Arab Cinema and the longing for freedom By Farida Marei

in 9th Zanzibar International Film Festival

by Farida Marei

The freedom of human beings is the ultimate goal and the eternal dream of all humanity. As Arabs are a part of this humanity, freedom for them is the heart of life. Arab cinema as screened at the Zanzibar International Film Festival played the role of a witness of this longing for freedom. It expressed not only the importance of political freedom, but also the sociological, and psychological need of freedom. It is not only the freedom from the occupation of invaders in an Arab country. It is the freedom from all oppressive factors such as religious oppression, conservatism, narrow minds, and traditionalism that stand in the way of people and prevent them from fulfilling their ambitious dreams in life.

As Khadija, the old nurse in a hospital in the Algerian film Barakat, directed by Djamila Sahraoui, spent her youth as a member of the Algerian resistance movement fighting against the French occupation in Algeria, to free her country; Amal on the other hand, a doctor in the same hospital, goes through a very difficult and tough experience to free her journalist husband from the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who kidnapped him for his brave and strong articles. Both women are driven by a strong dream: freedom. Freedom of a country or freedom of expression, they are the two sides of the same coin. The nurse comments sadly after they passed the tough experience to free the husband: The dream was then or now ? She thought that they achieved their dream of freedom when they got rid of the oppression of occupation, but she discovered that the dream will not be completed until they get rid of religious oppression.

The same trend in Tarfaya a Moroccan film directed by Daoud Aoulad Syed. Myriam, the twenty-eight-year-old ambitious young girl, leaves her country looking for freedom and a better life in Spain. She did her best to achieve that goal. Moving from one problem to another such as theft and attempted rape, to realize at the end that freedom is not an easy task to achieve.

In The Sleeping Child, a Moroccan film directed by Yasmine Kassari, women of an isolated village are left alone with the children and the old people. All the young men leave the village looking for jobs in other places. The tradition is that the wives have to wait for their husbands. The husbands sometimes come back after a long time for a very short period, but most of the time they do not come back. All the women yield to the tradition in the village accepting their fate except one young woman. She is rebellious. She is not convinced why she has to loose her right to choose freely the kind of life she wants, just for the sake of traditions !. A very legitimate question. She does not even wait for an answer. She takes action and leaves the village with her lover.

The fourth and last Arab film screened in the festival was the Lebanese film Bosta directed by Philippe Aractingi. The first impression after seeing the film is that it is light and entertaining with a lot of music and dancing. Nevertheless, beneath this, there lies the same dream of freedom. A group of creative dancers in Beirut try to add a different interpretation to the traditional Dabkeh dance. They are rejected by the conservative and narrow-minded people. They are accused of destroying Lebanese culture. They decide to take their school bus and tour the villages showing their new Dabkeh. The main question is whether the artist is free to have a different creative interpretation of traditional arts or not?

In the Arab films shown in the Festival, it becomes obvious that whether the characters succeed or fail to achieve the dream of freedom, the fact remains that longing for freedom is an endless journey that requires a very high price.