FestBeat: Thinking through Panorama’s programming (day 2)

Panorama’s real challenge in my opinion is not to discover breakthrough directors and filmmakers, but to create a provocative, rich line-up of films that responds to the needs of its Egyptian public.

One thing that catches my eye is the new “Crossroads” section, which brings in co-productions between Europe and the “Arab world” and opens tonight at 9:45 pm with the Iraqi-German co-production Memories on Stone (Shawkat Amin Korki, 2014).

Queens Of Syria (Yasmin Fedda, 2014), which won the Black Pearl award at Abu Dhabi 2014, screens in this category and I highly recommend it. So does the documentary On the Bride’s Side (2014), an interesting co-directing project between the Palestinian-Syrian Khaled Soliman al-Nassiry and the Italian Gabriele Del Grande. Immigration and diaspora are timely topics, and the films in the Crossroads section all deal in some way or another with what it means to “belong” today.

There has been a lot of discussion recently, from an Egyptian perspective, about how co-productions in some ways appropriate the voices of global marginalized groups — like Syrians or Egyptians — into the dominant, mostly white and Western, world-view. I’m interested to see how the films chosen for the Crossroads section navigate the intricate power relations that give birth to such notions as identity, belonging, borders and diaspora. Hopefully we will see programming that takes into account the position of its Egyptian audience within the power structures of the world today.           

Of course, Panorama’s program also includes a number of indie big-hitters that will bring in the cash – or the viewers at least. These include The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015), My Mother (Nanni Moretti, 2015), Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015), Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone, 2015), Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015), as well as Far from the Maddening Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg, 2015).

These films pepper the program, but the vast majority of films aim for what could be thought of as a “truthful” image, or an aesthetic that hides the mediations that produced the image, making it harder to acknowledge that they are mediated representations and not accurate reflections. Not only is there a documentary section, but a number of the filmmakers across all sections have also been, or are still, documentary filmmakers.

On Thursday, I saw Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary Human (2015). Afterwards, there was a discussion about film within the framework of intercultural diplomacy. Human is perhaps the only film that premiered at a UN General Assembly meeting rather than a film festival.

I started wondering if we burden the image too much, ask it to do more than it can when thinking about it within the framework of intercultural exchange and collaboration. Even in the context of an event like the Panorama, which hopes to use the image to increase understanding across geographies, are we confusing what images can and cannot do

Can images ever be “true,” and true in what sense? It is useful to ask this question because the veracity of an image is what people gamble on when using images as tools for intercultural diplomacy.  An image is an experience more than a set of data about how people live and talk. What does it mean to say that films increase global understanding and tolerance, especially the story-based films we see in Panorama this year?

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