MENA films featured at London Green Caravan Film Festival
London - The Middle East and North Africa region had its share of entries in the Green Caravan Film Festival, a travelling event featuring a mix of feature length and short films focusing on environmental and social issues.
After touring Kuwait and Dubai for four years, the festival landed in London in October and then in Paris, just a few weeks ahead of the landmark climate conference there at the end of November.
The films, judged through audience voting, included My Pink Room, a poetic production written by Kuwaiti Hooda Shawa and directed by Vachan Sharma. It uses the colour pink as a theme and depicts the world seen through the eyes of a refugee escaping his war-torn country.
The narrator explains he had to walk for three days to reach the refugee camp, leaving his “painfully beautiful country”. The film ends revealing the narrator speaking to an empty theatre, a metaphor of indifference shown by the world to refugees.
Dinosaur, directed by Kuwaiti Meqdad al-Kout, follows attempts by a ministry employee to change his job role just before he retires. Exaggerated yawning and the sound of incessant paper stamping humorously emphasises the emptiness of bureaucracy. He hits bottom when he overhears a colleague had achieved little by working a repetitive job till death. The audience is encouraged to imagine what it would take to motivate workers to escape mundane daily routine.
“The story was inspired by a personal experience of an employee working with me in a government sector in Kuwait,” Kout said, noting that the dark humour throughout the movie reflects his personality and vision. “I think the style of film comes naturally with the director’s personality… Dark humour is something I am familiar with.”
Kout said he produced the film for $1,500 after borrowing equipment from a friend. The main challenge he faced as an independent filmmaker was “shooting and making films in a place that has absolutely no infrastructure for cinema”.
In The Purple House, directed by Selim Gribaa, the Tunisian revolution is depicted through the life of an old man struggling to find a job. He is told by a supporter of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali that he will give him a job if he paints his house purple, the president’s favourite colour. By the time he finished painting his house, the revolution toppled Ben Ali and he was slammed as a traitor by neighbours.
He sees the man who had promised him a job, only now the latter has become a member of an Islamic party, showing how fickle people can be. This time the man refused to find him a job and this infuriates the old man who attempts to burn himself alive, which earned him the sympathy of the people who paint their houses purple, too.
“I chose the Tunisian revolution as a topic because I have lived it fully and it brought me so much, including making movies freely,” Gribaa said. “I wanted to talk about the values it brought up — work, freedom and dignity, through the story of the old man.”
The 30-minute movie, which was filmed in six days, is a mixture of comedy and drama. “I needed humour to make fun of politicians before and after the revolution,” Gribaa said. “At the same time, there is sadness in unemployment and the suffering of people.”
Central Market by Bahraini filmmaker Saleh Nass tells the story of a boy who works at a local food market and searches for chances to make quick cash. His kindness is shown in the way he strokes animals and his courage is shown by slaughtering the animals. He finds his opportunity to make a lot of money by trying to milk a small goat at a nearby pen but discovers that things don’t always go as wished or planned.
Daghwah is beautifully shot and shows the vanishing Daghwah method of fishing used in Kalba in the United Arab Emirates. With polluted fisheries and new environmental laws, it is becoming more difficult to make a living from the sea.
I Am The People, directed by Lebanese Anna Roussillon, is an intimate journey showing alternative perspectives of a farming family in Egypt during the 2011 revolution, away from mainstream action in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The mother is not happy with the revolution, saying there was not much in Egypt for deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to steal. Whereas the father says Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron fist and would not listen to others
The Wanted 18, by Palestinian Amer Shomali and Canadian Paul Cowan, is a surreal true story of 18 cows that were caught in the Palestinians’ fight for self-autonomy. Palestinians want an alternative to Israeli goods so they buy cows for milk.
When Israelis discover the cows, they claim they are a threat to the security. Palestinians, however, insist they have a right to own the cows as much as they have a right to freedom. The Israeli Army raids houses looking for the cows and asks people with photos of the cows in their hands if they have seen them. This animated documentary shows experiences of the neglected and silent victims of our human conflicts.
Festival organisers Reham al- Samerai and Sandra al-Saleh said they were overwhelmed by the success of the London debut. “It exceeded our expectations in so many ways, being new kids on the block in a city as busy and as full of amazing cultural happenings as London,” Samerai said.
For Saleh, the festival was an opportunity to introduce UK audiences to MENA filmmakers. “It changed the way they see the Middle East, making it more familiar while highlighting its diversity,” she said.