Though I know the river is dry

An independent Egyptian-Palestinian production needs help to finish post-production ahead of its festival release later this month:

Starring Kais Nashif (Paradise Now) and directed by Omar Robert Hamilton (founding member of the Mosireen Collective in Cairo), the film tells the story of a man's return to Palestine, years after a fateful choice sends him to America.  

WATCH THE TRAILER

As well as being selected to world premiere at the prestigious Rotterdam Film Festival, the project was awarded a post-production grant from the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and will have it's MENA premiere there in November 2013.  

The production costs of the shoot were raised through a successful crowdfunding campaign that attracted $14,000 of support from 100 individuals. Now, because there are so few funding sources for independent films from the Arab world, the race is on to raise $7,500 in 9 days to give Though I Know the River is Dry  the post-production it deserves. 

VIEW THE CAMPAIGN

I helped these guys out, pitch in if you can.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Once we kissed

It took me almost a year to collect this rare footage from Arab films between the 20's and the 60's. With the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism after the Arab Spring in 2011, extremists have been calling for a rupture with the past and censorship of our heritage. This is a reminder of who we used to be, and that one day we were capable of showing love rather than condemning it...

Inspired by Giuseppe Tornatore's "Nuovo Cinema Paradiso" scene finale.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TflvNm22cpk

Music by Ennio Morricone


A wonderful video in the context of calls for strict censorship in state television and cinema in Egypt. More generally speaking, some of these kissing scenes from the 1940s-60s are more passionate than many scenes of the last 20 years.

[Thanks, KK.]

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Better distribution can defeat censorship

There is a good piece by Muhammad Khawly on film censorship up at al-Akhbar:

Cairo – “Early in the game, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown their true colors,” wrote art and cinema supporters on social networking sites in Egypt.

This statement and others like it were made in response to the authorities’ decision to withdraw the movie Wahed Sahih (A whole one) from Egyptian theaters.

“The Egyptian Board of Censors has said they intend to reevaluate the movie in order to delete some scenes and remove language that “deviates from public morality,” according to Sayed Khattab, the head of the board.

Khattab said that he plans to “form a committee to watch the movie a second time, a week after its release...because I received angry feedback on the expressions uttered by actress Basma [Hassan] in the movie.”

Of course the fact that Islamists are on the rise makes many worried about moral censorship. But that is only part of the picture. First of all, under Mubarak, censorship was widespread and often religiously-motivated. At least there will be (once military censorship is removed from the media) much less political censorship, hopefully, in the future of Egypt. That moral censorship — against irreverent treatment of religious matters, sexuality or foul language — will remain is actually largely more of the same, even if you had occasional waves of relative tolerance (often followed by a hardline to outflank conservatives) on this issue.  

To me, censorship is only a small part of the problem, and one that has a relatively obvious solution: better distribution. Lack of good distribution channels seems to me a bigger problem than censorship. It's virtually impossible to buy many movies — new or old — in Egypt because they do not exist on DVD and there are few online sources of digital media (particularly legal ones that could remunerate the film's creators). Movies are screened in theaters and then can often disappear forever. 

Digital distribution in particular could be one way to circumvent censorship, by creating a censored version and an "uncut" one available online (and thus circumventing national-level censorship). Even if it will then be accessible to a sub-section of the population initially, at least it will be out there. I cannot count the number of times I was frustrated by wanting to obtain (and pay for) a copy of a film I missed in the theaters. At least, it would be a good insurance policy against the ongoing battle with state censors.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Of Egyptian horror movies

This is the best movie review I have read in the English-language Egyptian press in years — Egyptian horror movies: Laser goats and chicken blood | Al-Masry Al-Youm:

“Anyab” ("Fangs") makes the most of the “horror-as-social-commentary” ideology, taking it to a literal sense when the film’s narrator breaks the fourth wall to inform the audience that the “vampires” represent the more unscrupulous individuals in our society, those who greedily feed off of the weak for a quick reward. The film then turns into a 30-minute montage of public service announcements, where the lead couple, in a series of separate vignettes, falls prey to a doctor, plumber, cab driver, butcher, private tutor and realtor, all played by the main vampire, ending every scene by turning to the camera and smiling to reveal his fangs.

