Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Safar: The Festival of Popular Arab Cinema proves its popularity

This Friday at 8.30pm the film programme of Safar: The Festival of Popular Arab Cinema begins at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in central London with the Open Gala UK premiere of the award-winning 2013 contemporary drama Factory Girl. The fact that tickets for the premiere were sold out welll in advance is proof of the high level of enthusiasm for the Safar Festival and for Factory Girl, and augurs well for the rest of the Safar programme. The screening will be followed by a Q and A session with the film's legendary Egyptian-Pakistani director Mohamed Khan.

Factory Girl

The film's central character Hiyam is a young factory worker who has fallen under the spell of the supervisor, Salah. Believing that love can transcend their class differences, Hiyam pursues a dream of being together. When a pregnancy test is discovered in the factory premises, her family and close friends accuse her of sinning, and when Hiyam decides not to defend herself, she pays an enormous price in a society that fails to accept her. The film is presented in partnership with Dubai International Film Festival.
Factory Girl

Safar - organised by the Arab British Centre in association with the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) - is the only festival in the UK solely focused on programming popular Arab cinema. This year's festival follows the success of the inaugural Safar held in 2012. The Safar programme of film screenings runs from 19 to 25 September.

Safar includes both UK premieres and classics of the Arab silver screen. These will be accompanied by Q and As, special introductions and an afternoon forum bringing together some of the most significant figures of Arab cinema.

This year, Safar has expanded its scope to include an exhibition - Whose Gaza is it Anyway?- of Arab movie posters and film ephemera, all shown in the UK for the first time. The exhibition opened on 2 September and runs until 5 October.

Omar Kholeif

Safar’s Artistic Director Omar Kholeif says: “Popular histories are too often sidelined in favour of a particular breed of ‘art house’ cinema which seeks to emphasise a Eurocentric model focused on particular social, political and aesthetic concerns. Safar seeks to remove Arab cinema from the perceived notion that it is a peripheral or ‘third’ cinema. It is a celebration of the complex social histories inherent within popular Arab cinema, and highlights the significance of particular icons and makers.”
Noreen Abu Oun

Executive Director of the Arab British Centre, Noreen Abu Oun says: “The Arab British Centre exists to improve the British public’s understanding of the Arab World, and it does so by showcasing the best of the region’s diverse culture in its year-round programme. Cinema is the most widely enjoyed and accessible cultural output, which is why Safar remains a permanent fixture in our Calendar. Safar is an ever growing project, and will continue to develop to make popular Arab cinema widely available to the general British public. We are thrilled to be working with Dubai International Film Festival and the ICA for the second edition of Safar, which sees the addition of a month long exhibition of Arab film art and memorabilia.”

Safar chronicles the re-mapping of the future of Arab cinema, and allows a unique glimpse of what it might look like tomorrow.
Rock the Casbah

The films to be premiered at Safar 2014 include Rock the Casbah, to be shown at the Closing Gala Screening on Thursday 25 September at 8.45 pm.  This award-winning contemporary film by Moroccan director Laila Marrakchi unfolds over the three days of the rites of mourning dictated by Muslim custom, following the death of a prominent magnate and family patriarch, Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif). The solemnity of the occasion is disrupted by the unexpected return to the family fold of Sofia, the rebellious youngest daughter who left Morocco, against her father's wishes to pursue an acting career in the US. The film is presented in partnership with DIFF.

Rock the Casbah

The other highlights of Safar include:

Kit Kat

Kit Kat, voted one of the ten best Arab films of all time, is an early 1990s Egyptian comedy from Daoud Abdel Sayed, one of the most unique voices in global cinema. Sheikh Hosny is a marijuana-smoking blind man who lives with his old mother and his frustrated son in the Kit Kat neighbourhood. His son Youssef dreams of going to Europe to find work, and has a relationship with a divorced woman named Fatima. Sheikh Hosny refuses to admit his handicap and dreams of riding a motorcycle, he also spends his nights smoking marijuana with the locals in order to forget his miseries after the loss of his wife and the selling of his father's house. The film is presented in partnership with the Egyptian National Film Center.
West Beirut

West Beirut. is a late 1990s homage to Beirut. Set in 1975, this film documents the uprising that divided the city of Beirut into Muslim and Christian sectors that led to over a decade of civil war. A chilling story based on the award-winning writer and director, Ziad Doueiri's boyhood memories, this film underscores the terrors children suffer during wartime.
Salvation Army
Salvation Army (UK Premiere). This rapturous debut feature from Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia offers a charged, semi-autobiographical tale about a young graduate who must navigate the sexual, racial and political intrigue surrounding his arrival in Geneva. Inspired by his own autobiographical novel of the same title, Taia’s contemporary coming-of-age story unfolds with love, pain, desire and violence.

Around the Pink House
Around the Pink House, one of the most popular Lebanese films of the late 1990s, explores the changing urban landscape of Beirut after the Civil War. La maison rose (the pink house) is an old mansion in Beirut in which the Nawfal family found shelter during the Civil War. Unfortunately for them, their immediate environment is rapidly changing, as many of the old shell-ridden buildings are being torn down and replaced by new construction projects. When Mattar, the owner of the pink house, decides to sell it to make room for a large commercial centre, the residents of the neighbourhood become divided between the shopkeepers and businessmen in favour of a different kind of modernity.
The screening will be followed by a post-screening Q and A with director Khalil Joreige.

The Sparrow

The Sparrow  From the great auteur of Arab cinema Youssef Chahine comes this sumptuous digitally re-mastered 35mm print of a cinematic gem. Set shortly before and during the Six Day War in June of 1967, The Sparrow (1972) follows a young police officer stationed in a small village in Upper Egypt whose inhabitants suffer from the harassment of a corrupt businessman. The officer crosses paths with a journalist who is investigating what appears to be a scandal involving the theft of weapons and machinery by high ranking officials. Using the protagonist Bahiya's house as a meeting place, the police officer and the journalist come together to uncover this circle of black marketeers. During the inquiries, war breaks out and President Gamal Abdel Nasser announces his resignation.

The Saturday Forum at 1pm on 20 September consists of three 60-minute panel discussions. It will bring together some of the most significant figures in Arab cinema to publicly discuss the emergent trends and issues affecting contemporary Arab filmmaking, and is moderated by Safar’s Artistic Director, Omar Kholeif. The forum is a rare opportunity to capture the pulse of Arab cinema’s future.
In an exciting new addition to the Safar programme, the short films explore themes of memory, desire and place. This showcase presents stunning short film works from Ali Cherri, Roy Dib and Jumana Manna.

Exhibition: Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? (2 September – 5 October:
A central component of Safar, the exhibition Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? curated by Omar Kholeif is being held in the ICA’s Fox Reading Room. The display examines the history of Arab pop culture through printed matter – posters, notebooks, diaries and book covers, as well as through film and video.

poster for Al Asfour (The Sparrow) 1972

Included is a selection from the archive of Abboudi Bou Jaoudeh, a prolific collector whose archive located in Beirut holds one of the biggest collections of Arab film memorabilia; from rare Arab film posters to cultural magazines published from the 1930s to the present day, displayed in the UK for the first time.
La'bat al Huz (Roulette - Lucky Game) 1967

 Tareek Al Khataya (Way to Hell) 1968

Also from Bou Jaoudeh’s archive is a specially curated selection of historic publications curated by Beirut and Amsterdam-based artist Mounira Al-Solh. This material sits alongside a newly commissioned work by Sophia Al-Maria with Sam Ashby who exhibit an imaginary poster and sketchbook for her yet to be completed film, Beretta, a rape-revenge thriller set in Cairo. Additionally, Maha Maamoun presents Domestic Tourism II, 2009, a film that seeks to challenge how the image of the Egyptian pyramids has been used by the world’s tourist industry. Raed Yassin’s ebullient single-channel video work, Disco, 2010, also on show, tells the story of the artist’s father, a disco-addict and fashion designer who leaves his family to become a star in the Egyptian horror film industry.

Raed Yassin's Disco, 2010 (courtesy Kalfayan Galleries)

 Sophia Al-Maria's Beretta, 2-14

To view the full Safar schedule, click here 
To view the online catalogue, click here
To view the 20 second trailer, click here