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French Version

Showcase of Arab films reflects region's diverse colors

Event highlights difficulties, discrepancies of cinematic distribution

A political thriller set against the backdrop of Algeria's fight for independence. A light comedy centered on a young boy who loves Egyptian cinema enough to defy his father, who considers it a sin.

A complex portrayal of sensual pleasure involving a young woman who is named for the world.

This weekend, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and the London-based Zenith Foundation are holding a special showcase for Arab cinema. Given how bleak the subject matter could theoretically be (if film is taken to reflect social realities and political concerns), this event is significant for the fact that it is presenting a lineup of feature films (no experimental shorts, no solemn documentaries) which cover a wide range of emotional registers.

"At this stage, I thought it important to provide a platform for artistic expression on an undiluted basis, rather than mixing it with hard-hitting reportage," says Ali Jaafar, 27, one of the organizers of the event and a budding filmmaker in his own right (and, in the interest of full disclosure, an occasional film correspondent for The Daily Star).

"We wanted to have a regional program, not focusing too directly on one country. It was important to have a balance between light and heavy, fun and serious. The Arab world is painted in many tones. We wanted to give a sense of that kaleidoscope."

The showcase opens on Friday night with an invitation-only screening of Jocelyne Saab's controversial, elliptical film "Dunia," starring Hanan Turk and Mohammad Mounir.

It continues over the course of Saturday and Sunday with screenings for Egyptian filmmaker Oussama Fawzi's "I Love Cinema," Amer Alwan's "Zaman, Man of the Reeds" from Iraq, Syrian director Mohammad Malas' "The Passion," "A Perfect Day" by the Lebanese directorial duo of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, the Algerian political thriller "October 17, 1961" by Olivier Smolders and Alain Tasma, Philippe Aractingi's dabke blockbuster "Bosta" and Egyptian director Saad Hendawi's "A State of Love."

The event ends with a tribute to Moustapha Akkad, the Syrian director killed along with his daughter in the hotel bombings in Amman this past November.

Jaafar says he hopes the films will "entertain and challenge audiences" and "provoke some laughs and tears."

The event highlights the difficulties and discrepancies of cinematic distribution, as many of these films will be screening as foreign films in the U.K. before, if ever, they are seen in the countries from whence they came.

"Dunia," for example, was shown to a contentious reception at the Cairo Film Festival but has yet to snag any regional distribution. "A Perfect Day" has been making the global festival rounds for a year and has opened to rave reviews in France, but it won't hit theaters in Beirut, where it was shot, until late April, which is considered something of a coup.

"I think it's crucial to give U.K. audiences the opportunity to see genuine diversity and an exciting new generation of Arab filmmaking talent," explains Jaafar. "As for Arab film distribution, this is and has been a huge problem, particularly for personal, passionate filmmaking that doesn't necessarily feature a cigar-chomping action man blowing people's brains out.

"Outside the Arab festival circuit, audiences do not get the opportunity to see the best films from their own country. Other issues include censorship and political sensitivity but surely one of the functions of art is to challenge audiences, preconceptions and stereotypes as well as entertain. No film ever brought down a government, although history is littered with fallen regimes who tried to suppress their people's freedoms."

"Arab Cinema Weekend" runs March 17-19 at BAFTA, 195 Picadilly, in London. For more information, please call +44 207 734 0022

Beirut,03 21 2006
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
The Daily Star
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