Film fans get cutting-edge view of Middle East life at Arab movie fest in Michigan

Updated 19 June 2019

Film fans get cutting-edge view of Middle East life at Arab movie fest in Michigan

MICHIGAN: Movie fans were given a cutting-edge view of life in the Middle East at the 14th annual Arab Film Festival (AFF) in the US.

Held in Detroit, the event introduced a series of films, movie shorts and documentaries focusing on marginalized voices in communities, including gender, identity, social justice, activism and community building.

Showcasing movies from Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the festival ran for nine days, from June 7 to 16, and featured Michigan premieres and prizewinners from several film festivals, including Sundance and Cannes.

This year’s festival offered more than 15 premieres, four programs of short films, free workshops, an opening reception and a curated selection of the best Arab and Arab-American films of various genres.

Movies spanned various subjects, including stories about a Tunisian son running away from his parents, a man in an Israeli prison who must deal with his ordeal, and a 17-year old Arab and Muslim girl in Arkansas who deals with being an outsider.

The AFF showed a block of seven shorts from the Arab World, including the comedy “Dunya’s Day,” which is a 2018 Saudi movie about Dunya who, on the day of her college soiree, is abandoned by her domestic help but must still throw the perfect party.

Rita Khalifah, from the US city of Melvindale, attended the festival and saw the block of Arab World shorts. She feels that the festival was important for “everyone, not just metro-Detroit,” and gave “a different outlook and perspective on what’s really happening” and “a more personal understanding of people as individuals and what they are going through. I look forward to (the festival) every year and enjoying the creative side of it all.”

The festival ended by showcasing seven shorts that involved Arab-American producers, directors, and/or actors. The films portrayed a broad array of images and messages and were specially selected for screening as they were unlikely to be seen in larger or commercial theaters.

“Generation One” told the tale of Arab-Americans attempting to gain independence while living in the heavily Arab and Muslim community of Bridgeview, Illinois.

 “Yallah Habibi” seemed like an Arab version of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” telling a humorous story of an Arab-American family which owned a restaurant specializing in falafel.

One of the most moving shorts was “Bodega,” which centered on a lovable Arab- and Muslim-American grocery store owner whose daughter was getting married.

All AFF films were subtitled in English and screened in three venues: the Aliya Hassan Auditorium at the Arab American National Museum, in Dearborn; the Michigan Theater, in Ann Arbor; and the State Theater, also Ann Arbor.

Throughout the film festival, the art and paintings of Mayssa Fakih, a local teenage artist whose works touch on some of the topics, were on display for attendees.

Film Review: Afghan tale of three troubled pregnancies fails to deliver

Director Sahraa Karimi profiles the lives of three young Afghan women. (Supplied)
Updated 36 min 44 sec ago

Film Review: Afghan tale of three troubled pregnancies fails to deliver

VENICE: Dubbed Afghanistan’s first female director, Sahraa Karimi grew up in Iran with her refugee parents, and later studied cinema in Slovakia.

With 30 shorts and a couple of documentaries under her belt, she travelled this year to the Venice Film Festival with her debut fiction feature, “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha.”

Studying and making movies in Europe was not her scene. “Somehow, from a storytelling perspective, I don’t belong to that part of the world,” she said, recalling her days in Slovakia. “I belong to Afghanistan.”

She returned to Kabul to shoot “Hava, Maryam, Ayesha,” which was produced by Katayoon Shahabi of Noori Pictures that once helped introduce Iranian directors such as Asghar Farhadi and Mohammad Rasoulof to the world.

In her film, Karimi profiles the lives of three young Afghan women, linked only by problems with the men in their lives.

Hava’s (Arezoo Ariapoor) husband is callous to the point of being cruel, and her only comfort is talking to the baby in her womb. But when it stops kicking, she panics.

Maryam (Fereshta Afshar) is a popular television news reporter who wants to divorce her philandering husband. However, he insists on giving their marriage one more chance, and Maryam finds out she is pregnant.

Another expectant mother, 18-year-old Ayesha (Hasiba Ebrahimi), comes from a middleclass family but is left with no choice but to marry her cousin after being dumped by her cowardly boyfriend.

The three stories, while seemingly interesting, fail to engage because there is hardly any dramatic curve in them.

Possibly the only high point about the movie was Karimi’s relaying of the real-life tales she drew from women during her travels as a UNICEF representative. The experience was cathartic for many.

“Women don’t share their secret lives with their families or their communities, because they’re scared of rumors and gossip,” said Karimi. But with the female director, they felt comfortable and began to speak “about their suffering, wishes, and dreams.”

The more difficult part for Karimi was the shoot itself. The crew had to film under trying conditions with at least four bombs exploding in and around Kabul. But she labored on.

This probably prevented her from getting better technical results from an interesting concept, but the film could still have been pepped up with livelier storytelling.