Best of all, the vampire is played by Ahmad Adawiya. I have to get hold of this.

Very much looking forward to reading more of Ali Abdel Mohsen's funny and informative reviews.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Garbage Dreams

Last night, Ursula and I went to see Garbage Dreams, Mai Iskander's documentary about Cairo's trash collectors (and recyclers), the Zabbaleen. I had wanted to see this movie for months, but it was impossible to obtain on DVD, there were no screenings in Cairo and no one had put it up online — even though it won over 22 awards and, judging from the overflow crowd at Darb 1718, the great cultural center in Old Cairo where it was being shown outdoors in stifling weather, there is much demand for it.

Garbage Dreams follows the lives of a few boys from Mokattam, the hill East of Cairo near which many of Cairo's 60,000 Zabbaleen live and work handling the city's prodigious garbage output. The story of the Zabbaleen is a familiar one, so I'll just briefly repeat here for those who won't know it: they are a mostly Coptic Christian community of dispossessed peasants from Upper Egypt who settled in Cairo in the late nineteenth century and, as a community, became the trash collectors for about 60% of the city. Originally, contracts for trash collection were actually controlled by Bedouins who subcontracted the work to the Zabbaleen. In recent years, not only have they continued to collect trash, but they have also made additional cash from recycling what they collect, impressively reusing about 80% of the trash after sorting it. They live in filthy conditions, amidst their work, but with dignity and, until recently, regular income.

In recent years, the government began contracting foreign companies to use modern trash collection methods. These take Cairo's garbage to landfills and recycle much less of it — only 20% according to the film. This has eaten into the income of the Zabbaleen and is threatening their community, even if some of the workers for the company have been recruited from it. This is an interesting story, but unfortunately Iskander does not tackle it with sufficient diligence: we are given plenty of the Zabbaleen's side of things, but no explanation from the government or the companies about their strategy (which, I'm fairly sure, would have been even more incriminating — the ridiculousness of needing foreign expertise for trash collection is pretty self-evident.)

But perhaps this doesn't matter that much. The heart of the story are the lives of Adham, Nabil and Osama in the context of this threat to the community. They give poignant testimony about their awareness that they are at the bottom of the social ladder, there desire for both mundane and grandiose improvements to their lives, their attachment to their community and pride in its essential work. There are some pretty hilarious scenes, too, such as when the boys are taken to Wales in a NGO-funded trip to look at recycling methods in Europe. In their almost cruel exposure to a clean, green and prosperous Wales (hardly the reputation the country has, say, in London) they see ideas to take back home, but also great waste — there's a great scene in which Nabil lectures the operators of recycling center that they need to be more thorough about separation — essentially by doing the type of manual sorting done in Cairo that is simply impossible under European labor and safety regulations. "Here they have technology, but they don't have precision," he finally scoffs.

The greatest laugh of all for the Cairene audience came when one boy turns to the other at a road crossing, and says with wonder: "Did you see that car? It stopped to let people cross!" That is one other meditation on why Cairo came to be such a badly run city, saved from the total chaos by the hard work and good humor of its underclass.

You can now get the DVD on the film's site or soon on Amazon — highly recommended.

 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Costa Gravas's "Z"

My favorite political film of all time is Costa Gravas' "Z", an allegory about the political situation in Greece in the late 1960s made shortly after the Colonels' Coup there. It was shot in recently liberated Algeria, with a smattering of great French actors like Yves Montand and Jean-Louis Trintignant and the fantastic music of Mikis Theodorakis, who mixed martial beats with the ticks of an IBM Selectric typewriter in a fantastic final scene in which military coup plotters are charged with the murder of Montand's assassinated politician. Trintignant's prosecutor who investigates the assassination, with his hyper-chic graduated shades, stays icily cool as he is put under pressure to bury the case. It is a case study in how dictatorships and police states work.

For me, "Z" is not only a perfectly executed political thriller, but a fantastic testimony of the political solidarity that existed across the Mediterranean against a series of takeovers by reactionary forces in the 1960s, often with the backing of the CIA. (Indeed, for much of the world, the 1960s were not a period of great liberation and free love as Westerners tend to remember, but of the establishment of tyrannies.) The irony of course is that "Z" was itself shot in Boumedienne's Algeria, the product of a coup against Ben Bella which rid the country of any democratic, constitutional institutions.

