Author: capecodfilmsociety

Closing Night: Yallah! Underground

This year the festival was diverse in its offerings, but with a common goal of offering different views of life in Arab and Middle Eastern countries.

So often I hear from people who say they think Muslims should be doing more to combat terrorism or people who have never heard of Arabs who are not anti-American fundamentalists. This is a fundamentally broken system of media at work, presenting only horrifying images to us, with no element of hope. This is why the Arab Spring was so surprising to us, in the U.S., at least. We didn’t know there were regular, normal people in the Arab world. We didn’t know there were courageous revolutionaries who want the same things we want: freedom of expression, tolerance, and the ability to pursue their lives without undue government interference.

The Closing Night Selection is Yallah! Underground, a film by Farid Eslam that shows us alternative, underground artists in Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon. These are young musicians and artists with something to say who are not afraid to say it. It is so inspiring to see younger musicians expressing themselves joyfully on stages in front of other young people having a great time. There is always the need to share music, around the world, and always the need to come together and experience the arts, whether as a release from the tensions of life, or as a provocation to change our lives. I am so happy to be presenting this film tonight, co-sponsored by WOMR, at their studios in Provincetown.

The film will be preceded by I Am Palestine, a short film by Farid Kirreh and Kai Staats that profiles various Palestinians. You can watch a trailer for that film here. One of the directors, Kai Staats, will join us via Skype for Q&A (hopefully!). I look forward to seeing you all tonight in Provincetown

The Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema closes tonight, Sunday, May 7, at 7 p.m. with Yallah! Underground at WOMR Studios, 494 Commercial St., Provincetown. Tickets ($15) can still be purchased online this afternoon, and then at the door.

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From Iran to Egypt: Saturday Spotlight Screenings

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Homayoun Ershadi in Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997). Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

So far it’s been a lovely rainy weekend on Cape Cod, perfect for going to the movies. Today that movie weather continues as we offer two programs at Wellfleet Preservation Hall.

One of the few Middle Eastern filmmakers I had been familiar with before I founded this festival was Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. The first film of his I saw was Through the Olive Trees, and I was struck by the quiet, reflective nature of his work. Since then, I have seen numerous Kiarostami films, and always I had the same feeling about them. In some ways, they reminded me of Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, with their simple situations and everyday characters struggling with the human condition. When Kiarostami died suddenly this past July, I knew I wanted to include one of his films in the festival this year.

The film I chose is Taste of Cherry (1997), which we will screen today (Saturday, May 6) at 4 p.m. The film, about a man driving around northern Iran looking for someone to help him with his plans for suicide, is, again, a quiet film, but there is constant motion as Kiarostami liked to film in cars. After seeing the film on the Criterion Collection DVD, I watched the supplemental documentary, a rare interview with Kiarostami, conducted by Iranian film scholar, Dr. Jamsheed Akrami, a professor at William Paterson University. I tracked Dr. Akrami down, and he has agree to present the film this afternoon and lead a post-screening discussion as well. This is an amazing opportunity, and I am so grateful that we can learn from him, not only about Kiarostami, but also about where that work fits in both world cinema and Iranian cinema, in particular.

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Bassem Youssef, the subject of Sara Taksler’s Tickling Giants. Photo: Ellen McDonald

This evening at 7 p.m., also at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, we will be screening a documentary about “the Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef. The film Tickling Giants was directed by Sara Taksler, a producer at The Daily Show, and it chronicles his career from its heights, reaching more than 40 percent of the population in Egypt, to his eventual arrest and exile. It is an excellent example of an Arab voice using comedy and satire, in particular, to combat injustice and intolerance. This is something we rarely hear about in the U.S. I hope you will join us tonight to learn about this courageous comedian.

Each screening will be preceded by a short film, as well. For the Kiarostami Tribute, we will screen a short film by Mohammad Mohammadian that is dedicated to Kiarostami, called Only Five Minutes. The film looks at life through the eyes of a blind woman, featuring a black screen and audio only.

Tickling Giants will be preceded by another Iranian short film, Light Sight by Seyed M. Tabatabaei, an animated student film that demonstrates the desire for freedom and the obstacles to finding that freedom. You can see the trailer for it here: https://vimeo.com/162086737

I look forward to seeing you tonight in Wellfleet!

The Tribute to Abbas Kiarostami featuring Taste of Cherry presented by Dr. Jamsheed Akrami screens this afternoon, Saturday, May 6, at 4 p.m. and Tickling Giants screens tonight at 7 p.m. Both shows are at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St., Wellfleet. For tickets ($15 per film) and information on this screening as well as the entire festival schedule, click here. Tickets will also be available at the door 30 minutes before screening time.

