess, directed by Ala Eddine Slim. He is the co-founder of Exit Productions and has produced and directed a number of short films, art videos and feature films which have received numerous awards at international film festivals. Tlamess is his second fiction film and premiered at the 2019 Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight) at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.
Tlamess is the story of S, a young soldier serving somewhere deep in the Tunisian desert. One day he’s given leave to attend his mother’s funeral, but he never returns to the front. He is hunted as a deserter and soon flees into the mountains. F is a young woman who has just found out she’s pregnant. She too disappears into the woods without a trace.
This film will be showing on October 13th at The Roxie Theater.
We will also be presenting two North African films from Tunisia. The first of these is Brotherhood, directed by Tunisian-American writer/director Meryam Joobeur. Joobeur is a graduate of Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montréal. She is currently developing three feature films, including the feature version of Brotherhood.
Brotherhood is a film about a hardened shepherd named Mohamed living in rural Tunisia with his wife and two sons. He is deeply shaken when his oldest son, Malik, returns home after a long journey with a mysterious new wife. Tension between father and son rises over three days until reaching a breaking point that changes everyone forever.
The other short film is entitled Nefta Football Club and is directed by Yves Piat. This is Piat’s second short film and his first collaboration with Les Valseurs. It won the Audience Award (National Competition) at the Clermont-Ferrand ISFF in 2019.
Nefta Football Club takes place in a Tunisian village, children are playing football on a wasteland. Meanwhile, Abdallah and Mohammed come across a donkey with headphones on his ears and bags full of a white powder on his back. The two young brothers decide to bring those bags back to their village.
From Algeria we will showing three North African films. The first is a feature narrative, Divine Wind directed by Merzak Allouache. Allouache is a graduate of the IDHEC film school, Paris. His first feature Omar Gatlato screened in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight sidebar in 1976 and is credited with changing the course of Algerian cinema. In a career that has spanned over 4 decades his many acclaimed films include Un Amour A Paris (1987), Bab-El-Oued City (1994), Chouchou (2003), Harragas (2009), Madame Courage (2015), and Investigating Paradise (2017) to name a few.
Divine Wind will be screening on October 16th at The Roxie Theater.
We will also be showing a short film, Wasteland, directed by award-winning Algerian photographer and filmmaker Latifa Said. Wasteland is Said’s second short film. It was presented at Vila do Conde and has since been selected for more than 50 festivals around the world, winning 12 prizes, including Best Film and Best Director.
Wasteland takes place in the suburbs of a big city. Omar, an immigrant worker from the Maghreb, feels uncomfortable with women. Ambivalent in all things, he’s either fascinated by women, or they make him afraid. When he meets Rita, a sex worker, he tries to surpass his insecurities to discover his own sexuality.
Finally, from Algeria and Western Sahara we will be showing a short film entitled Laatash, directed by Elena Molina. Molina makes creative documentary films and is the coordinator of the Creative Documentary Workshop for Women at the Bonnemaison Cultural Center in Barcelona.
Laatash is about Saharawi women who face he “laatash” or “thirst” of the hamada, the curse of the desert, every day. They’ve built their refuge in a land where no one could survive before, in the western part of the Sahara desert. For more than forty years they’ve been holding out and taking care of their people in the desert as the result of the Moroccan occupation of their homeland in Western Sahara. They ensure every drop of water is distributed according to the needs of each family … and they wait. But there’s an even more terrible thirst in their throats, for which they find no relief.
From Morocco we will be showing three North African films. The first a feature narrative entitled Sofia and directed by Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloïsi. She studied directing at the INSAS film school in Brussels and is the recipient of the 2017 Gan Foundation prize and a grant from the Doha Film Institute in 2017. Sofia is her first feature film. It won the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes, Un Certain Regard section in 2018.
A succinct script and superb acting prop Sofia as a sharp drama exploring the lengths people endure to survive. Set in Morocco where premarital sex is punishable by law, the film follows our young protagonist in the aftermath of her surprise pregnancy. With the help of her family, Sofia attempts to evade imprisonment and seek justice – all while battling a classist and misogynistic society.
Sofia will be screening on October 13th at The Roxie Theater.
There will be two shorts from Morocco as well. Ayam is directed by Sofia El Khyari, a self-taught animator driven by a visceral desire for creation and a fascination for movement and color.
Ayam is about Three generations of Moroccan women exchange feelings and anecdotes while preparing the ceremony of Eid Al Adha, or the “Festival of the Sacrifice” in this animated engagement with memory, tradition, and sisterhood as an ode to the transmission and beauty of Arabic calligraphy
Chergui is a short film directed by Chahine Fellahi, a Moroccan visual artist and filmmaker based in London. Her practice incorporates film, photography, and mixed media techniques, combining analog and digital tools that speculates on the ontology of sense, addressing the notion of corporeality and contemplating the geography of the body, its landscapes and frontiers.