Many of the scenes in "Z" will seem eerily familiar to Egyptians and others in this region, from the use of plainclothes thugs against democracy activists to the ubiquity of police and army officers and their plots against any challengers. (Right now, an Egyptian might replace "Z" with "B"...) 

I mention this because AUC is hosting Costa Gravas tonight (details after the jump) in a panel discussion with veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and French journalist and diplomat Eric Rouleau. 

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The Infidel (trailer)

This film, The Infidel, is about a British muslim fundie who finds out he was adopted and that his biological parents were Jewish. It looks potentially quite funny, although I'm not a fan of director David Baddiel generally speaking. Chris Morris, the genius comedian behind the classic fake news series Brass Eye, is also making a comedy about British Muslim fundamentalists called Four Lions.

Birds of the Nile

Fathi Abdel-Waheb and Abeer Sabry Fathi Abdel-Waheb and Abeer Sabry My last foray into the Cairo Film Festival was to go see عصافير اانيل ("Birds of the Nile") last night. The film is based on the work of the novelist Ibrahim Aslan, which already inspired a great Egyptian film, the 1991 Kit-Kat. "Birds of the Nile" is no Kit-Kat, however. At least from what I saw: I didn't stay through the film. I'll admit that extraneous factors may have made me impatient, yesterday: I'd gotten up at 6am to go to Alexandria and back, and the Good News Cinema at the Hyatt for some reason played the film with the volume turned up to ear-splitting levels. In a more tolerant mood, I might have staid through the film--but I doubt my final opinion would have been different. From the trite and obvious sound track (funny music for funny scenes; sad music for sad scenes), to the indifferent cinematography, to the melodramatic clichés, to the voice-over narration, it all reminded me of a soap opera rather than a film. There was none of the lightness, irony and surprise of Alsan's work. Unfortunately, because I'd really been looking forward to this one. The poster for the 1991 Daoud Abdel-Sayed film Kit-Kat The poster for the 1991 Daoud Abdel-Sayed film Kit-Kat
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The Mummy

The_Night_of_Counting_the_Years Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Fund recently helped restore the 1969 classic المومياء\ ليله ان تحصی السنين ("The Night of Counting the Years/The Mummy") by Shady Abdel-Salam, and the film was shown at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and, last night, at the Cairo International Film Festival. (Apparently, Scorsese saw "a completely pink" 16 millimeter version of the film, in 1976, at a home screening, and never forgot it.) The film is based on the true story of the discovery of an incredible cache of Pharaonic mummies, in the late 19th century, in the mountains near Luxor. The cache had been found by a local tribe, who kept its location secret and slowly sold its contents on the black market. But the authorities discovered the cave, and transferred its contents to the Egyptian Museum, where they are today. Framed by these true events, the film tells the story of two brothers, sons of the tribe's dead chief, facing their inheritance. The film is famously beautiful. Abdel-Salam paid great attention to costumes and scenery, and he used the Pharaonic temples in Luxor, the desert, the Nile river, the tribesmen and women and in their flowing black garments and the soldiers in their bright red tarboushes, to compose shot after breath-taking shot. The pace is slow, solemn, dream-like. The dialogue is all in Formal Arabic, much of it is close to prose poetry--and it's declaimed like poetry. A friend I saw the film with compared it to Greek tragedy. The film raises the question of nationalism versus tribalism, of historical identity, and of how one lives with and what one makes of the past. None of this is resolved neatly: the final scene, which is truly stunning, shows the young tribal chief--who has made the "right" decision and handed over his tribe's pilfered patrimony to the state's modern, knowledge-seeking archeologists--in a state of evident pain, loss and fear. It's a very slow film, and the acting can seem stilted. But the deliberate pace allows images to grow unforgettable, and the film's solemnity is what gives the story its power, its aura of legend.
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Links for 10.24.09 to 10.25.09

Power play - The National Newspaper | M. Bazzi on Saudi-Syrian relations. Weirdly makes no mention of Lebanon. ✪ Bikya Masr (BikyaMasr) on Twitter | Report: Ayman Nour attacked by security and NDP thugs in Hurghada. ✪ Algérie-Maroc | Blog on Algerian-Moroccan relations. ✪ Un propagandiste intéressé du régime tunisien - Les blogs du Diplo | Alain Gresh takes down Antoine Sfeir over his apologia for the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. ✪ “The State is an ostrich”: Algerian riots in the shadow of Power « The Moor Next Door | On the recent turmoil, and more generally the absence of a well-managed state in Algeria. ✪ Arms Smugglers Into Gaza Face a New Foe: Egypt – Forward.com | To Egypt's eternal shame! ✪ «الإخوان المسلمون» ينتصبون ضدّ بيونسي | جريدة الأخبار | The Muslim Brothers take on Beyoncé. ✪ Daily News Egypt -No Egyptian Films At The Cairo International Film Festival, Says Ciff President | er.... what? ✪ Reporters Sans Frontières | Tunisia: Election campaign impossible for opposition media ✪ Daily News Egypt - ‘Spinsters’ By Choice: Egypt’s Single Ladies Speak Out | About the Facebook group "Spinsters for Change". ✪ Michael Gerson - Michael Gerson on Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa - washingtonpost.com | Rather lame column about the Mufti of Egypt makes no mention of his civil servant status. ✪ The Empire Lovers Strike Back « P U L S E | Fantastic text by Gore Vidal from the 1980s, about the Podhoretzes and the Israel lobby in the US. ✪ Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism « P U L S E | Excerpt from new book by M. Shahuid Alam.
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Links for 09.17.09 to 09.19.09

A few day's worth...

Orientalism’s Wake: The Ongoing Politics of a Polemic | Very nice collection of essays on Edward Said's "Orientalism" from a variety of supporters, critics, academics including Daniel Varisco, Robert Irwin, Roger Owen, etc.
The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct | I have not read in detail this small book by a US Air Force analyst, but scanning through it I see rather odd choices. For instance there are long chapters comparing Christianity and modern secularism to the Islamist outlook, except that it's never quite clear whether the latter means the outlook of engaged Islamist activists or ordinary Muslims. There is also copious quoting from Sayyid Qutb's "Milestones" as if it was representative of all Islamic thinking. Someone should give this a detailed look (and I'd be happy to post the result.) [PDF]
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | A clean break | On Cairo's garbage collection crisis.
Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com | Leaving behind a disastrous intellectual, social, economic and political legacy: alleged liberalism on social issues that shirks from real change, supply-side economics, and of course an imperial war doctrine.
Are Morocco And Algeria Gearing Up For Arms Race? « A Moroccan About the world around him
Big mouth - The National Newspaper | Bernard Heykal on how the strength of al-Qaeda is impossible. Which makes sense, at least if you try to do it from the Bin Laden tapes as all the silly pseudo-analysis of last week showed.
Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website | Very much like the new look of the Muslim Brothers' English website, which I hadn't checked in a while. They have a very useful "today's news" feature that can also be used for archives by date.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Economy | Depleting Egypt's reserves | A good article with details on the Egypt-Israel gas deal and why it may be a bad idea in terms of resource management, never mind political and financial sense.
Al-Qaradawi's Fatwa Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The alleged liberal paid by intolerant Islamists in Riyadh attacks the alleged moderate Islamist paid by Doha:

A news item reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper revealed that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from acquiring US citizenship on the grounds that this is the nationality of an occupier nation. However this fatwa has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, and contains more political absurdity then it does religious guidance. Sheikh al-Qaradawi himself is an Egyptian who possesses Qatari nationality, which was given to him after he opposed the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. However when an Israeli office was opened in Doha, al-Qaradawi did not renounce his Qatari nationality.

