Middle East film festival

This video is called Asmaa – Trailer.

By Rita di Santo:

Abu Dhabi Film Festival

Monday 24 October 2011

In response to the turbulence that has swept through the region over the past year, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival which ended on Sunday reflected the response to the political and social changes and the ongoing turmoil.

Showcasing and championing local creativity is at the heart of the festival, formerly the Middle East Film Festival, which is now in its fifth year.

Imaginative and original, the films on show last week inspired because they asked questions.

They were angry or life-affirming in this special time of the “Arab Spring,” none more so than Asma’a, … which was given its world premiere.

It’s Amr Salama’s second feature following Tahrir 2011, The Good The Bad And The Politician, his documentary on the Egyptian revolution which garnered praise at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Based on real-life events, it tells the story of Egyptian woman Asma’a who is HIV positive. She suffers from a benign infection and needs an operation but, due to her illness, no doctor will agree to carry out surgery.

Asma’a decides to resist, speak out and fight back against her illness and societal ignorance, making this a story with a broad sweep as it comments on changing times and politics. It’s stirring, savvy and disarmingly perceptive.

A highly sophisticated critique of state corruption comes in Moroccan independent director Mohamed Asli’s Rough Hands where, in Casablanca, Mustafa runs an underground business.

He pushes paperwork through government officials and conspires to help his neighbour emigrate to Spain.

It’s a story populated by characters compelled to bend the system to get by and Asli’s achieved something striking in a visually ravishing political allegory about the economic situation in Casablanca.

It’s warm, witty and affecting.

Nawaf Al-Janahi’s Sea Shadow, set in a small seaside neighbourhood in Ras Al Khaima in the Emirates, follows Emirati teenagers Mansour and Kaltham as they struggle with traditions on their journey toward adulthood.

In this low budget film, director Nawaf Al-Janahi combines a nostalgic feel for a simpler time with genuine cultural insight.

It’s a kind of anthropological cinema verite that avoids voyeurism in favour of a more measured consideration of the authentic.

The festival also presented a great selection of documentaries.

Atia and Mohamed Jabarah Al Daradji’s In My Mother’s Arms reveals the horrors that befall an orphanage in the Iraqi capital Baghdad’s most dangerous area, Sadr City.

It’s run by Husham, who has 32 children in his care. But when he faces eviction, the dream of providing them with a new lease of life is destroyed.

The boys’ experience is a very moving one and it’s forcefully told.

Through their eyes we are brought close to the difficulties and hopes facing a generation of Iraqi people and it graphically portrays the horrors of war.

Another striking documentary was Diaries by May Odeh, which portrays three young women resisting a double siege – as Palestinians and as women – in Gaza.

They have a lot to fight for and against and director May Odeh alllows her subjects to share their personal dreams, fears and daily struggles.

Diaries finds beauty, graciousness and hope in the city men call “hell.”

Hicham Lasri’s made his debut with the experimental The End, filmed in black and white.

It’s set in Casablanca in 1999 when, with longtime monarch Hassan II on his deathbed, an air of uncertainty prevails in Morocco.

Stylish and meticulous in its structure, it’s a gritty, original satire by a new talent to watch.

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