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Thessaloniki Spotlight on Middle East

The main Spotlight of the 49th edition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival centers on the current cinema of the Middle East. The Middle Eastern region, tantamount to political, religious and social struggles, lies in close geographical proximity to Greece and possesses vital contemporary political significance. It exhibits a cinematic diversity that creates portraits of many distinct histories, identities and conflicts and it is now more than ever revealing its issues and sentiments through the cinemas of its different nations. A total of 12 films, produced in recent years from countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen, will be screened in Greece for the first time.

Amongst those 12 films, shot between 2005 and 2008, one constitutes an exception: the 1978 film Alexandria…Why? (Iskanderija... lih?), directed by Youssef Chahine, will be screened as a tribute to the great Egyptian film director who passed away this July. He was born in Alexandria to an Egyptian father and a mother of Greek descent and, amongst the 28 films that he directed, those that constitute his Alexandria tetralogy stand as the most prominent of his oeuvre. Alexandria…Why? was an innovative film for Arab cinema, for its first-person narrative and for its examination of cultural identity via the main character, a young student who wants to study film in the USA, much like the director himself did. A filmmaker who excelled at being both populist and political, Chahine always made the films that he wanted, ignoring government censorship –which haunted him often- and supporting freedom of expression in all its forms.

The Middle East Spotlight will showcase films from 10 different countries.

Aquarium (Genenet Al-Asmak), Yousry Nasrallah, 2008, Egypt/France/Germany. The second Egyptian entry of the Spotlight recounts the story and disengaged lives of a man and woman living in modern-day Cairo, through the camera of Chahine’s assistant director and veteran filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah (The Gate of the Sun, El Medina).

Salt of This Sea (Milh Hadha Al-Bahr), Annemarie Jacir, 2008, Palestine/ France/Switzerland/Belgium/USA/UK/Netherlands/Spain. This feature debut, which premiered in this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard section, narrates the story of a young woman who, raised in America, decides to return to her native Palestine.

Waltz With Bashir, Ari Folman, 2008, Israel/France/Germany. Waltz with Bashir, which caused a stir and gathered glowing reviews in this year’s Cannes Festival, employs striking, hand-drawn animation to document the directors’ real-life struggle to come to terms with the events of the first Lebanese War.

War, Love, God and Madness (documentary), Mohamed Al-Daradji, 2008, Iraq/ Netherlands/Palestine/Sweden/UK - Dreams (Ahlaam), Mohamed Al-Daradji, 2005, Iraq/UK. In 2005, director Al-Daradji shot Dreams in Baghdad in the midst of bombings by American soldiers, thus accomplishing an extraordinary feat. Its making-of documentary, War, Love, God and Madness, records the process and the dangers that the cast and film crew went through during the shoot.

American East, Hisham Issawi, 2007, USA. American East, a geographical exception in the Spotlight, as it was shot in Los Angeles, provides a unique view of the lives and status of Arab-Americans in today’s USA. The director, Hisham Issawi, grew up in Egypt and moved to the States in order to study filmmaking; this is his debut feature.

Captain Abu Raed, Amin Matalqa, 2007, Jordan. Captain Abu Raed, winner of the Sundance World Cinema Audience Award, is a moving story of imagination and unlikely friendship and the first independent film to come out of Jordan.

Out Of Coverage, Abdullatif Abdulhamid, 2007, Syria. The film gives an account of life in contemporary Damascus through the complicated relationship of a man and the wife of his best friend, incarcerated as a political prisoner.

Under The Bombs (Sous les Bombes), Philippe Aractingi, 2007, Lebanon. Winner of the EIUC Human Rights Film Award in the 2007 Venice Film Festival, Under the Bombs tells the story of a woman looking for her son during the 33 days of the Israeli bombings – the film was shot in the middle of the actual conflict.

Akamas, Panicos Chrysanthou, 2006, Cyprus. A Turkish Cypriot boy who grew up with Greek Cypriots falls in love with a Greek Cypriot girl and realizes how the rules of the world around him are much more complicated than he thought they were. Akamas, a peninsula of exceptional natural beauty, is for Cypriots a symbol both of home, but also of exile.

A New Day In Old Sana’a, Bader Ben Hirsi, 2005, Yemen/UK. A New Day in Old Sana’a, a modern fairytale, is Yemen’s first feature film ever, shot in an ancient, extraordinary location and under intense pressures from government censors.

The Middle East Spotlight will be accompanied by a TIFF publication in which the filmmakers themselves will share the experiences pertaining to the making of their films, as well as a roundtable focusing on the present and future of Middle Eastern cinema. Guests attending the 49th TIFF for the Middle East Spotlight will include film professionals, industry delegates, film critics and members of the academia.


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