#PÖFF23 sets focus on Arab cinema
Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s 23rd edition will see a focus on Arab cinema, as the festival screens 14 films in the specially curated programme In Focus: Sizzling Arabia, showcasing highlights from the last decade.
According to the curator, Intishal Al Timimi, a Black Nights curator who is also the head of the programme of the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt, the special programme is most likely the largest of its kind ever screened at an international festival in Europe. It includes some of the best Arab productions of the past 10 years and a few very recent works that shouldn’t be missed. Arab cinema is on the rise, as Six Arab films have been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in the past eight years, two of which are screening in the programme – Theeb by Naji Abu Nowar and Omar by Hany Abu-Assad.
Al Timimi also commented on the challenges of the task and why some films were excluded as it was very challenging to represent the great cinematic productions of 23 Arab countries and the work and effort of over 350 million individuals, with only 8 titles, in addition to the six produced this year. Some important titles, such as Wajib (Annemarie Jacir, Palestine, 2017), The Insult (Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon, 2017), Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al-Daradji, Iraq, 2009) are missing from our programme, only because these films were recently already screened at PÖFF in previous editions. Nevertheless, the selection should not disappoint anyone with even the slightest interest in great cinema!
2019, Morocco / France, director: Maryam Touzani
The festival’s opening film is set in Casablanca, shedding light on the challenges faced by an unwed pregnant woman in a conservative Arab country. The film tackles taboo subjects in the Arab world through a poignant portrait of two women, which touches the heart in large measure due to the superb performances of Lubna Azabal (“Tel Aviv on Fire”, PÖFF 2018) and Nisrin Erradi (“Catch the Wind”) working with the promising first-time director Maryam Touzani.
Baghdad In My Shadow
2019, Switzerland / Germany / United Kingdom, director: Samir
Strong-willed architect Amal, introvert poet Taufiq and closeted gay IT specialist Muhanad love meeting up at a little café in central London. They‘re all Iraqi expats, still caught up in their past and yearning for freedom. Everything changes when Amal’s husband, a former informant of Saddams regime, suddenly shows up in London.
“Baghdad in My Shadow” is directed by the multiple award-winning filmmaker Samir (Swiss Oscar entry „Iraqi Odyssey“) and shows how various ways of life, traditional and modern, atheist and Muslim, collide in a little cafe in the middle of London – an explosive mix staged with empathy and authenticity.
2019, France / Algeria / Belgium / Qater, director: Mounia Meddour
Algeria, 1990s. Nedjma, an 18 year-old student passionate about fashion design refuses to let the tragic events of the Algerian Civil War to keep her from experiencing a normal life and going out at night with her friend Wassila. As the social climate becomes more conservative, she rejects the new bans set by the radicals and decides to fight for her freedom and independence by putting on a fashion show.
Talking About Trees
2019, France / Sudan / Germany / Chad / Qatar, director: Suhaib Gasmelbari
Ibrahim, Suleiman, Manar and Altayeb have been friends for over 45 years. They left their motherland in the 1960s and 1970s to study film abroad and founded the Sudanese Film Group in 1989. After years of distance and exile, they are reunited, hoping to finally make their old dream come true; to bring cinema to Sudan. They are determined to leave something behind and ignite the love for cinema.
2019, Syria / Denmark / Germany / USA / Qatar, director: Feras Fayyad
For besieged civilians in Syria, hope and safety lie underground inside the subterranean hospital known as the Cave, where pediatrician and managing physician Dr. Amani Ballor and her colleagues Samaher and Dr. Alaa have claimed their right to work as equals alongside their male counterparts, doing their jobs in a way that would be unthinkable in the oppressively patriarchal culture that exists above. Following the women as they contend with daily bombardments, chronic supply shortages and the ever-present threat of chemical attacks, „The Cave” paints a stirring portrait of courage, resilience and female solidarity.
You Will Die at 20
2019, Sudan / France / Germany / Norway / Qatar, director: Amjad Abu Alala
In a Sudanese village, Muzamel is born readily cursed by a Dervish prophecy, stating that he will die at the age of 20. Muzamel grows up amongst looks of sympathy that make him feel dead before his time, until Suliman – a cinematographer who was working in the city – returns to the village. Suliman’s old cinema projector offers Muzamel a window overlooking a whole new world. When his 20th birthday arrives, he is faced with a choice between accepting impending death and a bus to the world he is eager to experience.