Freed Iraqi shoe thrower tells of torture in jail | World news | guardian.co.uk

| "His brother Uday told Reuters: "Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day. I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al-Zaidi on every page.""
BAE to axe 1,100 jobs and close site | Business | guardian.co.uk | So Tony Blair quashed the Yamama inquiry to save jobs (or so he says) but BAe still carries out layoffs?
Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman slam Toronto Film Festival protest - Haaretz - Israel News| Some stars come to Israel's side in the tiff over TIFF.
GDC | Economist Conferences| Economist infographic shows public debt around the world.
FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo | On investment in Downtown Cairo properties and plans for gentrification. Look out for another article on this soon.
No concrete proof that Iran has or has had nuclear programme – UN atomic watchdog | Just a reminder that the press reports have spinned things wrongly - this comes straight from the UN: "17 September 2009 – Refuting a recent media report, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme."
Egypt Islamic Authority Says Women Can Wear Trousers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - FOXNews.com | The world is going to hell -- what next, capris?
BBC NEWS | Middle East | 'Many killed' in Yemen air raid | Serious turn in Yemen's trouble -- bombing a refugee camp!?


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Links for 09.14.09

Why I Love Al Jazeera - The Atlantic (October 2009) | Robert Kaplan. Incidentally, while some of what he says about al-J (here he means the English channel) is interesting, he does not seem to be conscious that The Atlantic is one of the most biased publications among the mainstream pseudo-highbrow mags in the US. ✪ Osama bin Laden: in it for the long haul | World news | guardian.co.uk | Ian Black on the new Bin Laden audio tape. ✪ Middle East Report 252 contents: Pakistan Under Pressure | New issue of Middle East Report, Getting By in the Global Downturn," with selected articles available online. ✪ A la Mostra, le déroutant voyage d'Ahmed Maher - LeMonde.fr | Success for Egyptian director Ahmed Maher at Venice Film Festival. ✪ The five ages of al-Qaida | World news | guardian.co.uk | Infographic.
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Links for 09.12.09 to 09.13.09

صحيفة عكاظ - موسوعة الأفلام.. تكرار أسماء واقتباسات صريحة | On a new Encyclopedia of Arab Cinema, categorizing 4350 films. [h/t: Lina] ✪ The Arabic Student | Blog on learning Arabic, with vocab lessons and more. ✪ US in raptures over Arab film - The National Newspaper | Regarding the new film on the Arab-American experience, "Amreeka". ✪ YouTube - Al Jazeera: Debate between a liberal and an islamist in Egypt. | MEMRI video of a debate by the Egyptian secularist intellectual Sayyid Qemani on Jazeera, debating Islamists and the host. ✪ Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination - Pew Research Center | "Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals."
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Resistance to Israel showcase at Toronto Film Festival

The Toronto International Film Festival is in the news for its decision to feature Israeli film--and the city of Tel Aviv--prominently in its program. Many artists and film-makers signed a letter of protest. 
Signatories to an open letter called The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation – among them the filmmaker Ken Loach, the actors Jane Fonda and Danny Glover, the singer David Byrne, the Canadian writer Naomi Klein, the US playwrights Eve Ensler and Wallace Shawn, and the Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman – complained that the selection contained no Palestinian filmmakers and linked the programme to an Israeli government promotional campaign. (The festival insists the selection was made independently.) “We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine,” they stated in the declaration, which was also signed by several Israeli filmmakers and by the Canadian director John Greyson, who withdrew his short film, Covered, from TIFF. 
You can read the full letter here. As it mentions, the Israeli government has devoted considerable resources since the Gaza war--and the international condemnation that followed--to a PR campaign that focuses heavily on cultural events to rehabilitate its image. You can learn more about what strikes me as the increasingly dynamic movement for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel by going to the website of PACBI.
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Iran in Venice

The recent events in Iran seem to have increased the interest in all things Iranian--from books to exhibitions. The Venice Film Festival is featuring at least two Iranian films: the semi-documentary "Green Days"--which mixes real footage with the fictional story of a young female protagonist--and a film by the acclaimed artist Sherine Neshat, based on the novel "Women Without Men" by Shahrnush Parsipur. The latter is set in the 1950s, but Neshat in a press conference was at pains to point out its contemporary parallels:

“The images of the uprisings in the summer of 1953 have so much resemblance to what is going on this summer in Iran,” she told reporters, “and I think symbolically this film represents the Iranian struggle over time for democracy and freedom."

“People have changed, the dictators have changed in form and shape and ideology but the struggle continues.”

