Documenting New Vistas in Real Life Narratives

in 8th Abu Dhabi Film Festival

by Subrahmanyan Viswanath

The documentary competition at the Eighth Edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival was an eye-opener. The FIPRESCI Jury focused on seven of the 17 feature length films in the competition- each a revelation in itself. From the myriad of topical themes they tackled, to the narrative styles they presented, they had the audiences root for them.

While the Egyptian-United Arab Emirates co-production Um Ghayeb (Mother of the Unborn) by Nadine Salib, was chosen by the FIPRESCI Jury as its unanimous winner, the others were, in no way, any lesser in merit, though a few of them were a tad short of excellence.

If the Palestine-Canada-France-UAE production The Wanted 18 by the director-duo Amer Shomali and Paul Cown, was a fascinating tale of a group of Palestinians’ Intifada Milk Initiative to hit back at the Israeli occupation, peppered with cheeky humor and irony, the Iraqi Odyssey by Samir – an Iraq-Switzerland, Germany-UAE co-production – was a monumental personal treatise on an immigrant family’s life over a half century, which captures the country’s social political history through turbulent times, peppered with film clips of the regimes.

Likewise, if the Morocco-UK-France-UAE co-production Pirates of Sale by Merieme Addou and Rosa Rogers vividly captured in all its nuances the Morocco’s slum-kids who transform their lives from that of criminals to circus performers, the Queens of Syria by Yasmin Fedda, a Lebanon-Jordan-UAE co-production, succinctly brought forth the pains and pangs of the Syrian refugee women as they auditioned to enact the ancient Greek play by Euripides The Trojan Women, adapted to their own situation and the sense of displacement and exile they faced during their country’s civil strife.

While Talal Derki’s Return to Homs, a Syria-Germany co-production, spoke of the Syrian resistance with the nation’s football star as he rallies a group of young rebels against the regime with stark reality, the Sounds of Sea by Nujoom Alghanem chronicles the life and times of a famous old sea crooner who seeks to set out on a voyage across the Umm Al Quwain creek in a throwback to the glorious past.

The underlying themes and concerns of most of the documentary features shed light on the upsurge of people’s resistance to thwart their rights and their singular revolt against the establishment to safeguard democratic principles and their dignity of living and livelihood.

Be it personal journeys, struggles to uplift their own stations in life and social strata, braving the oddities they confront in their fight for equality, probity and ethical values in life, these seven gems showed, how each of the directors, through their core concerns, brought before audiences stories of grit and determination, successes and sorrows of people less ordinary and of humankind’s doughtiness to wage war against social injustices and emerge triumphant despite their struggles, taking a toll and turning many martyrs while championing the cause of freedom and dignity in life.

In sum, the documentary competition, which filled the theaters, warmed the cockles of those that swear by this unique form and ensure it is still alive and kicking and in no way inferior to the better disposed feature film category.

Edited by Yael Shuv