FILMS MADE IN 2011–2018
As I Open My Eyes
2016, Tunisia, director: Layla Bouzid
Tunis in the summer of 2010, a few months before the Arab Spring. Eighteen-year-old Farah passes her Baccalaureate exam and her family already imagines her future career as a doctor. But Farah doesn’t see things in quite the same way. She sings in an activist rock group. She discovers love and her city at night, thrills to its energy, against her mother’s wishes. Hayet, her mother, knows Tunisia and its restrictions.
Barakh Meets Barakh
2016, Saudi Arabia, director: Mahmoud Sabbagh
In a strict social environment hostile to romantic relations in all its forms, Barakah is an employee of the municipality of Jeddah and an amateur actor who trains to present Ophelia in the play “Hamlet”. One day he meets Barakah, an attractive girl who constantly posts videos through her Instagram account, and together they try to circumvent the reactionary laws that surround them and the authority of the religious police that exerts influence on all walks of life. “Barakah Meets Barakah” is a film for anyone who’s always wanted to know just what else is going on in Saudi Arabia.
Death for Sale
2011, Morocco / France / Belgium / United Arab Emirates director: Faouzi Bensaïdi
Tetouan, a Moroccan port city is permanently under a low, heavy sky. Three friends, small time crooks, decide to rob the town’s biggest jewelry store to escape from a hopeless future. Shot by Elia Suleiman’s regular cinematographer, Marc-André Batigne this very stylised urban thriller captures the action in a series of complex camera movements and crane shots, maintaining the integrity of the real-world locations while adding a sufficient level of suspense.
The film was selected as Best International Feature Film at the 85th Academy Awards.
2015, Tunisia / France / Belgium, director: Mohamed Ben Attia
Hedi is a quiet young man following the path that’s been traced out for him. Tunisia is changing, but Hedi doesn’t expect much from the future and lets others make his big decisions for him. The same week his mother is preparing his marriage, his boss sends him to the seaside town of Mahdia to seek out new clients. At a crossroads, Hedi meets Rim, a free-spirited globetrotter working as an activity leader at a local resort. Rim’s lust for life quickly rubs off on Hedi and the two begin a passionate love affair. With preparations for the wedding in full swing back at home, Hedi is finally forced to make a choice for himself.
“Hedi” won the Silver Bear for Best Actor and Best First Feature Award at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.
2014, Switzerland / Germany / United Arab Emirates / Iraq, director: Samir
Angry bearded men, veiled women, demolished cities: Iraq, as seen through the eyes of the western media. What happened to the enlightened society of the 1950s and 1960s? How did it come to this? A globalized middle-class Iraqi family in diaspora speaks. Tracing the emigrations of his family over more than half a century, this riveting documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation of Iraq.
2013, Palestine, director: Hany Abu-Assad
Omar, a young Palestinian militant, is accustomed to dodging surveillance bullets to cross the separation wall to visit his secret love Nadia. When he moves to the other side of the wall, the sensitive young baker Omar becomes a freedom fighter who must face painful choices about life and manhood. When Omar is captured after a deadly act of resistance, suspicion and betrayal jeopardize his longtime trust with his accomplices Amjad and Tarek and his feelings quickly become as torn apart as the Palestinian landscape.
Omar won the Un Certain Regard prize at the 66th Cannes Film Festival and was among the nominees for Best International Feature Film at the 86th Academy Awards.
2014, Jordan / United Kingdom / United Arab Emirates / Qatar, director: Naji Abu
Set in the Arabian Desert of 1916, the film follows Theeb, a young Bedouin boy and his elder brother Hussein, as they leave the safety of their tribe to venture on a treacherous journey at the dawn of the Great Arab Revolt. If Theeb is to survive, he must quickly learn about adulthood, trust and betrayal.
“Theeb” is the first Jordanian feature to receive the Orizzonti Award for Best Director at Venice Film Festival. It has also first Jordanian film to be nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem
2018, Palestine / Netherlands / Germany Mexico, director: Muayad Alayan
Sarah is Israeli and runs a café in West Jerusalem. Saleem is Palestinian from East Jerusalem and works as a delivery man. Despite being worlds apart, Sarah and Saleem risk everything as they embark on an affair that could tear apart their unsuspecting respective families. When a risky late-night tryst goes awry and threatens to expose them, the two of them look on helplessly as their frantic efforts to salvage what’s left of their lives further escalate things.