Punks Need Help

in 22nd Ismailia Festival for Documentary and Short Films

by Marwa Abu Eish Elmahassen

The 22nd edition of the Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films headed by acclaimed film critic Essam Zakaria, and organized annually by the National Film Center headed by the scriptwriter Mohamed Al-Basousy, kicked off on June 16th and lasted until the 22nd. The Ismailia Festival is one of the oldest festivals in the Arab world, its first session was in 1991, and was also the first Arab festival to specialize in documentaries and short films.

The ten films in the main Competition of Documentary films this year were from different cinema cultures and with different aspects: A Home of Ones Own (2019) by the Lebanese director Ruba Atiye premiered at the Carthage Film Festival in 2019, and participated in the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival in 2020; The Fifth Story (2020) by the Iraqi director Ahmed Abd, won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Documentary at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) Competition for First Appearance; Exemplary Behaviour (2019) by Audrius Mickevicius and Nerijus Mileriuswhich won three film awards at Dok Leipzig (the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Documentary Film, the Golden Dove for the best Long Documentary and Animated Film, and the Prize of the Interreligious Jury); Island of Souls (2020) by Lotta Petronella received an Honorable Mention at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival (CPH: DOX); Tales from the Prison Cell (2021) by Abel Visky received a special mention at the Budapest International Documentary Festival; When the Persimmons Grew (2019) by Hilal Baydarov, the winner of the Interreligious Prize and the Jury Prize from Nyon Visions du Réel in 2019, and the Best Documentary Award at the Sarajevo Film Festival 2019 (and now winner of the Fipresci Prize at Ismailia this year). Also, there was Maps of Latin America (2020) by Martin Weber, an Argentina-Mexico-Norway co-production, which won the Documentary prize of the Cinelatino Film Festival and special mention from BIFF; Sugar Cage (2019) by Zeina Alqahwaji from Syria-Lebanon-Egypt; and One More Jump (2019) by Emanuela Gerosa from Italy-Lebanon-Switzerland.

Completing the competition, one of the most interesting among this selection, though, was Punks (Rotjochies, 2019) by Maasja Ooms. Punks was the winner of Best Dutch Documentary, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) that year. It is a film whose theme is very important; parents who send their teenage children to a temporary supervision order as a last hope of assimilation into society. These children are already classified as a group of Punks, with all of its stigmas for a young age.

The director’s camera is focusing all the time on the children’s faces, and we can see their real selves being revealed behind their facades; they are undoubtedly lying but from their eyes you can see the truth. One confronting scene shows one of the children and his father, and how both of them make efforts to understand the other, especially the father who is trying hard to have his child back home.

Also, the way of making them engage in numerous conversations with their counselor, which might hurt them sometimes, does at least help make them natural humans again, and becomes an important and progressive step in their psychological therapy.

Punks is ultimately full of sensitive and touching moments, full of energy, full of challenges, full of lies and truth, and even a sense of humor, in order to help these children merge into society again and get their lives back on track. Much commendation should go to director Masja Ooms in her third documentary film for being able to succeed in enabling through the film to give a clear idea about how teenagers feel, think, and interact.

Marwa Abu Eish Elmahassen
Edited by Steven Yates