Arab Documentaries in Dubai

in 8th Dubai International Film Festival

by Heikki Jokinen

Many of the films in the Arab documentaries’ section of the Dubai International Film Festival came surprisingly from Lebanon and focused mainly on social issues. Lebanon’s difficult contemporary history was analysed from many points of view.

Gate #5 (Al Hawd Al khamis) by Simon El Habre opened up a view of how the country was functioning during the cruel civil war (1975—1990). It collected the stories of the truck drivers from Beirut harbour, letting them tell how one harbour gate was working all the time as a kind of free port to supply all sides of the war.

Sector Zero by Nadim Mishlavi used the story of a former refugee camp and neighbourhood area Karantina as key to Lebanese mentality. A psychiatrist, writer and architect analysed their country’s history and self—understanding through the experiences from Karantina — also the location of a major massacre in 1976.

The enemy is inside ourselves, Mishlawi seems to suggest. Lebanon’s collective memory forgets much, but on individual levels the memories live further. The good side of the film is the wish to go deep, look for the reasons for a violence in our minds. This is also it’s weak side: when going deep in Freudian theories, it loses focus when moving on a very general level, with theories to fit any nation and people.

Visually the film is challenging: it does not show the whole picture of the area but focuses on details of the dilapidated houses. Creating the atmosphere comes before giving information. Sector Zero won the festival’s own main jury prize.

The events of the Arab Spring come up in a couple of films. No More Fear (La khaoufa baada al’yaoum) by Mourad Ben Sheikh depicted the Tunisian revolution. The witnesses of the events were human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraoui, her husband, the leader of the Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party Hamma Hammami and young blogger Lina Ben Mhenni.

Their stories of the life before and during the revolution paint an interesting picture. Although the experiences and ideologies were different, one common theme prevailed: the absence of fear, that for so long time has been an integral part of Tunisian life. As the film is largely based on material shot on demonstrations, it gives an atmosphere of presence and passion.

Even though the film tells about a process that is still open and developing, it succeeded in giving an idea of the reasons why people from different generations and backgrounds were united in order to overthrow the dictatorship: no more fear.