‘Knock Down the House’ filmmaker wants to ‘encourage political participation’ 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the first candidate director Rachel Lears met, in March 2017. (Supplied)
Updated 04 May 2019
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‘Knock Down the House’ filmmaker wants to ‘encourage political participation’ 

  • Aside from successful campaigner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lears’ documentary followed Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin
  • The candidates came from different backgrounds but represented the same ideals — they refused corporate donations

DUBAI: American documentary “Knock Down the House” created a buzz in the film industry when it had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The film, about four female US primary candidates, has an approval rating of 100 percent on review site Rotten Tomatoes. 

Director Rachel Lears said the response to the film had made her hope it will encourage political participation.

“I do hope it can be a tool for people who are organizing for change in our government and in our democratic process, but also hope it can encourage people to engage with the political process who might not otherwise feel left out,” Lears told Arab News. 

Director Rachel Lears (L) with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Supplied)

Lears said she was inspired to make the documentary after the 2016 US presidential elections.  

“After the 2016 election a lot of ordinary people wanted to get involved in politics,” she said, explaining that there was a “wave” of women, people of color, as well as political outsiders and first-time candidates who stood to compete in the 2018 midterm elections.  

Lears believes this was influenced by the Trump administration’s policies, which left some communities feeling under-represented. “I was really interested in highlighting the work of people who were working really hard to connect the struggles of different communities around the country.” 

Aside from successful campaigner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lears’ documentary followed Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin. The candidates came from different backgrounds but represented the same ideals — they refused corporate donations and aimed to represent the average working-class person.

Paula Jean Swearengin is a social and environmental activist and politician from West Virginia. (Supplied)
Amy Vilela is a healthcare activist running who is running for Congress in Nevada. (Supplied)
Cori Bush unsuccessfully went against US Representative Lacy Clay in Missouri. (Supplied)

Lears said she wanted to focus on those who had “grass-roots” campaigns. “I was looking for people who would be really interesting to watch no matter what happens with their elections. Of course, there was a very real possibility that all four of them might have lost.”

Ocasio-Cortez was the first candidate Lears met, in March 2017. Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic Party’s primary election for New York on June 26, 2018, defeating Joe Crowley in what was widely seen as the biggest victory in the 2018 US mid-term elections.

Knock Down the House was released on May 1 on Netflix. 


Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

Farah Al-Qasimi’s ‘Living Room Vape’ (2017). (Supplied)
Updated 16 July 2019
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Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

DUBAI: Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo exhibition at a US institution is set to open on July 30 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Working in photography, video, and performance, Al-Qasimi’s work explores themes of gender, nationality and class. Her photographs subvert ingrained expectations of how images are constructed and understood and she is known for borrowing conventions from various sources, including documentary photography and Renaissance paintings.

Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire) (still), 2019. (Supplied)

Camouflage and concealment play a central role in the artist’s work. In a recent series of portraits, Al-Qasimi obscures the faces of her subjects while capturing intimate images, despite the lack of a clear, engaging face. Various compositional strategies hide identifying features — behind plumes of smoke, a well-placed hand, or sumptuously patterned textiles and drapery — while she still manages to accentuate the opulent interiors her subjects inhabit.

Alongside a group of recent photographs, the exhibition will include a screening of Al-Qasimi’s new film, “Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire)” (2019), which was recently unveiled at Art Basel Statements.

M Napping on Carpet, 2016. (Supplied)

The 40-minute video is structured like a television documentary following a jinn — a ghost-like entity in Islamic tradition. Delivering a confessional, reality TV-style monologue, the jinn appears on camera beneath a patterned sheet. The video interweaves her thoughts on centuries of Portuguese and British colonial meddling in the modern-day emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE. The video also explores the influence of the European presence in the region and the use of Euro-centric practices for the display of historical artifacts.

Curated by Henriette Huldisch, the director of exhibitions at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the exhibition marks the first time Al-Qasimi’s work has been shown in a solo exhibition in the US — it is set to wrap up on Oct. 20.  

The artist lives and works between New York and Dubai and has seen her work exhibited in The Third Line gallery in Dubai, Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and the San Francisco Arts Commission, among other locations.

Al-Qasimi received her MFA from the Yale School of Art and has participated in residencies at the Delfina Foundation in London; the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine; and is a recipient of the New York NADA Artadia Prize and the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship.