Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The cow and the horse

Soha Hesham takes on AFAC

The cow and the horse
The cow and the horse
Al-Ahram Weekly

The second round of the annual Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC, 15-22 April) is being held in Cairo after a successful debut in Beirut last year.

Founded in 2007 as an independent regional initiative that offers financial and professional support to emerging and established artists from the Arab region and to cultural institutions engaged in supporting the contemporary Arab art and culture, AFAC encourages sustainability through public and private investment and entrepreneurial business practices. It is  active in 18 Arab countries and opens annual calls for literature, performing and visual arts, cinema, music and RTP (that is, Research-Training-Regional events) as well as special programmes for creative writing, documentary filmmaking and photography.

In collaboration with the Zawya film initiative, AFAC is holding screenings in Tanta and Minya as well as Cairo. The programme includes an impressive array of features, both fiction and documentary, from all across the Arab world: Nadine Khan’s Chaos, Disorder, Talal Derki’s Return to Homs, Salma El Tarzi’s Underground/On the Surface, Yahya Al-Abdallah’s The Council, Rania and Rael Rafei’s 74 (The Reconstitution of a Struggle), Salim Abu Jabal’s Roshima, Ossama Mohamed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait, Akram Zaatari’s Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem, Ghassan Salhab’s The Valley and Ahmad Fawzi Saleh’s Living Skin. There are also numerous short films: Free Range by Bassem Breich, And Romeo Married Juliette by Hinde Boujemaa, Morning Chants, Night Fears by Roula Latkani and Salma Deiry and And on a Different Note by Mohamed Shawky Hassan.  


The programme opened with Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s The Wanted 18, set in the small West Bank town of Beit

Sahour and offering a documentary record of that town’s short-lived attempt at independence. A mixture of footage, acting and animation (the latter being Shomali’s specialty, his debut being the 2008 animation film Dying of the Light), The Wanted 18 tells the story of how the townspeople bought 18 cows from Israel in the hope of creating, together with their harvests, a self-sufficient economy, having stopped paying taxes as part of a wider civil disobedience movement at the start of the first Intifada in the 1980s.

The town was quickly deemed “a threat to Israeli security”,and Yitzhak Rabin promised to “bring Beit Sahour to its knees”. The film takes on a comic tone as IDF forces begin photographing and searching for the 18 cows, even putting up “Wanted” posters with pictures of these specific cows — as if they were the prime suspects in the insurgency. In the film the cows take on names and political positions, complete with personal histories, as they act out that role.

Shomali discussed the film with the audience over Skype because he could not be present for the screening, and in the discussion he admitted to “hating documentaries”, explaining how he needed the help of the Canadian documentary filmmaker Paul Cowan.

On AFAC’s second day, Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Lasri’s Al-Bahr Min Ouaraikoum (The Sea is Behind) proved a remarkable experience. A macabre retelling of the story of Tarek Ibn Ziyad, the Arab military hero who conquered Andalusia from Morocco, having famously said to his soldiers, “The enemy is in front of you, the sea is behind.” In a land where the water is contaminated, Lasri’s Tarek dresses up as a woman to dance on a pageant cart pulled by his father’s old horse — until, one day, the horse refuses to move, putting an end to Tarek and his father’s modest entertainment business.

Filmed in black and white except for a handful of scenes, the film depicts Tarek’s strange connection with a policeman who not only had an affair with his wife but also killed his children. Yet it is Tarek who is arrested on suspicion of homosexuality and theft and told that thieves have their hands chopped off. For a few hours Tarek is held at the policeman’s house, where on seeing his dead son’s shoe he is unable to cry. While there he has the chance to kill his tormentor but desists because he is not angry enough to kill, as he puts it. The policeman later wonders how it can be that he is not angry after he — the policeman – destroyed his life.

A visually compelling statement on the Moroccan — Muslim and Arab – underworld, Al-Bahr Min Ouaraikoum employs vivid and disturbing imagery as well as a powerful soundtrack. It makes specially interesting use of animals: not only the horse and sheep slaughtered according to Islamic tradition but also dogs and a lion.

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