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THE MIDLE EAST FILM FESTIVAL: LEBANON AND SOME SHORTS

October 11, 2009

When I was a child, I remember my grandmother complaining to my mother about the war having ruined her fashion sense.  My mother’s response was “Which war?”  At that point both had lived through so many wars, as had the other people of the Arab countries of the Mediterrean, from North Africa and Egypt to Syria.  1958 in Lebanon is a year of war that has not been subjected to much cinematic exploration, but it is the title of Ghassan Salhab’s 60-minute documentary, which I watched this afternoon at the Marina Mall.  1958 is the year the director was born in Senegal to his Lebanese parents, and he recounts that time via a head on interview with his somber mother juxtaposed with interviews of two men that had been on different sides of the conflict—all linked together with film of Beirut then and now and with the director’s own beautiful poetry, written in French.  Obviously, there is a lot of symbolism—or metaphor, as the director told the audience he prefers to call it—but while purposefully esoteric to the point of occassionally being exhausting (the people on both sides of me dozed off in parts), this video poem to a time in history that would, as his mother says, begin the decline of Arab nationalism hopes, is well worth the experience.  It is most disturbing to see how the war images of 1958 are so similar to those of today, and most will conclude, as his mother  does at the end, the Arabs have indeed been unlucky in their aspirations.  “Poor Arabs,” she sighs.

On a more upbeat note, the shorts screenings entitled “Mystery,” with seven countries represented.  I’ve been pushing the shorts series on my students, as it’s amazing what young filmmakers are able to do with special effects, and in several of the cases still maintain a powerful, cohesive story.  But it’s really never about the special effects, as was apparent in a delightful short from Lebanon, Tripoli Quiet, about a child who mysteriously appears in a taxi driver’s car, as was The Herd, a documentary by Ken Wardrop about a deer who thinks he’s a cow.  And in the vein of Timothy Burton, Bert and Bertie’s The Taxidermist is all quirk and heart with an incredible set.  And bringing us back to the mood set by 1958 was Matt Faust’s Home, a high tech but svery touching, heartfelt tribute to his family’s house lost in Hurricane Katrina.

Tomorrow is my Syrian and Indian movie night—and more shorts.

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