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A Fresh Perspective: The Arab Film Festival

HerCanberra Team

The Arab Film Festival Australia (AFFA) proudly presented its 12th edition in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra this August, at the beautiful National Film and Sound Archive in Acton.

AFFA is a community-based and community-driven film festival that showcases the best in contemporary Arab cinema to Australian audiences. The Festival provides a unique opportunity for cross-cultural exchange, dialogue and relationship building between Australia and Arab communities from around the world. The Festival is supported by the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, is produced by Information Cultural Exchange, and aims to ‘address the contemporary reality and frequent misrepresentation of Arab peoples and cultures’.

In HerCanberra’s experience, the Festival achieved this and more. We enjoyed screenings of short film ‘Lovers’ and feature ‘From A to B’, and the experience was both moving and enlightening.

There is beauty in the neat, unpretentious way Julien Tavitian directs the intersecting stories of ‘Lovers’.

Lovers

Lovers

The film is short, but what it lacks in playtime it makes up for in impact. Tavitian tenderly weaves three seemingly unconnected cross-generational love stories through the complexities of lust, honour and grief, towards the same devastating ending. The film explores the universal complexity of romantic love, across a backdrop of the helplessness and inescapability of war.

The Australian audience can at once relate to the protagonists’ struggles with desire and longing, and also be alienated by the blunt depiction of senseless destruction. Therein lies the genius of ‘Lovers’ – it humanises an experience which may otherwise be rendered ‘foreign’ by distance and cultural barriers. It depicts the lives of modern Arabs with such familiarity, that the viewer cannot help but empathise.

‘From A to B’ (made in 2014 and directed by Ali Mostafa) also drives home this message of universality in the context of the sometimes strained, but mostly endearing relationships between three childhood mates. Omar (Fadi Rifaai), Ramy (Shadi Alfons) and Youseph (aka ‘Jay’) (Fahad Albutairi), each in their mid-twenties, take the audience on an bungle-ridden rite of passage journey from Abu Dhabi to Beirut via Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, in an attempt to make peace with the loss of their treasured friend Hady, the fourth member of their former quartet.

From-A-to-B

From A to B

Like the many infamous male road trip-themed movies of US origin, ‘From A to B’ includes plenty of boyish playfulness, sexual conquests and awkward pseudo-homosexual encounters, and by the way it depicts the experience of young Arab men, in parts, you could easily think that you’re watching a Warner Brothers or Happy Madison hit. The protagonists wear slim leg pants, drive brand new Range Rovers, and party at hipster night clubs blaring David Guetta and Diplo. They tweet and DJ and live in trendy bachelor pads.

While the film often contrasts this decorative lifestyle against the desperation and mayhem of war – which for the protagonists is a very raw, intimate reality – it is a far cry from the narrow, disaffecting depiction of Middle Eastern life Australians traditionally see on the news or late-night SBS.

Mostafa goes to great lengths to depict the complexity and diversity of the Arab experience, and the dynamism of Arab communities in his film, and this is demonstrated not only through the varied backgrounds of the men (Omar from Syria, Ramy from Egypt and Jay from Saudi Arabia), but through the way each of them navigate their individual cultural identities through the intricacies of family expectation, notions of ‘manhood’, and marriage.

‘From A to B’ offers a refreshing perspective on contemporary Arab life, and has been nominated for a string of awards including Official Selection in the Cairo International Film Festival 2014 and was part of the Official Selection for the Dubai International Film Festival. We highly recommend that you look into buying or renting these films if you missed them.

The Arab Film Festival welcomes donations as part of its Habibi Donors Program. Please call 02 9897 5744 or email [email protected] for more information.

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