 

 

 

Spotlight on Syria: Houses Without Doors

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Director Avo Kaprealian in “Houses Without Doors”

One of the great discoveries I’ve made for myself over the years programming this festival is the world of Syrian documentaries. In our very first edition of the Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema we showed a film called A Flood in Ba’ath Country by Omar Amiralay, which brilliantly and cinematically documented the Syrian people in a remote area under the previous Assad regime. I’ve seen that film many times now and even showed it again in a subsequent edition of the festival. Each year I have become aware of additional documentary work being done by Syrian filmmakers, sometimes anonymously created and shown online only, and sometimes more successfully disseminated through mostly Western film festivals, such as the Tribeca Film Festival or the Berlin International Film Festival.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “El Topo” is incoroporated into the Syrian documentary “Houses Without Doors.”

Early this year, I found Avo Kaprealian’s film Houses Without Doors. I was stunned by the filmmaker’s courage—not only because he was filming in Aleppo even after being arrested and having his footage destroyed, but also because of the uniqueness of his vision. The film, shot from the Kaprealian family’s window in Aleppo, documents the changes to their Al-Midan neighborhood as the war in Syria escalates. The neighborhood is home to many Syrians of Armenian descent, including the filmmaker. His footage is combined with audio and sometimes video of other films, including two  films about Armenian, Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, as well as the neo-surrealist midnight movie El Topo by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodoroswky, creating a mesmerizing contemplation on the interconnectedness of Armenian refugees who came to Syria and the current plight of Syrians seeking asylum in other countries.

It is really unfortunate that Avo will not be able to join us tonight at the screening at Wellfleet Preservation Hall (7 p.m. Friday, May 5) because he is a very interesting filmmaker with a great passion for cinema. I did, however, have the opportunity to “talk” with Avo virtually, and I will be playing a portion of my audio interview with him after the screening tonight.

Before Houses Without Doors, we will screen the short film Daesh Girl by Abdul Almutairi, a Saudi filmmaker who made this film while studying film in the United States. This film tells the story of a young woman who joins ISIL in order to free her girlfriend. Almutairi will be able to join us from Saudi Arabia tonight via Skype after we screen his film. We previously screened Almutairi’s film 1991 in Wellfleet, so it is really exciting to bring him back this year.

Houses Without Doors screens tonight, Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m. at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St., Wellfleet. For tickets and information on this screening as well as the entire festival schedule, click here. Tickets will also be available at the door 30 minutes before screening time.

Programmer Notes: Opening Night Selections

HalalLove-stillI am so excited to bring to Cape Cod another edition of the Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema. For a couple of years now I have wanted to add comedies to the program, but I was never able to get the ones I wanted until this year. Opening night at the Chatham Orpheum Theater (Thursday, May 4, 6 p.m.),, after a wonderful reception with Middle Eastern food and cash bar, I am proud to present to you the feature comedy from Lebanon, Halal Love (and Sex) by Assad Fouladkar.

Halal Love (and Sex) was chosen because it is funny, at times dramatic, well acted, and overall a wonderful film, but also because this is a comedy I feel you will relate to, even as different as our countries are. In the film, we meet three romantic couples at different stages in their relationships. Living in a Muslim country, and being Muslims themselves, the rules and codes of their religion and culture restrict how they can behave, but there are also certain “loopholes” that give the characters some hope that they can resolve their romantic issues. This is something I think people who follow other religious traditions will relate to, but also, all of us can find ourselves in the situation of being stuck between what our hearts desire and what our communities will allow.

Humor is an essential human coping mechanism, but from the images we see of Lebanon, the Middle East, and the Arab world, one would think there is no sense of humor in these places. We only hear about terrorism, refugees, anti-Americanism, and religious extremism. So, although this film is a comedy, I believe it is still a vitally important film to screen this year, and I hope you will join be there tomorrow night.

To read more about Halal Love (and Sex) and its director’s thoughts about making the film, check out this story in Variety from when the film was screened at Sundance  last year.

18119506_791511167678237_5634968043991553126_nIn addition to the reception and screening of Halal Love (and Sex), we will be showing E.A.S., a short film by Kays Al-Atrakchi, an Iraqi-Italian filmmaker living and working in the United States. The film takes place in the U.S. in the near future, at a time when Arab-Americans must hold special ID cards. It was a film Al-Atrakchi made before President Trump was in office. In his director’s statement, Al-Atrakchi says, “When I came up with the original idea that ended up becoming E.A.S., I imagined a fictional America where Arab immigrants were viewed as hostile and national ID databases and interment camps were quickly becoming the law of the land. I could never have imagined that my fictional vision of an increasingly paranoid America would be so close to becoming reality.”

We are hoping to discuss this short film with Al-Atrakchi via Skype right after it screens, so please join us for this.

Opening Night is Thursday, May 4, with a reception at 6 p.m. and the screenings starting at roughly 7 p.m. Tickets ($25 including the reception) are still available online or at the box office at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, 637 Main St., Chatham.