From August 15 to 22, the International Film Festival took place in Amman (Awal Film meaning “first film”) under the slogan “Stories and beginnings”. For its fourth edition, the festival included for the first time the prize of the International Federation of the Cinematographic Press FIPRESCI, dedicated to the Arab documentary films section. Eight documentary films from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Iraq, and Morocco were selected in this category. The Fipresci Prize was awarded to the Palestinian film Lyd by Rami Younes and Sarah Friendland.
A common theme regarding Arab youth was seen in the “Arab documentaries” category: rebellious youth aspiring for a better tomorrow. Anxious in Beirut by Zakaria Jaber (Lebanon), Baghdad on Fire by Karrar Al-Azzawi (Iraq), Broken Mirrors by Othmane Saadouni (Morocco) and Lyd (Palestine) all deal with a subject that is both unique and universal; that of young people’s relatives and ambiguous relationship to their countries. Each of these films is a demonstration, both touching and disturbing, of a misunderstood and rebellious young person asking the following question: What are politicians doing with us?
If in Morocco the filmic discourse remains scarce for subjects such as homosexuality or the quest for identity of a group of dancers, in Beirut the anger of young demonstrators against the corrupt government reaches its peak. Broken Mirrors, a documentary which opts for staging and testimonies without tipping one into the other—one of the film’s weaknesses— does not take the risk of going all the way to the end. Indeed, the characters in the film— young dancers defying the gaze of a very conservative Moroccan society, with its dim view of this artistic discipline—are not completely outlined. Anxious in Beirut is a documentary that stands out for the director’s great desire to reveal everything, while portraying his characters. It’s an effervescent film that bubbles with its discourse as well as with the testimonies of Lebanese youngsters.
Baghdad on Fire, whose story exhibits a narrative fiber similar to that of Anxious in Beirut, presents Iraqi youth who rise up against the government, demanding the right to live in their country without having to make the difficult decision to migrate. The two films, models of cinema vérité à la Jean Rouch, focus on the characters, their testimonies, and the often improvised framework of reality. This is mainly true for Anxious in Beirut, which presents itself as a sort of work in progress. Whether they are Lebanese or Iraqi, they demand a homeland, a country in which they can live, work, and dream. The statement is to demand dignity and justice.
As for Lyd, it is a documentary which looks back on the Palestinian exodus and the 1948 massacre which had notable geopolitical consequences. The Palestinian descendants, young people and children of this war, bear witness to a Palestinian land, which has become Israeli, as being a vague memory, an imagination inherited from parents and grandparents.
The selection of the Amman International Film Festival, named the Arab Documentaries section, shows a praxis of resistance. All these “immediate” visions filmed on the spot which attempt to bring us closer to reality, carry a common discourse. A discourse of a political-identity crisis felt among the youth of several Arab countries. The disturbing images, between direct speeches and cynical metaphors, lead Arab directors to rethink a pre-established social and political order, by filming the flow of another reality: their own. These films give us the story of the same era; an era when young people are suffocating under social injustice, political failure, and uprooted identity. How can one imagine these countries in the future? How can they overcome the suffering inflicted by politicians and for whom an entire generation suffers the consequences?
This form of questioning engages both the protagonists and the spectators of these films on the destiny of youth in Arab countries. These documentaries seem to be a last cry of distress. Nevertheless, they are also a glimmer of hope, the hope that tomorrow will be better, that tomorrow their voice will find an echo among politicians who until today do not seem to want to hear them.
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2023