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Shahrazad on TV, telling Egyptian women's stories

  Mona Zaki in "Ehki Ya-Shahrazad" Mona Zaki in "Ehki Ya-Shahrazad"   Last night I went to see the latest film by Yousri Nasrallah--the former Youssef Chahine protegé, the director of the quite good film adaptation of Elias Khoury's باب الشمس  ("The Gate of the Sun") and of early films المدينة ("The City") and سرقات صيفية ("Summer Thefts"), which I often hear are excellent, but have consistently failed to find anywhere on the market in Cairo.  The new film is called احكي ياشهرزاد ("Tell, Sheherazade") and stars Mona Zaki as a popular TV presenter who, just like the Thousand and One Night's heroine, fills the night-time hours with her stories--she has a late night talk show entitled نهاية المساء، بداية الصباح ("The End of the Night, the Beginning of the Morning"). Asked by her ambitious new husband--who is in line for a promotion to editor-in-chief of a national newspaper, and is getting heat from his higher-ups to reign in his wife--to tone down the political content of her shows, she decides to focus for a week on seemingly safe "women's issues." But one of the ironies of the film is how difficult it is to discuss anything of import in contemporary Egypt without touching on politics. The women Heba invites onto her show inevitably say things that anger the establishment, even as they recount their specific romantic and sexual disappointments and betrayals. "Ehki Ya-Shahrazad" is firmly based on the principle that the personal is political.  The film was described to me as "feminist" and it certainly is focused on the injustices women suffer (and fight back against--none of the female characters are prone to victimhood). The relationship between the sexes is portrayed as inevitably adversarial, often violent--with men consistently at fault.  You can see the trailer here.  The film's plot has some weak points--the women's stories are a bit far-fetched at times (and one of them owes an obvious and unacknowledged debt to the Youssef Idris short story "House of Flesh"). But it is definitely worth seeing--it's subtitled in English, and playing in many Cairo cinemas at the moment. There are many strong performances, and a few lovely visual moments, such as the scene in which Zaki--dressed to the nines for an upper-class shopping spree--ends up riding the metro, surrounded by veiled women giving her the stink-eye. Or the long shot in which the actor playing the young Saad--channeling Ahmad Zaki's original shaabi sex appeal--is filmed, from the waist up, floating dreamily through the streets of his neighborhoods (he's standing on the back of a pick-up truck that is left out of the frame).  For a long interview with the director, screenwriter and Mona Zaki (in Arabic), see here.
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Cinemas in Baghdad

The LA Times has a story about a Baghdadi cinema owner, in which he mostly laments that the kids nowadays only come to the theater to catch a glimpse of skin (you'd think they've better access to that stuff online...). Apparently the religious extremists that targeted cinemas a few years back are no longer bothering them, although there are only 8 theaters in Baghdad, compared to 40 before the war.  This passage caught my eye. Remembering the good old days: 
He lists a stream of films he fell in love with over the years: "Spartacus" in 1960 starring Kirk Douglas as a slave who leads a revolt against the Roman Empire; a film about Che Guevara; and the 1969 Greek political thriller "Z."
We are in agreement on at least one third of this list--"Z" is one of the best films I've ever seen.  (Thanks, S.)
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Shooting Film and Crying

I've already written about my reaction to the Israeli animated film "Waltz with Bashir." If you're interested in a more in-depth analysis, you can check out a longer piece I have just published at MERIP. Here's the opening paragraph:
Waltz with Bashir (2008) opens with a strange and powerful image: a pack of ferocious dogs running headlong through the streets of Tel Aviv, overturning tables and terrifying pedestrians, converging beneath a building’s window to growl at a man standing there. It turns out that this man, Boaz, is an old friend of Ari Folman, the film’s director and protagonist. Like Folman, he was a teenager in the Israeli army during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And the pack of menacing dogs is his recurring nightmare, a nightly vision he links to the many village guard dogs he shot -- so they wouldn’t raise the alarm -- as his platoon made its way through southern Lebanon. The pack of growling dogs -- animal Furies -- is a striking embodiment of the violence of repressed memories, the fear and anger involved in confronting a shameful past. The rest of the film tries to answer the question posed by this opening nightmare -- what memories is this former soldier, and by extension Israeli society, pursued by? What is he guilty of?
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