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Your guide to navigating Cairo Cinema Days 2
Mada Masr's culture team takes a look at this year's Cairo Cinema Days lineup
 
 
 
Still from Beauty and the Dogs
 

Running from April 23 to 30, the second edition of Cairo Cinema Days brings an exciting selection of Arab films to three of the city’s screens.

Showcasing Arab films that have been celebrated in film festivals worldwide but had yet to find their way to Egyptian cinemas, Cairo Cinema Days offers Egyptian moviegoers a chance to explore independent contemporary Arab cinema in a way not possible before. With its launch in 2017, the event has become a staple of Cairo’s cultural calendar, awaited by film enthusiasts from year to year.

This year’s program includes films from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq and more, as well as two masterclasses: sound design with Lebanese sound artist and editor Rana Eid (Panoptic, 2017), and cinematography with Egyptian DOP Abdel Salam Moussa (Cactus Flower, 2017). The program also features a panel discussion with the directors of Egyptian TV series Sabea Gar (The Seventh Neighbor).

With 34 titles that span narrative features, documentaries, and shorts, however, it is no mean feat to select which films to see, especially when many of them are shown only once and screening times often overlap.

This is where we come in: In this guide, Mada Masr’s culture team helps readers navigate the diverse program through mini-reviews of the exhibited films, attempting to highlight the features that make each of them significant in their own way.

Narrative features

Beauty and the Dogs

2017
Kaouther Ben Hania
Tunisia, France, Sweden, Norway, Lebanon, Qatar, Switzerland

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s third feature to date is a rich, multi-layered film that takes place over the course of one night, revealing much about post-2011 Tunisia.

Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani), a charming young woman from the countryside, is walking down the street with Youssef (Ghanem Zrelli), a young man she has just met at a university party. Their budding flirtation is cut short when Mariam is attacked and raped by a group of police officers, kicking off a conflict that lasts well into the night, as Mariam attempts to report the incident to medical professionals and police officers who are indifferent at best, if not contemptuous.

Throughout the film, we see Mariam fight against the forces of bureaucracy, corruption and sexism that threaten to undo the progress made after the revolution, prompting the characters and viewers alike to wonder if anything has ever changed. Youssef, too, as an activist who was involved in the revolution, is the subject of authorities’ disdain, a reminder that the reasons that drove Tunisians to rise up seven years ago are still alive and kicking.  

Beauty and the Dogs is divided into nine chapters, each of them  one long, uninterrupted take. Its inventive editing that, along with Ferjani’s moving performance, make for an intense viewing experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Go if: You’re wondering what it’s like in today’s Tunis, after the revolutionary dust has settled. Also, if you’re interested in charting the career of one of the most promising female Arab directors working today.

Monday April 23 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema

Tuesday April 24 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

Until the Birds Return

2017
Karim Moussaoui
Algeria, France, Germany

This 113-minute film by Algerian writer-director Karim Moussaoui is an insightful meditation on family, guilt, love and healing in a country shaped by colonialism and civil war

The film follows three different, barely connected storylines unfold across the sprawling landscape of contemporary Algeria: a wealthy contractor grappling with a rebellious son and a discontented wife, a driver in love with a woman who shares his feelings but has chosen another man to marry, and a neurologist who struggles to come to terms with his past.

In unexpected yet seamless transitions, we move from one story to the next, as the camera switches from one character’s point of view to another’s, and sometimes assumes the role of an omniscient, indifferent presence.

The film’s classical score is poignant, the last on a list of intriguing formal choices that make Until the Birds Return an overall impressive debut feature. The film premiered at the Un Certain Regard section of last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Go if: You’re generally into composite films, and if you’re a fan of Leo Carax’s Holy Motors (2012).

Monday April 30 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema

Looking for Oum Kalthoum

2017
Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari
Germany, Austria, Italy, Lebanon, Qatar

In Looking for Oum Kalthoum, the directors of Women Without Men (2009) attempt to say something about confusion through the many, disparate portraits of the legendary singer envisioned over the years, none of which fully reflect her whole truth.

The protagonist, Mitra (Neda Rahmanian), is an Iranian director in the process of making a film about the “Voice of Egypt,” though she can not speak Arabic herself. In her quest, she is aided by Ghada, (Yasmin Raeis), a school teacher with a beautiful voice who plays the role of Oum Kalthoum in the film within the film.

