Tuesday,18 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Tuesday,18 December, 2018
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The documentary’s place

Nahed Nasr attended the 19th Ismailia Film Festival

Behind the Wall

The 19th Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts (IIFFDS, 19-23 April) took place at three venues in the Suez Canal City of Ismailia: the Ismailia Cultural Palace, where the Spanish director Carlos Saura’s Beyond Flamenco opened the event; the Renaissance Cinema; and the Family Club of the Suez Canal Authority. A total of 115 films from 45 country were selected to participate in the IIFFDS, 10 films in the long documentary competition, 18 films in the short documentary competition, 17 films in the short feature films completion, and 18 films in the animation film competition in addition to 52 films in the other sections. The jury, headed by Spanish director Margrita Maguregui, aincluded Italian director Manu Gerosa, South Korean director Yung A Han, Egyptian director Ahmed Abdalla and Indian director Arun Chadha. Directed by film critic Essam Zakaria, this round was dedicated to the late director Mohamed Kamel Al-Kaliouby and the late film critic Samir Farid. The festival also honoured its founder, director Hashim Al-Nahhas, whose films were a breakthrough in Egyptian documentary filmmaking. A number of Al-Nahhas’s films were screened in the festival.



Among the many and various themes of the IIFFDS, place featured across all four official competitions: long documentary, short documentary, short feature, and animation. Six of the films that dealt with the theme of place were by Arab directors: the Egyptian Ahmed Nabil’s The City Will Pursue You, the Egyptian Hana Al-Rakhawy’s The Dot under the Letter Baa, the Palestinian-Danish Mahdi Feleifel’s A Man Returned, the Palestinian Said Zagha’s Five Boys and a Wheel, the Moroccan Karima Zoubir’s Behind the Wall and the Lebanese Shadi Aoun’s Silence.

In his debut long documentary – following several shorts, notably 17 Fouad Street, on the same theme – Ahmed Nabil follows the cultural and social changes that have taken place in his hometown, Alexandria through a tour of the buildings being demolished and historical landmarks disappearing. Written and directed by Nabil and produced by Mohammed Al-Hadidi, The City Will Pursue You is a journey on which he encounters different characters recounting their connections to certain places in the city, which are on the verge of vanishing. “For me buildings are much more than concrete,” Nabil says. “They carry the life stories of their inhabitants. My film is not about the buildings, it is about the relationship between man and place. The old buildings are the background and the stories of the people around those buildings, their memories and their personal history inside and around those buildings is the real subject. Architecture was always a part of Alexandria’s history, the old Italian and French buildings are part of the cosmopolitanism of this city. Look at the buildings that remain now and you can see how the people have changed. It is not only a matter of history but also of culture and class. Through my film I am trying to understand what happened and what is happening to my city, how the new social-economic-cultural realities have changed the city.”

In The Dot Under the Letter Baa by Hana Al-Rakhawy, the only Egyptian film to participate in teh short documentary competition, the filmmaker travels around Egypt in pursuit of the spiritual thread that connects people with God through Sufi rituals. Over seven months she travelled with her crew, including her Film Institute students, to upper and lower Egypt, Sinai and Siwa as well as various parts of Cairo following both Muslim and Christian mystical rituals and capturing the smiles, tears, shouts and movements, which are very similar to each other regardless of religion or location. Al-Rakhawy wanted to show that the relationship between people and God has nothing to do with differences among people. She had to travel all around Egypt because, as she puts it, “At a time when terrorist groups are trying to impose their concept of God on everyone else, it was very important to represent the real voice of the people who could belong to different places and different religions but remain unified in their spirituality. The place in my film is proof of the spiritual unity of the people.”

The place in Mahdi Feleifel’s A Man Returned, another short documentary, is of a different order. It is the story of Reda, a 26-year-old whose dream of leaving the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain Al-Helweh in Lebanon ends in failure after he spends three years trapped in Greece. He returns with a heroin addiction, torn apart by internal strife and the encroachment of war from Syria. Against all odds he decides to marry his childhood sweetheart. For Reda the camp, his place, is a prison that he fails to escape, so he decides to turn his small dark room as a refuge for him and his bride. The scenes of his room, the house of his family where he lives and the narrow alleys of the camp all reflect the feelings of an imprisoned person. He escapes into himself, into the smallest and narrowest part of his family flat with a fellow prisoner. A Man Returned won six international awards: the Prix Berlin and the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Best Short Film at the Geneva International Film Festival - Tous Écrans, the Cinematic Achievement Award at the THESS International Short Film Festival, the Best International Fiction & Documentary Film at the VIS Vienna Independent Shorts, the Best Short Film at the VIS Vienna Independent Shorts , anthed Best Short Film at the Winterthur International Short Film Festival. It was also nominated for another 23.

For Said Zagha, a Palestinian director born in Jerusalem, you need to escape your place to set yourself free of your stereotypical story. Written by Zagha and starring Ali Suliman, Nadira Omran, Haydar Kfoof, and Mohammed Idris, Five Boys and a Wheel is a short feature that tells the simple story of a relationship between a father and his son, and to shoot it Zagha decided to move to Akaba in Jordan, to be free from the political shadows of Palestinian reality. “It is very difficult even if you want to tell a simple family story to ignore politics in Palestine,” he explains. “I wanted to free my film of the limits of place. Maybe in the future I will make films about Palestine but I believe a true filmmaker should be able to tell every kind of story and make every kind of film no matter where he belongs. What I wanted to say by choosing a place on the shore that could be anywhere to tell the story of a father and a son who could be any father and any son.”

Place is the main character in the Moroccan director Karima Zoubir’s short feature Behind the Wall, which stars Abrar Chennani, Khadija Allouch, and Hakim Rashid. The film tells the story of Nadia, a five-year-old girl living in the slums of Casablanca surrounded by a wall that separates her neighbourhood from the rest of the city. A big hole in the wall opens onto the rail tracks and it is used as a shortcut by the residents including Nadia’s father when he takes her to school, facing the threat of a fast train. As time passes, sealing the hole in the wall becomes not only the desire of Casablanca residents eager to block out the slums but also of Nadia’s mother, who is afraid for her daughter’s safety. The conflict between having a connection with the outside world and being imprisoned behind a wall drives everyone. Zoubir says her film is based on a true story in which the distinction between different social classes is set by concrete walls and the prospect of building connections between the two worlds is rife with danger. “It is more than a hole in a wall, my film is about how your place controls your destiny. The wall is symbolic of the destiny of Nadia, her family and her neighbours in the slums.”

The Lebanese animation director Shadi Aoun’s animation film Silence is the story of the city of Ghabra where any form of expression is punishable by death, and so those who decide to move their bodies, dancing as a way to express themselves, are arrested and tortured. But even under torture, moving your body to make pain of the spear lodged in it more bearable becomes the way to freedom. “You can move in your place and even silently without any word, and you know what, when the others act like you, when they set their bodies free they will taste the real meaning of freedom and the oppressors will be annoyed but it will be to late because you already know your own way of resistance,” Aoun says. “My film is not about dance, it is about how people can find their freedom even if they are bound in their place.”

Long Documentary Competition

Best Film: Radio Kobani

Jury Prize: Those Who Remain

Special Mention: The Second Night

Short Documentary Competition

Best Film: A Man Returned

Jury Prize: Saint Lazaru’s Miracle

Special Mention: Years Have Gone Winter is Coming

Short Feature Films Competition

Best Film: Chasse Royale

Jury Prize: Black Mountain

Special Mention: Import

Special Mention: Behind the Wall

Animation Competition

Best Film: My Father’s Room

Jury Prize: Silence

Special Mention: The Cats

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