The Arab World on Screen

in 8th Abu Dhabi Film Festival

by Kirill Razlogov

Iraqi Odyssey (Al Odyssa al Iraqiya) proposed a personal perspective of the destinies of Iraqi middle class.  The director and scriptwriter Samir left Baghdad for Switzerland with his family as a child in the 60s. This almost three hours long saga tells the story of some of his relatives and follows them from Iraq to Europe, Russia and even Australia. The film is a co-production of Iraq, Switzerland, Germany and the United Arab Emirates – the latest through Sanad – the co-production fund of the Abu Dhabi festival. Samir’s large family encompasses four generations and several dozens of individuals. The director chose the most colourful and ready to be filmed and speak. The result is a tough political and cultural analysis of ethnic and social strata, composed of people forced to become dissidents and emigrants.

The Syrian-German co-production Return to Homs (Al afda ila Homs) by the Syrian emigrant Talal Derki is a dramatic chronicle of an upheaval against the Asad regime in a small town, led by a group of idealistic young people. The rebellion was crushed be the Army and the town was practically destroyed, but some participants survived. The film combines a chronicle of the combat with later testimonies.

In Queens of Syria (Malikat Syria) – another multilateral co-production – Yasmine Fedda switches to a different register, as she follows a group of Syrian women refugees in Jordan who recreate their own version of The Trojan Women by Euripides about the plight of women in war. It was one of the best in a bunch of films about the use of art as a means to explain and overcome current real life dramas and tragedies. Other such films were the Pirates of Sale by Merieme Addou and Rosa Rogers that tells the story of a circus school for homeless young people in Morocco, and one of the two feature length exclusively Emirati productions Sounds of the Sea (Sawt Al Bahar) by Nujoom Afghanem – a portrait of an old singer trying to revive an ancient tradition (the second being the opening road movie From A to B directed by Ali Mostafa, a sequel to his 2009 success City of Life).

A curious example of a film combining a documentary approach with different genres and techniques, including animation, was offered by Amer Shomali from Palestine and the Canadian veteran Paul Cowan in The Wanted 18, interpreting an episode of Palestinian resistance by creating a collective farm with 18 cows, becoming “wanted” by the Israeli authorities.

The quality and the diversity of the documentary program would have made the decision of the FIPRESCI jury difficult if not for the presence of a genuine discovery – Um ghayeb (Mother of the Unborn) – the feature debut of Nadine Salib from Egypt, a non-political but dramatic and human portrait of a remarkable woman longing for maternity.

Edited by Yael Shuv