As a female artist herself, and one who idolizes Oum Kalthoum, Mitra wonders: What did this woman have to lose in order to keep her place at the top for so long? Is it possible for a woman to achieve what Oum Kalthoum did in today’s misogynistic world? What is it that Oum Kalthoum achieved, anyway, and at what cost?

As her project progresses, Mitra begins to lose steam, but an argument with Oum Kalthoum herself may answer some of her questions.

Go if: You’re interested in Iranian cinema, feminist approaches to film and deconstructed biographies of Arab icons.

Monday April 23 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

Wajib

2017
Anne-Marie Jacir
Palestine, France, Germany, Colombia, Norway, Qatar, United Arab Emirates

“To live is to choose the life you want to lead.”

With the above line, Shady (Saleh Bakri), the protagonist in Anne-Marie Jacir’s Wajib, summarizes the problems that plague his relationship with his father (Mohammad Bakri), and with his home country, Palestine.

The beauty of Jacir’s film –– which took home the Dubai International Film Festival’s Muhr Feature Film Award and the Best Actor Award for both lead actors, who are father and son, in 2017 –– lies in how it how it portrays the tension of father-son relationships with a quiet, understated honesty.

Shady returns to Nazareth from Italy, where he works and lives with his girlfriend, in order to attend his sister’s wedding and help his father with the preparations. The seemingly simple tasks they go about together act as catalysts that spur a full-blown dispute between him and his father, and bring Shady’s suppressed anger about life under occupation to the surface.

Jacir builds up her tightly written story at a balanced pace: between family and friends’ comments about Shady’s life in Italy, including his long hair and strange attire, and his own critical remarks about people’s behavior, such as the Israeli soldiers and piles of garbage on the street, we are shown a glimpse of the nature and depth of the conflict at the heart of the film’s central relationship, and empathize with the characters in the process.

Skillful acting, coupled with insightful and naturally delivered dialogue make this 97-minute film a very engaging watch.  

Go if: You’re in the mood for a rich, emotional experience and some meditation on the consequences of rebelling against — or reconciling with — reality.

Sunday April 29 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema
Monday April 30 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

The Blessed

2017
Sofia Djama
France, Belgium, Qatar

Don’t be fooled by the title of this one: It takes place shortly after the Algerian civil war, in a city filled with the smell of death and inhabited by broken characters brought together by loss, anger, and a communal struggle to cope with catastrophe.

Samir (Sami Bouajila) is adamant about adapting to life in Algiers, however horrific it may be, while his wife, Amal (Nadia Kaci), is filled with contempt and dreams of a way out of the city.

Meanwhile, Fahim (Amine Lansari), Samir and Amal’s son, leads an unstable existence with his friends Reda (Adam Bessa) and Feriel (Lyna Khoudri), as they search for salvation among troubled relationships and religious fundamentalism.  

Writer and director Sofia Djama manages to portray the sense of fear and defeat that consumes her characters with great sensitivity through small details and concise dialogue that is tinged with bitterness and disappointment. Moreover, the lighting and cinematography, complemented with a dark palette, paint a gloomy picture of a lifeless city that wakes up each day to news of more bombings and falls asleep each night in anticipation of more.

Some viewers may feel that The Blessed is too direct, but for those who have lived through war and its aftermath, sometimes subtext and symbolism is insufficient.

Go if: You want to see a touching, humanistic portrayal of the effects of Algeria’s civil war, made with the mature sensibility that can only come nearly two decades after the violence has ended.

Tuesday April 24 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema
Wednesday April 25 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

Volubilis

2017
Faouzi Bensaïdi
Morocco, France, Qatar

Abdelkader (Mouhcine Malzi), a security guard, and Malika (Nadia Kounda), a domestic worker, are newlyweds and madly in love, but they are unable to live together due to financial difficulties. Volubilis, a stirring drama set in the Moroccan city of Meknes, opens with the couple trying to find a place to consummate their marriage, but takes a sharp and swift turn when Abdelkader is subjected to a violent incident that threatens their relationship. From this point, viewers are taken on a journey of vengeance that, while suspenseful, is also filled with humor.