Chergui or “the eastern wind,” was edited by the filmmaker using found footage from the archives of the Cinémathèque of Tangiers. Through these oneiric scenes of women walking in the countryside, Chergui evokes the fleeting, ungraspable nature of memory, as the images form and unform, following the oscillating rhythm of remembering and forgetting. The eastern wind carries these memories away, like grains of sand slipping through one’s fingertips.
Chergui will be presented as part of the Ruya رؤيا (visions) shorts program on October 14th at Little Roxie. Director Chahine Fellahi will be present for a post-screening Q&A
Last, but certainly not least, we will be presenting four North African films from Egypt this year. There will be two feature films. EXT. Night is directed by Egyptian filmmaker Ahmad Abdalla. Abdalla studied music in Cairo before shifting his career to film editing in 2003. His directorial debut Heliopolis was one of the first independent Egyptian films to be released theatrically in Egypt.
EXT. Night is a film about Moe and Moe has problems. His film set is filled with offscreen drama, his novelist friend has landed in prison for publishing “profound language,” and his girlfriend just left him. Plus, all he really wants to do is work on his own films, not the commercial gigs he’s been taking. With all this on his plate, the last thing he relishes is finishing editing across town. Goaded into this by his team, he has no idea how long his day is about to become. In trying to navigate chaotic Cairo traffic, Moe finds himself drawn away from the world – and social milieu – and goes along with his driver, Mostafa, and Toutou, a firecracker of a character from the wrong part of town. Over the course of the night, Moe begins to see the deeper ramifications and inequalities around issues like class and gender relations. As director Ahmad Abdalla did with his previous films Rags & Tatters, 18 Days, Microphone, and Heliopolis, he once again turns his camera on the social situation in Egypt. This time, however, it’s with dry humour and meta-cinematic flourishes. The result is a touching social satire. As Moe remarks at one point, “You can’t change the universe.” But, as he finds out, you might be able to change your life.
EXT. Night will be shown on October 19th at The New Parkway Theater.
Our other Egyptian feature film is a classic straight out of 1959. Encounter With The Unknown directed by Atef Salem. Salem, who passed away in 2002, was an Egyptian film director. He directed dozens of films over the course of his career. His successful debut in 1953 made him a necessary assistant to the country’s top directors during Egypt’s “Golden Age of Cinema” from which he gained his experience and independence to produce many renowned and beloved films.
Encounter with the Unknown is a film noir style murder mystery following the story of Magdy as he attempts to unravel a tangled web of betrayal and greed that led to the murder of his brother, Amin, upon returning to Cairo from a business trip in Germany. As Magdy digs deeper into the events surrounding his brother’s murder, he finds himself on the trail of Amin’s best friend Rashad, who has mysteriously disappeared and is otherwise profiled as the prime suspect given eye-witness accounts of him lurking at the crime scene moments after Amin’s death. Desperately searching for answers fueled by a desire for revenge, Magdy arrives at the doorstep of Rashad’s sister, Nadia – a doctor who lives at home with her mother – and, shortly thereafter: an intense attraction between the two ignites. Torn between her love for Magdy and a firm belief in Rashad’s innocence, Nadia’s forced to make a difficult decision that puts her relationship with Magdy on the line. Meanwhile, Nadia’s friend, Nana, a sultry sex pot with a secret – played by the one and only iconic Egyptian belly dancing goddess, Samia Gamal – gets a little too close to the truth about Rashad’s whereabouts… much less Magdy’s heart.
Encounter with the Unknown will be screening as part of our Arab Classics program on October 17th at The New Parkway Theater.
We will also be presenting two Egyptian short films. The first is entitled Into Reverse directed by Noha Adel. Adel is an Egyptian directly who currently works in the field of Learning & Development in a private sector company. Into Reverse is her first short film.
Into Reverse takes place in Cairo on a regular morning of a working day, a clash erupts in a one direction side street of a crowded neighborhood between two car drivers. Shall the driver in the right direction submit just because she’s a woman?
The other short film is Jebel Banat directed by indie filmmaker Sharine Atif. Atif experiments with different strategies and devices to learn how best to create change through cinema, by using confrontation, humor, subtlety, tenderness or aggression, with the aim to empower women in her native Egypt.
Jebel Banat is the retelling of a melancholic 19th century Egyptian legend about two Bedouin sisters escaping forced marriages.
For more information on screening dates, times, locations and tickets, including all North African films listed above, please visit our festival website!