Essa Chhabra writes of five films at Sundance that “Reveal What Life Is Like in the Middle East Now.” Who comes up with these headlines?
The films that take on “the formidable task of telling stories from the conflict and turmoil of the Middle East” include Brian Oakes’ Jim: The James Foley Story, and Elite Zexer’s Sandstorm, about Bedouin women and their marriage troubles:
Zener explains what drew her to this subject:
“My mom is a still photographer and she started shooting Bedouins about 10 years ago and she became really, really good friends with some of them. She asked me to come and meet them, too. I also became really good friends with them.”
The Middle-East revealing list mentions a Belgian director, two Israeli directors, an American and an Iranian.
Among the films not mentioned (perhaps not complex enough): Assad Fouladkar’s Bil Halal -‘Halal Love (and Sex)’ – which has been receiving some good reviews. According to one review: “This is a sophisticated, bourgeous comedy, somewhat French in character but most likely 100% Lebanese in its warm humor.” I’m not sure what that “most likely 100% Lebanese” means, but the film reminded me of Shereen El Feki’s book, Sex and the Citadel. On one hand, there’s a frank refreshing take on a sometimes red line subject, on the other, there’s the issue of “lifting the veil” (or Revealing What the Middle East is Like) for “Western audiences.” Fouadkar speaks of the tension in this interview:
Comedy is very related to culture. It’s so hard to find something funny when it’s related to a country you don’t know. For comedy, how it translates depends on the audience. Are they laughing at the film, or are they laughing at the religion, or laughing at the people? This is why I’ve been very nervous about the different reactions: will Arabs feel offended? And in the West, will they think they’re watching people doing something weird?
The difference between the Arabic language poster (reminded me of the golden glow of Nadine Labaki’s Caramel – it even has a similar semi-transparent sheet/curtain/veil), and the cartoony English language poster is quite interesting.
(Somewhat outside the scope of this blog – another film missing from the “Middle East” list is Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow)
Meanwhile, the Sundance Film Festival’s senior programmer, John Nein, has some “advice for filmmakers in the Middle East.”