The contrast between the opulent mansion and the vast shopping mall where Malika and Abdelkader work respectively, and their own modest living conditions, are a strong statement about economic inequality in Morocco. According to the director, the film is an attempt to answer a simple question: Can love survive amid such overbearing social and economic pressures?  

Bensaïdi’s distinct visual style and the actors’ skilful performances (emphasized by the frequent close-ups), make for a memorable experience, and account for the numerous awards the film has won at the 19th Tangier National Film Festival, as well as the Best Actress award for Kounda in last year’s El Gouna Film Festival.

Go if: You’re into melodramas (think Douglas Sirk with an Arab twist), and would like to see a new spin on The Count of Monte Cristo.

Friday April 27 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema
Saturday April 28 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

Northern Wind

2017
Walid Mattar
Tunisia, France, Qatar

A touching tale of life on opposite sides of the Mediterranean, Tunisian writer-director Walid Mattar’s first feature film traverses borders to offer a unique, humorous look at working class life in Tunisia and France.

The film follows two characters in France and Tunisia whose paths cross only once during the film’s 89-minute runtime, although their storylines run in parallel throughout. When a shoe factory in the north of France relocates to a Tunisian suburb, Herve (Philippe Rebbot), a middle-aged employee, loses his job, while Foued (Mohamed Amine Hamzaoui), a young Tunisian man with a sick mother, finally finds one.

Smooth editing, simple camerawork and a well-constructed screenplay make for a film that packages two distinct stories as though they were one. Mattar uses ships or planes transporting goods as a narrative tool to transport us from one continent to the other throughout the film—it is an intelligent way of illustrating how large-scale economic dynamics shape the lives of individuals everywhere.

Although Northern Wind is earnest in its portrayal of its protagonists, both struggling to make ends meet, it doesn’t fall into the trap of melodrama or sentimentality. Instead, it uses irony to make a broader comment about the world we live in: life may appear easier in some places, but it really is tough everywhere.

Go if: Dramas with socio-economic undertones are your thing. It’s like a Dardennes brothers picture, only lighter in tone.

Thursday April 26 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema
Friday April 27 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

The Journey

2017
Mohamed Al-Daradji
Iraq, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Qatar

The man behind the helm of critically acclaimed Iraqi films like Son of Babylon (2009) and In My Mother’s Arms (2011) returns with a powerful story about a place where the wounds of war are still fresh.

The film starts on the first day of Eid al-Adha, exactly three years after the Arab world woke up to news of Saddam Hussein being executed by invading US forces. Sara (Zahraa Ghandour) enters the newly re-opened Baghdad Central Station, determined to blow herself up to “purify the place of Americans,” as she describes it. Her plan is interrupted, however, by a host of charming, vibrant characters she meets at the station, most notably a hustler called Salam (Ameer Jabarah), who prompt her to reconsider her mission.

Carefully composed frames, expressive lighting and nimble editing, which heightens the feeling of suspense, make The Journey a memorable film. Most remarkable, however, is Ghandour’s gripping performance at the center of a impressive cast.

Go if: You’re sick of all the clichéd, heavy-handed portrayals of militants and suicide bombers that fill Arab and international cinema.

Saturday April 28 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema
Sunday April 29 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

Zagros

2017
Sahim Omar Khalifa
Belgium

Zagros (Feyyaz Duman) is a happily married shepherd whose life in Kurdistan is turned upside down when rumors start circulating in his village that his wife, Havin (Halima Ilter) is having an affair with a local salesman. After being beaten by family elders, Havin decides to flee to Belgium, where her cousin lives, and Zagros follows shortly after.

But although he adores his wife, the great lengths his family, particularly his father, go to in order to prove Havin’s adultery greatly affect him. Zagros is named after the largest mountain range in Kurdistan, connecting him to the land and community there. As such, even when he joins his wife in Europe, their cloud of suspicion follows him.

Duman gives an excellent performance of a man torn between his love for his wife and his inability to trust her. His inner conflict shows on his face, testament to overbearing expectations of masculinity that are harmful to men and women alike.

Go if: You want a portrayal of Kurdish women, from those subjected to injustices in rural communities to guerrilla fighters at the frontiers (like Havin’s sister in Zagros). The film is also a rare, nuanced portrayal of masculinity in patriarchal societies.

