Image c/o Middle East NOW 2018
The long-anticipated 2018 Middle East Now Film Festival in Florence will commence on Tuesday, April 10, and conclude on Sunday, April 15, with films being screened at Cinema la Compagna and Cinema Stensen in the city center.
The director in focus is Annemarie Jacir, a Palestinian director of more than sixteen acclaimed films. Her newest film, “Wajib,” won several awards at international festivals and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018. This, along with some of her most famous films, such as “Like Twenty Impossibles” and “As I See You” will be showcased throughout the festival.
There will also be several guest speakers including journalists, academics, and filmmakers who will discuss Middle Eastern culture, international attitudes and relations, and other topics involving the region.
To celebrate the region’s vibrant culinary tradition, a buffet of Middle Eastern cuisine will also be included with ticket purchases on several evenings throughout the festival!
The Middle East is one of the most complex regions in the world. As a geographical region, the countries that make up the Middle East (which sometimes vary depending on point of view or due to territorial disputes) are Oman, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Turkey and Cyprus. Sometimes grouped in with the region are South Asian countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Image via Foreign Policy Journal
Worldwide, the Middle East is subject to a number of stereotypes associated with war, ISIS, terrorism, extremism, misogyny, conservatism, and anti-Westernism. As a result, the region and its prevailing religion, Islam, are often shown in a negative light and suffer from inaccurate generalizations.
Though the region has been affected by war for more than 20 consecutive years, there is also an often overlooked aspect of the Middle East that is just as defining: the activism and resistance of ordinary citizens, and a vibrant output of cultural production and creative dynamism.
The 2011 series of protests known as the Arab Spring lead to further political action and the dismantling of several Middle Eastern governments, but it did not necessarily lead to stability or democracy. The formation of new extremist groups, civil war in some areas as well as further Sunni-Shiite tensions (two predominant sects of Islam) ensued. Currently, the young generation in the Middle East is of the most politically active and provocative in demanding dignity, freedom and economic opportunity.
Despite some hardships, the citizens of Middle Eastern countries continue to resist and demand better conditions, among the most vocal being newly graduated students, women, and blue-collar workers, such as farmers.
But there is much more than just turmoil and resistance going on in the Middle East. The region is home to millions of people going about their lives--starting families, falling in love, scrolling through Twitter, reading the news. To make political issues the focal point of the whole region is to do a disservice to its humanity; it only further enforces the existing stereotypes regarding the Middle East.
The Middle East Now Film Festival aims to dismantle stereotypes and assumptions about the region and to showcase the interesting typical voices of millions of people living in the region. Through films, the colonial gaze that has fuelled existing stereotypes is subverted by a first-person narrative, offering many people their first look into what living in the Middle East is really like and how events in the region are understood by those who live there.
This year, the festival has two categories of specific interest: Window on Kuwait, featuring films by young filmmakers from Kuwait, and Focus on Syria.
Below are synopses of a few of the films being screened:
Salt of this Sea by Annemarie Jacir (Palestine, France, 2008, 109’)
Featured director Annemarie Jacir has several films being showcased at the festival, but this one is particularly unique, depicting two conflicting perspectives surrounding homeland and belonging. Twenty-eight-year-old Soraya, born and raised in Brooklyn, decides to return to live in Palestine, a country that her family was exiled from in 1948. Upon her arrival in Ramallah, she attempts to recover money left in an account by her grandparents, but the bank refuses her request. She then meets Emad, a young Palestinian man who seeks the opposite of Soraya, to leave Palestine once and for all. Together, they escape social and political constraints and earn their freedom by taking matters into their own hands in spite of the law. The film will be screened in Arabic with English and Italian subtitles at Cinema Stensen, Viale Don Minzoni, 25C on Wednesday, April 11 at 8:45 p.m.
Rockabul (Australia, Afghanistan, UK, Bosnia Herzegovina, 2018, 90′)
Journalist Travis Beard shows another side of Afghanistan in this film featuring local heavy metal band District Unknown. After living in the country for seven years, Beard began recording the band and produced never-before-seen footage of Kabul and the underground heavy metal scene that contrasts with the extreme conservatism of the society. The film exposes the lives of five young men who “literally put themselves and their followers in the firing line,” focusing on the group’s struggle with “identity and freedom in a place where both can get you killed.” The film will be screened in English with Italian subtitles at Cinema la Compagnia on Sunday, April 15, after the Closing Ceremony of the festival beginning at 9:00 p.m. where the final awards will be announced:, the "Middle East Now Award" for best film voted by the public, "Best Short Film” by NYU Florence," and "Best OFF" critics’ short film awards. The evening will feature the participation of Travis Beard, musician and director of the film and Yusoof Ahmad Shah, known as "Yo Khalifa,” singer and leader of District Unknown, the first heavy metal band of Afghanistan and protagonist of Rockabul.
Mr. Gay Syria (Turchia, Germania, Malta, Francia, 2017, 85’)
This film by Ayse Toprak of the prestigious Greenhouse Film Center follows the double-life of Husein, a barber from Istanbul, who bounces back and forth between appeasing his conservative family and embracing his gay identity, and Mahmoud, a refugee in Berlin and the founder of Syria’s LGBTQIA+ movement. They are brought together by their dream of participating in an international beauty contest in order to combat their invisibility and escape from the societal constraints that control their lives. The film will be screened in Arabic with English and Italian subtitles at Cinema la Compagnia at 4:00 p.m on April 14.
The Unmissing Part (Kuwait, 2016, 3’)
This silent, short film by Ahmed Alkhudari, part of the Focus Kuwait category, follows the story of a young man who refuses the empathy of a salesperson to sell him one single shoe. The film will be screened at Cinema La Compagnia, Via Cavour 50R, on Thursday, April 12. It will be the last of a series of short films from Kuwait beginning at 5:00 p.m.