July 2012

Arab Shorts

OH TORMENT, 2008

Film festivals have two main functions: discovering new films and providing an opportunity for filmmakers, curators, critics and audiences to get together to debate the discoveries in question. The "Arab Shorts" festival took place from 2009-2011, organized by the Goethe Institute Cairo and headed by artistic director Marcel Schwierin, and successfully showed both the ongoing significance of these two tenets and the fact they should still not be taken for granted. Curators from Arab countries were invited to present short film programs in Cairo. A wealth of independent works from the Arab world was presented, which had seldom been seen in such compact form. We were convinced that the "Arab Shorts" should be seen and discussed beyond the festival in Cairo and thus selected several curated programs and individual works. In collaboration with the Goethe Institute Cairo and thanks to their generous support, we were thus able to add a total of 61 works to our distribution range. The results of our endeavors are now being presented in Arsenal cinema from July 2-5: three evenings each made up of two curated programs before a final "Long Night of Arab Shorts", which will consists of a more than four-hour program of individual works. Members of the audience, curators and filmmakers are invited to eat, drink and exchange ideas and opinions in the foyer during the breaks. We are particularly glad that curators Ala Younis, currently a Living Archive fellow, Yazan Khalili and Maha Maamoun and filmmakers and artists Monira Al Qadiri, Firas Taybeh, Ammar Bouras and Solmaz Shahbazi will be attending the event. Afterwards, the Arab Shorts will be going on tour and will be available for distribution.

The revolution in Cairo represented a turning point for the festival too, although less in terms of the program itself: images themselves quickly became overloaded with attributions. The role of film in times of political upheaval was at issue, including the expectation, often originating in the West, that local filmmakers give testimonies and position themselves within the debate. At the same time, the festival was still about discoveries and encounters. Looking at the films and videos shown over these three years today, a conclusion can be reached that was only made possible by cinema: neither representative images nor a narration of historical events are necessary to talk about the Arab Spring. All the films screened from 2009 to 2011 document, scrutinize, criticize and create utopias. Their subjective component can be understood in at least two different ways: that relating to the individual and that relating to social, politic and artistic contexts, which are in turn specific to each Arab country.

Everything is Alright, Officer (curated by Ala Younis | July 2)
The opening program examines the appropriation of messages via constructed spaces. It brings to mind that it is not just fiction for which our assumed knowledge of facts and truth depends on the voice of a narrator. Witness testimonies, photos, artificial worlds and images generated from narratives influence the perception of the present and future much like they do for the past. Ala Younis took the title of the program from Mohamed Malas’ film of the same name, in which prisoners follow the progress of the Six-Day-War via newspapers smuggled into the prison. For Younis, the situation of the prisoners, who rejoice at the victory of the same troops who locked them up and have long since lost the war, provides a universal image for all those who experienced the revolution in isolated or staged spaces and were forced to realize that nothing was alright for the officer anymore once they found out the "truth".

In the Name of the Father
(curated by Lara Khaldi and Yazan Khalili | July 2)
As the title indicates, all the films revolve around the motif of the father, taking Ahmad Ghossein’s MY FATHER IS STILL A COMMUNIST (Forum Expanded 2012) as a starting point. Whether absent or present, the mere existence of the father is often a cause of conflict in itself. In times of political upheaval in particular, the question arises as to whether it is possible to avoid repeating the mistakes of the father and comparing one’s own revolution with his.

A State of Fluidity (curated by: Maha Maamoun and Sara Rifky | July 3)
Maha Maamoun and Sara Rifky state that, "we are unable to withstand ourselves, the boundaries of our bodies, and at the place where body meets spirit, we are overwhelmed by the chaos of constant change." The films show urban and rural spaces somewhere between utopia and dystopia, forming abstract, mostly silent commentaries on the state of things in the process.

To Know the Arab Terrain: Movements To, From and Within (curated by Ala Younis | July 3)
A collection of films and videos from the Arab region which have been presented worldwide in exhibitions and art spaces and show a range of different cinematic forms of expression. The works are united in their attempts to create a new definition of what "Arab" means and how it is usually portrayed. Elements of traditional history and the use of existing cultural forms and forms of artistic expression from the region are remodelled and placed in new semantic contexts.

Independent Film in Jordan: "My Beloved Homeland" (curated by Ala Younis | July 4)
Jordan became independent at the moment when around 700,000 Arab Palestinians fled from the territory of the former British mandate at the start of the Jewish-Arab civil war, a process called the Nakba. Even today, half of the Arab population of Jordan is of Palestinian descent. The six films, two of which are set in Palestinian refugee camps, explore the question of what it means to be a Palestinian and / or an Arab.

Independent Film in Palestine (curated by Lara Khaldi und Yazan Khalili | July 4)
Without claiming to be representative, Lara Khaldi and Yazan Khalili have put together a group of films which challenge the structures and processes that serve as the foundation for the production of images and concepts about Palestine and the Palestinians. The films show awareness for the fact that they still represent something despite this, creating new idea in the process and moving away from existing constructions of space and landscape.

Long Night of Arab Shorts: Additional Works
(July 5)
Every Day Life And A Call For Freedom: Three feature films and three documentaries each reflect everyday life in the Arab world both pre- and post-revolution as well as the yearning for freedom. Experimental Views: eight experimental works that span a broad thematic spectrum, taking in the Diaspora, reflections on war images and a parody of gender roles. The Personal War: two very different documentary observations of the war-destroyed city of Beirut. Both films are marked by the personal experiences of the filmmakers. On Family: A central theme of "Arab Shorts", with the focus being placed on childhood and family in particular. They are both an element of an environment ruled by patriarchal violence and a portrayal of the same.

Our special thanks go to the Goethe Institute Cairo and Marcel Schwierin.