Wednesday April 25 at 9:00 pm in Karim Cinema
Thursday April 26 at 7:00 pm in Zamalek Cinema

Documentaries

The City Will Pursue You

2017
Ahmed Nabil
Egypt

Steeped in nostalgia and filled with haunting imagery of Alexandria’s depleted architectural landscape, Ahmed Nabil’s first feature-length documentary  follows several people as they recount their feelings of loss toward their hometown’s fading culturally pluralistic heritage.

In this minimally financed film, which took almost seven years to make before it premiered at the Ismailia International Film Festival in 2017, you will find beautifully constructed visual sequences that document Alexandria’s architectural heritage and its ongoing destruction.

In situating his characters within Alexandria’s ongoing battle for heritage, Nabil creates a film that is centered on memory rather than actually interacting with issues that surround the city’s urban evolution.

Go if: You’re into architecture, urban history and have a soft spot for Alexandria.

Thursday April 26 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

A Feeling Greater Than Love

2017
Mary Jirmanus Saba
Lebanon

In her first feature film, Mary Jirmanus Saba uses archives and stories relayed by her characters to revive the memory of the workers’ strikes that took place in the early 1970s at tobacco and chocolate factories in Lebanon, a memory which was obscured by the civil war that followed a few years later.

Saba weaves the narratives recounting the factory strikes with the characters’ reflections on the failure of the left more generally. The film also meditates on Lebanese militant cinema and its own role as an archive, carving out a space to contemplate what the past can tell us in the present, and also in future moments of protest.

A Feeling Greater Than Love is a poetic and thoughtful contribution to Arab cinema and an important document of a moment almost completely absent from Lebanese and Arab collective memory.

The film won the FIPRESCI  jury award in the Berlin International Film Festival, where it premiered in 2017.

Read our review of the film here.  

Go if: You’re interested in labor struggles, Lebanese history and exploring the different uses of the archive.

Friday April 27 at 4 pm in Karim Cinema

Ghost Hunting

2017
Raed Andoni
Palestine, France, Switzerland, Qatar

Winner of the Best Documentary award at the 2017 Berlinale, Palestinian director Raed Andoni’s Ghost Hunting is a record of the director’s “Theater of the Oppressed” psychological experiment, where he brought former inmates of the Moskobiya interrogation center in Jerusalem together in a confined space.

The former inmates, who he finds through a newspaper advertisement, spend their time rebuilding the interrogation center with their own hands, then re-enact their interrogations by the Israeli soldiers, acting as both the oppressed and oppressor.

Without giving away the events of the film, you can expect it to be surprising, with deeply disturbing moments and a considerable measure of emotional catharsis.

Go if: You’re intrigued by the intersection of cinema, theater and psychology.

Monday April 23 at 6:30 pm at Karim Cinema

Taste of Cement

2017
Ziad Kalthoum
Syria, Lebanon, Germany, UAE, Qatar

Winner of the prize for best non-fiction feature in last year’s Dubai International Film Festival, Ziad Kalthoum’s Taste of Cement portrays the aftermath of the war in Syria from an unusual angle.

In the film, we see Syrian refugees employed as construction workers building skyscrapers in Beirut, a city they are forbidden from walking in after 7 pm. We watch them without learning their names, reflecting the low value placed on each of them as an individual. There is only one single story being narrated throughout, and while it doesn’t seem to belong to any of them in particular, it may belong to each of them.

Kalthoum builds his scenes upon one another the way the builders line their bricks: with calm and careful calculation. His is a brutal portrayal that reflects the lives he seeks to document in this compelling film.  

Go if: You value films that experiment with both sound and image. Here, Kalthoum builds upon his work in The Immortal Sergeant (2014), but takes us somewhere entirely new.

Saturday April 28 at 4:30 pm in Karim Cinema

Of Sheep and Men

2017
Karim Sayad
Algeria, France, Switzerland

The path trodden by sheep as they are taken to be slaughtered against the backdrop of the Eid al-Adha prayers isn’t the only one that they know in Swiss-Algerian director Karim Sayad’s Of Sheep and Men. The film is set in Bab al-Oued, an impoverished neighborhood in Algiers where people have made a habit of making money off sheep, either through selling them for slaughter or betting on them in fights.

