Nestled in the iconic Leighton House, home of the renowned artist who funnelled his aesthetic appreciation for Cairo into West London, an excited audience stares up expectantly awaiting the click of the projector to start rolling the night’s scheduled short film festival.
The lights dim and jovial conversations turn to hushed whispers. We hear “Mama…Baba”, in a distinctly Iraqi accent. A young boy holding a plant pot kicks the car’s front seats in response to the silence. Encased in the vehicle, we watch him switch between hallucinatory conversations and gunshots. Gift of my Father directed by Salam Salman is an enactment of the Baghdad Blackwater Shootings. Perhaps the most unnerving element of the entire film is the boy’s lack of tears. He accepts his reality with the vacant stare of an individual accustomed to violence. The ending cracks through the audience’s bated breath and as I look around in the dark I see tears being wiped from faces and hear prolonged sighs of sadness.
Following one of the most emotive films of the evening was a documentary on the stateless Arabs of Saudi Arabia in Lost directed by Mohammed Alfaraj. In conversation with an elder of a particular tribe, we learn that there are peoples living in this wealthy nation who are allegedly being denied healthcare for their children due to their lack of identification papers. These individuals in question live in deplorable conditions and are also prohibited from working. Their main source of income is chopping wood, which they say they are forced to do at night time to avoid being caught. Members of this tribe, who have a more African appearance say they were born in Saudi Arabia, but without documents to prove this it seems they will continue to be ostracised.
With great relief, the third film of the evening treats us to a humorous look at the cost of beauty in the Gulf. Zeinab Ayon successfully lifts our moods through the voice of Maryam, who is debating the unfortunately common suggestion that plastic surgery will increase her prospects of marriage. A surgeon on screen encourages giggles from the audience as he frankly explains why a woman under 30 should need Botox. She speaks to psychologists and makeup artists who both rebut and feed the questionable standards of beauty in the region.
Wareth Kwaish in Nation without a Homeland works with young people at a children’s home which looks after Syrian orphans. He believes he can track down the family of one particular boy and he therefore drives from camp to camp inadvertently recording the appalling conditions the individuals escaping war are living in. He stumbles on a lead but is blocked from entering certain camps.
Our attraction to each other is not solely based on physical or even personality attributes. Scientists have demonstrated the involvement of genetic and chemical elements in relationship building. Is Love Blood Test a nod to the future of matchmaking? All couples need to tie the knot in this fictional city is matching blood test results. Relieved to have achieved chemical compatibility with his beloved, Baghat takes to her home to meet her father. Unluckily for him, her father doesn’t quite believe the blood tests are enough, so he sends him to obtain the rarest of fish from the deepest ocean. Only then will he allow his daughter to marry. Mostafa Sheshtawy treats us to a surreal and visual feast peppered with the typically tart sense of Egyptian humour.
Iraqi Superman by Sajad Abbas is a highly powerful yet disturbing animated film which takes us through the mind of a young boy inventing methods to rescue his father from Abu Ghraib. The animations themselves looked like the products art therapy. The protagonist is a boy who is bullied and beaten by older men beneath a sky torn apart by planes and bombs. He tries to overcome himself to save his father who he discovers graphically tortured. Nothing brings fear deeper into the heart than seeing our protectors weakened so much that they need our help. I would struggle to watch this film again, but I highly recommend that it is shared amongst everyone who has a role to play in a society waging war on another.
Anyone who enjoys Egyptian humour will love Dry Hot Summers. This is an endearing and darkly comical tale of endless mishaps. Mr Shawky has terminal cancer and his work obsessed son has arranged that he meet a highly reputable German doctor who is in town for only a few days. A taxi has been arranged for Mr Shawky, but only a few minutes into his journey two young women bustle into the cab. They mistakenly take his medical records with them as they leave and a highly stressful back and forth occurs as he tries to catch up with them from shop to shop. A string of surreal but almost believable events in a city like Cairo ensue. The director, Sherif Elbendary, had the audience laughing aloud at this improbable series of events.
Anwaar Al-Shawabkeh directs this uplifting short documentary on a woman’s fight against domestic violence. Lina sets up a safe space to encourage and teach women self-defence and self-confidence. Start Now documents how women can take back some control in their day to day lives.
Palestinian film makers frequently use silence in comedic movies. No awkward silence or side eye was spared in this dark and stoically humorous film in rural West Bank. A family of Israeli settlers mistakenly crash their car into a statue of the Virgin Mary and are forced to ask for help from the nuns within this secluded convent. The husband reluctantly accepts help from the Arab nuns even though he is forced to make his own phone calls after the nuns grow tired of repeatedly dialling different taxi firms and friends who do not give a fair price, or refuse to help on a Saturday. Ave Maria by Basil Khalil shines a light on the surreal realities of living in Palestine.
One would usually look to France as the European nation with a significant Algerian migrant population, however, the UK also saw many Algerians arrive after the civil wars. Nadira Amrani interviews prominent Algerians in the UK on their views of life in Europe and their reasons for being here either as the children of migrants or migrants themselves in Ana Djazairi.
This tale tells the plight of one of the world’s most mythical creatures. The Arab Vegan. Cast out by its family from the moment of its conception, it is abandoned by friends and finally rejected from society forced to wonder parks and forests alone. Watch Veganize It by Khalid Salim – it will make you chuckle.
Curators at the Nour Festival did a fantastic job of unearthing and exposing some of the MENA’s best contemporary filmmakers. I look forward to next years’ selection.