Safar Film Festival: A celebration of Arab cinema
London - The third Safar Film Festival celebrates a new trend in Arab cinema that has been particularly defiant of deep-rooted social taboos and stereotypes of the Arab world.
The biennial event, curated by Rasha Salti, returns to the Arab British Centre and Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) of London September 14th-18th.
“The socio-political drama has long prevailed in Arab cinema. We could see this in the past ten years but it has been accentuated in the last five years, as filmmakers are becoming more emboldened to forge their own voice,” Salti said.
“There is (clearly) a shift in interest in what makes a valid story to make a film. People are realising that taboos are an important element of everyday life and are worth highlighting in a film.”
Kuwaiti visual artist and filmmaker Monira al-Qadiri offered a selection of short films that tackled corruption in Kuwait among other taboos.
“I made Rumours of Affluence at the end of 2011 when there were a lot of anti-corruption moves in Kuwait. Where does this legacy of corruption come from? It’s almost like it is embedded in our culture now. It has become so corrupt, it’s almost like you can’t do anything without it (corruption),” Qadiri said.
Souk al-Manakh, a documentary on the 1980 stock market crash in Kuwait was a main inspiration for the film.
“I used what I saw in that documentary but of course we don’t really know what actually happened,” she said. “It’s always about rumours… but we don’t have proper anti-corruption laws and the (crash) is a black spot in Kuwait’s history. There was an oil boom in the 1970s so people were just playing with money.”
In Behind the Sun, Qadiri used videos of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 that she thought were the closest to reality. “Many Westerners filmed the invasion in a way that I believe was far from reality. The videos that were selected show what Kuwaitis really saw and felt,” she said.
At the heart of Lebanese filmmaker Sélim Mourad’s compelling kaleidoscopic movie This Little Father Obsession are questions about the significance of lineage in Arab societies.
“When I think of myself as a unique child, not wanting to marry and carry on my family line, I think about reproduction,” Mourad said. “I have been thinking about it for the past 15 years, so it was kind of obsessive. Me being homosexual, it is about counterbalance on a physical and spiritual level. Maybe I am there to show that there are other goals (than reproduction) for humanity.”
In the film, Mourad shows himself going on a date with a woman as it is one possibility many gay people choose to continue their family line but it does not really work.
“I told my parents I was homosexual four years before shooting the film,” he said. “I (eventually) had their emotional support when I was going through a break-up. There was an inner chemical that occurred that made them finally accept it. It’s much easier now but we still do not like to talk about it.”
Mourad noted that his father was afraid people will judge him for being open-minded. “He really was concerned about this film showcasing him as a naive father. I told him on the contrary you are a loving father,” Mourad said.
“My film shows a quest to find one’s self. I think the media tends to show that people should not think about their ancestry and just to be themselves but I think we should think about where we come from, too.”
Algerian director Salem Brahimi’s first narrative feature, Let Them Come, is a remarkable adaptation of Arezki Mellal’s novel, telling the story of a family who must defend itself amid the onslaught of violence between government forces and radical Islamists in 1990s Algeria.
“Algeria’s dark decade was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. When you travel through Algeria, you see the (phobia) people have with security and the way they are jittery about something foreign coming in. It was a time of trauma,” Brahimi said.
“I chose to have a fiction film to give the trauma a face. The problem with an analytical approach is that people become numbers and there is not intimacy. The dynamics of the story is not only Algerian. Today we say it is Daesh,” he said using an Arab acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS).
Brahimi described Yasmina, the mother in the story, as a hidden hero, arguing that “women in our part of the (Arab) world are the unsung heroes”.
“It might seem populist and easy to say but history supports what I say. The backbone of the Algerian revolution, for instance, was the women. Not only the logistics and food but the resistance itself,” he added.