Those selected as fighting sheep are trained to charge at one another in order to satisfy the ego of their owners. Some are even named after past tyrants, like Hitler and Saddam, and are celebrated like heroes when they show bravery in the rink.

In Sayad’s documentary, the sheep are characters, too. At times they love the men who own them, such as the teenage Habib, who wanted to be a veterinarian but never continued his education, and at times they attempt to wrest themselves free of their control. “In this country the big fish eat the little fish,” says Karim, an older man who trades in sheep to make ends meet. “And if, like us, you don’t have anything, you eat your bread and you shut up.”

In this intimate study of life on the margins, people make their own rules, and the fates of animals and humans intertwine.

Go if: You like coming-of-age stories, and for a unique portrait of suburban Algiers.

Wednesday April 25 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

In the Ruins of Baalbeck Studios

2017
Siska
Lebanon, Germany

The Roman temples in Baalbeck, Lebanon, have seen the rise and fall of many civilizations, from the Phoenicians to the Arabs and the Ottomans. Their ruins still stand today, drawing tourists from all over the world.

Studio Baalbeck for Music and Cinematic Production was founded in Beirut in 1962, and became a safe haven for young, ambitious Lebanese filmmakers like George Nasr and Ibrahim Taouche, and a number of Egyptians who left Cairo behind after Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the country’s film industry. For years, the studio made its own brand of cinema, until its prolific production was cut short by the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War.

In this 48-minute, dream-like documentary, Lebanese artist and filmmaker Siska seeks to revisit the legacy of Studio Baalbeck and explore the history of its lost archive through linking it to the fate of the Roman temples. It is a eulogy for the rundown villa that used to be the biggest production house in the Arab world, a true “House of Images.”

Go if: You’re interested in the archival history of the Arab film industry and Beirut.

Friday April 27 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

Still from In the Ruins of Baalbek Studios

Panoptic

2017
Rana Eid
Lebanon, UAE

Director Rana Eid (originally a sound editor and designer who worked with contemporary Lebanese filmmakers like Ghassan Salhab), takes viewers on a journey through underground Beirut in this sensory accomplishment.

Integrating the traumatic history of a city still suffering the effects of civil war with her own personal history, Eid offers a compelling look at contemporary Beirut, examining national monuments, old detention centers and torture spots previously used by Syrian intelligence.

A striking soundtrack designed by the artist serves not as a background, but as the main force that drives the film forward. “Sound was the trigger of every place in the film … Even when I started to edit, I started to edit in some sounds to have a structure in my mind,” said Eid in an interview with Four Three Film.

Through the haunting visual structure of the film, written in conjunction with with filmmaker Rania Stephan (The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni, 2011), and the interplay of sound with Eid’s moving voiceover narration, layers of history unfold within the documentary.

Go if: You generally enjoy works that blend the personal with the political, and for an honest, unconventional take on the Lebanese Civil War.

Saturday April 28 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

Room for a Man

2017
Anthony Chidiac
Lebanon, US

In Room for a Man, young Lebanese director Anthony Chidiac recounts the story of his life with his mother and his dog in a small Beirut apartment. Told through windows and shutters, ajar doorways and narrow corridors, his queerness is at the center of the documentary.  

As Chidiac redecorates his room, which we see through deliberately stilted camerawork, he tells us about his dream of escaping a family that takes pride in the machismo of patriarchal figures, and his conservative mother, who believes he is unfit to “protect the house,” and is unable to accept his sexuality.

Chidiac shows us his memory box and photo albums, speaking of relatives abroad, before he gets to the film’s turning point: his father, who he ends up traveling with to Argentina in search of family ties.

In a film that seems at first to be self-indulgent, Chidiac conveys the dream of finding a freer, more tolerant place to be with incredible sensitivity. Room for a Man is a debut feature that shows great promise.

Go if: You want to catch the first stirrings of what might be a new wave of queer Arab cinema.

Friday April 27 at 1:30 pm in Karim Cinema

Happily Ever After

2016
Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir
Egypt

Seven years after the January 25 revolution, Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir have created a film that dissects the disappointment and defeat plaguing a generation haunted by the notion of what could have been.

