The Brain That Sings
The second screening of Amal Al Agroobi’s autism documentary The Brain That Sings was a sellout on Monday night, prompting the director Amal Al Agroobi to take to Twitter, writing “Amazing...#blessed”. Many of those who caught the first screening over the weekend were so moved many stopped to embrace the film’s stars, while others appeared to choke back the tears.
The film follows two autistic Emirati boys who are given music therapy in the hope of modifying their behaviour. The director, both boys’ parents and their music teacher Marion Tennant fielded questions after the screening, many of them posed by people who had personal experience autism. One lady put her hand on the shoulder of one of the fathers who appeared in the film afterwards, telling him: “You are an amazing father.”
In response to audience praise from the crowd, Tennant said: “It’s just a job,” only to be told by an audience member: “It’s not just a job, it’s a very difficult job.”
The subject of autism has been a societal taboo, something Al Agroobi also grappled with in her last film, “Half Emirati”. But the award-winning director says now she’s ready to change direction: “I want to do a crazy action movie for my next production.” – Jessica Hill
Ilo Ilo, about a young boy’s relationship with his Filipino nanny, struck a chord with the audience at its Middle Eastern premiere at the weekend. The film is based on director Anthony Chen’s real-life childhood growing up in recession-hit Singapore in the late 90s and the relationship he and his family had with their maid, Teresa.
Chen’s film is full of poignant observations of daily life with a domestic helper, such as when the father forgets the maid is at home and walks into the kitchen in underpants. You also see the world through the maid’s eyes – she cries herself to sleep remembering her baby son back in the Philippines.
And in a magical turn of events, as the film gained traction in the Philippines, someone managed to track down Teresa. “I got to see my Auntie Terry again in July, for the first time in 16 years,” said Chen. After watching the film by his side, Teresa, now a chicken farmer, told him proudly: “You made me laugh, and you made me cry.”
12 Years a Slave
The graphic violence depicted in 12 Years a Slave had many of the audience members walking out of the theatre when it screened at DIFF on Monday. The film is based on the true story of a free man from New York who is kidnapped and becomes the property of a depraved slave owner in pre-civil war America. As one man put it: “It was very graphic, too graphic at times. Some scenes, I had to look away.” Another woman said: “Some of the content was horribly shocking ... but it needed to be.”
“I am American and I feel it’s shameful really, that part of our history,” said a woman who attended the screening. “It was an incredible film, and very moving.”
The gut-wrenching violence was offset by the beauty of the scenery. And although it is only his second feature film (following up on 2011’s Shame), director Steve McQueen is clearly in the running for an Academy Award nomination. And if DIFF reaction is any indication, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the main character Solomon Northup is too. “He was a brilliant actor,” said one man. “He made it seem so believable.”
The second film screening on Monday night to tackle the contentious issue of American race relations, following 12 Years a Slave, was Fruitvale Station, the true story of the killing of Oscar Grant by police officers in San Francisco five years ago.
The movie was a sell-out, with crowds of people waiting for standby seats as the film began. Afterwards, the audience broke out into a spontaneous, thunderous applause, and many teary eyes as the lights went on. Michael B Jordan, who walked the red carpet on the opening night of the festival, was praised all round for his acting skills.
“He was amazing. When the cop shot him, it gave me goosebumps,” said one young man, from the US.
“The buildup to the moment of the shooting was so powerful,” said a woman who caught the screening. “You knew it was coming, but at the same time, you didn’t expect it. I had a good cry,” a lady added.
* Jessica Hill