Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

The Arab films to watch at this summer’s Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland

Swiss festival has a healthy selection of films from the region

‘Baghdad in my Shadow’ is a thriller set among the Iraqi community in exile. Courtesy locarnofestival.ch
‘Baghdad in my Shadow’ is a thriller set among the Iraqi community in exile. Courtesy locarnofestival.ch

Film festival season is well and truly upon us, and while Toronto and Venice may attract most of the hype, there are plenty of smaller events taking place between August and October, the traditional calendar cluster of cinematic celebration. Major cities such as New York, Tokyo, London and Los Angeles host their annual events during this period, but we should look to one of the world’s oldest film festivals, Switzerland’s Locarno, held from August 7 to 17, for one of the most exciting line-ups of new Arab cinema. The festival screens films in various competitive and non-competitive sections, including feature-length narrative and documentary, short, avant-­garde and retrospective. It also hosts one of the world’s largest open-air screening venues, The Piazza Grande, seating 8,000 spectators. Here are the regional highlights at this year’s event.

‘Terminal Sud’ by Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche

Terminal Sud. locarnofestival.ch
A still from 'Terminal Sud' by Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche

This is the sixth feature from veteran Algerian filmmaker Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, who rose to fame in 2002 with Wesh, Wesh, What’s Happening? The director went on to score two Cannes selections in a row with Back Home, in Un Certain Regard in 2006, and Dernier Maquis, in the Directors’ Fortnight in 2008. He debuted in the Locarno competition in 2011 with Smugglers’ Songs, and in the Berlinale Forum in 2015, as well as the Toronto International Film Festival, with The Story of Judas. His latest film stars Ramzy Bedia ­(Coexister, Vandal) as a doctor who is plunged into the chaos of a civil war. The story is billed as a meeting point between war chronicle and political thriller.

‘Baghdad in my Shadow’ by Samir

143 Sahara Street by Hassen Ferhani. locarnofestival.ch
A still from '143 Sahara Street' by Hassen Ferhani

Iraqi director Samir, who lives in Switzerland, offers a thriller set among the Iraqi community in exile in North London. The story revolves around a small London coffee shop, the Abu Nawas cafe, where the many Iraqi immigrants trying to survive in the English capital regularly gather. Taufiq, a poet working as a night watchman, is in the sights of the police for trying to help his nephew Nassir, the “disciple” of a fundamentalist and violent preacher. Taufiq is an old-school communist who strongly disapproves of religious fundamentalism, but a dark secret from his past in Baghdad will return to haunt him when an old face from Iraq arrives in town.

‘143 Sahara Street’ by Hassen Ferhani

Douma Taht Al Ard.  locarnofestival.ch
A still from 'Douma Taht Al Ard' by Tim Alsiofi

Malika lives alone in the middle of the desert. There she runs a small restaurant serving two dishes, omelette or tomato omelette, to those who pass through like fleeting apparitions. This place, while seemingly absent from the outside world, tells of a country and its soul. The winds of sand and silence say just as much as the dramas and dreams of those who stop there for a cigarette, a tea, to talk or say nothing. Malika has gathered countless stories along the way, and they are now as much a part of her as she is of them. The film marks a fiction feature debut for Algerian director Ferhani, who is previously best known for documentaries.

‘Douma Taht al Ard’ by Tim Alsiofi

All Come from the Dust.  locarnofestival.ch
A still from 'All Come from the Dust' by Younes Ben Slimane

Alsiofi brings a highly personal documentary from war-torn Syria to Locarno. Of his film, he says: “With the barrel bombs falling on Ghouta, the eastern suburbs of Damascus, civilians sought shelter in the basements of their homes. I was one of them, holding on to my camera. I tried to film what I couldn’t express in words.” It promises to be a deeply moving piece.

‘All Come from Dust’ by Younes Ben Slimane

Ahlou Al Kahef.  locarnofestival.ch
A still from 'Ahlou Al Kahef' by Fakhri El Ghezal

Slimane lives and works in Tunis. He first trained as an architect at the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme in the city before discovering a calling for contemporary art. He has developed an artistic outlook that he labels “existential”. This nine-minute short promises to blur the boundaries between art, architecture, photography and cinema. As a visual artist, Slimane seeks to bring his architectural knowledge to the screen, using his framing and cinematography skills to create a visual feast that captures the beauty of his homeland in every frame.

‘Ahlou al Kahef’ by Fakhri El Ghezal

El Ghezal’s short follows the shared footsteps of rappers Jojo M and Galaaa, and the director himself, before and after their migration from Redeyef in Tunisia to Nantes in France. Shot on Super 8, this tender, intimate film retraces the journey of Tunisian men arriving for a new life in Europe. The overriding feelings of the travellers, from loneliness to friendship, run throughout. The film received funding from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Tunisia as part of the 10 Views on Migration project.

Updated: August 5, 2019 04:20 PM

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