At the center of the film is the romantic relationship between Amir and Riyadh themselves; he is disillusioned and steadfast in his decision to leave the country, she is resolute in her desire to stay, and to persuade him to stay with her.

In a multi-layered narrative, Riyadh and Amir place us in a film within a film, where perspectives multiply and they attempt to address the greater picture. Happily Ever After is at once a re-exploration of the revolution, love, society and generational gaps, brought together in one controversial package with a hint of poeticism.

Go if: The idea of an honest and sometimes frantic first-hand account of the effects of political turmoil on romantic relationships appeals to you.

Sunday April 29 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

I Have a Picture: Film No. 1001 in the Life of the Oldest Extra in the World

2017
Mohamed Zedan
Egypt

For lovers of cinema, an industry with a focus on big names, the idea of making a film about an extra may seem like a romantic notion. If you work in the filmmaking business, you may often feel like an extra yourself, unable to breach the barriers that govern the industry that you love.

None of this will help you anticipate the delights of I Have a Picture, a film that begins as a dreamy walk down memory lane, in which the director recalls all the times he cut classes to go to the movies, and his obsession with memorizing the names of secondary actors, before taking a wildly unexpected turn.

In an entertaining, eye-opening experience, the director gives up center stage to one of his subjects: the elderly Kamal al-Homossany, who worked as an assistant to some of Egyptian cinema’s most iconic filmmakers for years. Throughout the film, we hear different views and musings about cinema from two entirely different generations.

I Have a Picture is not only a tribute to cinema, but also questions viewers’ perceptions of it, and through its excellent editing and cinematography, it encourages us to find some answers.

Go if: You love old black and white films, and are passionate about the industry aspect of filmmaking.

Monday April 30 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

Shorts

The short film selection in the second edition of Cairo Cinema Days focuses primarily on a region gripped by war, occupation and oppression.

Shorts 1

In The Crossing (Ameen Nayfeh, 2017) and Bonboné (Rakan Mayasi, 2017), we see detailed, moving presentations of daily life in occupied Palestine. In both films, characters are in a constant state of maneuvering for their basic rights, from a man in prison who wants a moment of intimacy with his wife, to a family attempting to cross to the other side of the West Bank, beyond the barrier, to visit their sick grandfather.

Meanwhile, in A Drowning Man (Mahdi Fleifel, 2017) a different kind of harsh Palestinian reality is on display, this time through a portrayal of life of a refugee in Athens.

At Last, a Tragedy (Maya Shurbaji, 2017) is the only non-Palestinian piece in the program, yet it doesn’t stray too far from the themes presented in the other short films. It is an exploration of trauma that takes us through the cities of Damascus and Beirut, and the recesses of its director’s memory.  

Shorts 2

Laced with irony, The President’s Visit (Fouad Yammine, Nicolas Daniel, 2017), is a hilarious satire that explores the absurdity of relationships between people and their head of state in the Arab world.

In contrast, Land of Doom (Milad Amin, 2018) is a brutally realistic documentary that portrays the few days that precede the fall of Aleppo, painting a sombre picture of resilient activists, interspersed with images of a destroyed city destroyed and people who are yet to lose hope.

Tshweesh (Feryrouz Serhal), meanwhile, makes a pointed statement about life in Beirut, as a signal issue interrupts people watching a World Cup game being broadcast on a hot summer’s day.

In As Far as Yearning (2017), directors Ghassan Salhab and Mohamed Soueid recreate spaces they once shared in an attempt to bridge the space that separates them now. Through an ongoing conversation and a series of sounds and images, they put together an audio-visual collage that makes for an intriguing “film essay,” as they refer to it.

Go if: You’re on the lookout for fresh, bold filmmaking. If there’s one thing this selection of films proves, it’s that that the possibilities of the short form are limitless.

Shorts 1: Saturday April 28 at 1:30 pm in Karim Cinema
Shorts 2: Monday April 23 at 7:00 pm in Cimatheque

In conversation with Bassem Yousri

The Wardrobe Man

2018
Bassem Yousri
Egypt

Is there a way we can connect with the memories of others, memories we haven’t experienced ourselves?

This is one of many questions artist Bassem Yousri’s latest work, The Wardrobe Man, attempts to answer.

In the film, Bassem has a dream where he sees the story of a Danish couple trying to follow the tracks of a man who spent most of his life inside a wardrobe. In his fixation with their fixation with the titular wardrobe man, the director attempts to build a relationship with a place he doesn’t belong to or know that well.

Blending fiction with documentary and employing several archival sequences, Yousri creates a film that feels almost like a brainstorming session. There is an imaginary flow of ideas about alienation and the fervent desire to belong that accompany them.  

The film will be followed by an extensive discussion with the director.

Go if: You’re into alternative modes of storytelling. In a way, The Wardrobe Man is half folktale, half experimental narrative.

Tuesday April 24 at 6:30 pm in Karim Cinema

Still from The Wardrobe Man

On Defiant Images

This selection includes six films of varying lengths, showcasing experiments by Arab directors who have attempted to explore new approaches of dealing with the power of images in contemporary societies, be they pictures that dictate certain narratives about the past — otherwise known as archives — or ones that inform our perception of the present.

When remembering, how can we liberate ourselves from the hegemony of certain contexts, in light of our situation as inhabitants of a region grappling with a past we don’t own, and a present imposed on us by others?

For his 70-minute film Recollection (2014), Palestinian filmmaker Kamal Aljafari searched for scenes of the city of Jaffa in an Israeli film archive composed of more than 50 films made during the 1960s and 1970s. Using the footage he found, he created a lasting work of his own, a panoramic view of the city made up of scenes that originally functioned as backdrops for the films’ protagonists.

By removing the actors from the scenes, the main characters in the film become the streets and houses of Jaffa, as well as its native inhabitants, who previously appeared as mere passersby. In one scene, for instance, Aljafari removes Ben Gurion, and plants a tree in his place.

There are many reasons to go and watch this film, none of them as compelling as the end credits, where Aljafari creates his own version of Jaffa’s history, one that would have been the chief narrative of the city had it not been for the occupation.

Wednesday 25 April at 7:00pm in Cimatheque

In Chinese Ink (2016), through a series of random images he captures with his iPhone over large intervals of time, Lebanese director Ghassan Salhab attempts to discover his complex relationship with certain places that have permanently shaped his consciousness of the past, as though tattooed on his skin in Chinese ink.

Thursday 26 April at 7:00pm in Cimatheque

Still from Chinese Ink

In her film 2016 film When Things Occur, Palestinian director Oraib Toukan converses with six Gaza-based photographers, in an attempt to uncover how they deal with images in a place the world knows only through pictures, particularly those of death, prompting a specific kind of emotional response. Each photographer speaks about certain images that have influenced their practice, as well as what makes “a good picture,” both from their point of view and from the perspective of different news agencies and media outlets. How did Toukan, in turn, avoid the trap of making a moving picture that is easy to predict if the viewer reads the above description beforehand? You won’t know unless you see When Things Occur for yourself.

Meanwhile, in Duo for Two Missing Persons, Lebanese director Rabih Mroué also tackles the idea of using the archive to create a new work. Here, however, the archive is not pictures or footage, but an idea. How can a dance be choreographed between two dead bodies whose identities we do not know, and who are not necessarily whole, as they were buried together in a mass grave following a massacre? Throughout the nine minutes that make up the duration of this film, we watch how Mroué attempts to answer this question.

Duo for Two Missing Persons

Narrow camera angles and an alienating soundtrack accentuate a text that two voices — each belonging to writer-director Mounira Al Solh — fight to narrate, in Now, Eat My Script. Against the backdrop of Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, Al Solh recalls her family history between the two countries, and stories of smuggling chocolate, beer, bananas and different kinds of food across the border. In her attempts to escape the weight of the past, she wonders: is it possible to write about trauma before enough time has passed, before it loses its urgency, and becomes part of “the past”?

In the 17-minute Nights and Days, Lebanese filmmaker Lamia Joreige also tries to reconstruct a relationship with her past, through diary entries she had written during the 2006 Lebanon War, as a personal account of the events.

(The above four films are screened in one group, titled “Shorts 3” in the schedule released by Zawya).

Tuesday 24 April at 7:00pm in Cimatheque

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Areej Gamal 
Doaa Nabhan 
Leila Arman 
Rowan El Shimi 
Wafaa Elsaeed 
Yasmine Zohdi