Archive for January, 2012

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Where are the Actors?

January 30, 2012

Every year I ask this, and here I go again for the third time, “Know any enthusiastic student filmmakers living in the Middle East?”  If so, please let them know about the Zayed University Middle East Film Festival, which brings

ZUMEFF 2011 winners from Eygpt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine

together student films from across the Middle East to reveal an industry in rebirth, as well as a student population living in times that are  a changin’ for better and worse.

At the end of last year’s film festival, we did a ZUMEFF research project and survey of student filmmakers in the region.  We expected them to say the worst trials they face are self censorship, money, poor equipment, little technical expertise.  Some of that did indeed come up in the research.  But the number one obstacle they face–and this was from all the countries that participated–was that they couldn’t find good actors to work with, and the few they could find wanted ridiculous amounts of money just for a student film.  I’m not in Los Angeles anymore.

For more on ZUMEFF visit–submissions deadline is March 15:  www.zumeff.com

or check out this article from one of our constant sponsor and supporter, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival  http://www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae/en/year-round/magazine/2012/01/26/zayed-university-s-middle-east-film-festival

 

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Being Good Enough

January 16, 2012

OUR PLIGHT
By: Michael J. Oghia
June 2011
Beirut, Lebanon
Dedicated to all my Arab–American brothers and sisters that know exactly how I feel. 

Who am I, but a complex amalgam of contradictory identities?
Two, which exist paradoxically, yet never seem to make you feel complete.
They glare at you for one,
Snarl at you,
Insult you,
Hunt you down,
You stand up,
They knock you down,
Reduce you down
To hurtful names,
To animals,
To parasites,
To a disease,
Making you feel like the world would be better off without you,
Constantly resonating the bitter warning:
“You will never be one of us.”

Others say you are the reason for everything bad:
War,
Poverty,
Endless torment,
Destruction,
Eviction.
Stealing everything that can fit into a Black Hawk helicopter.
They fight you,
Spit on you,
Shame you,
Blame you,
Beat you,
Burn you,
Destroy you,
Knock down your buildings,
For what?
Why?
“Because habibi, you are the problem.”

Is this the plight I have to live with?
This constant burden of living as two things that cannot simultaneously exist,
Just because me and those like me were born this way?
As this apparent hybrid monstrosity of alienation?
We never asked for it,
We never begged for it,
It was ascribed to us on day one.
Why is this our fight?
Why can’t we ever go “home?”
Where is home!?
Why can’t we be proud of who we are?
How can we!?
Why can’t we just be normal?
We are always in the middle.
Misunderstood,
Trying to fit in,
But we are the new marginalized.
Patriotic on one hand,
Public enemy number one on the other,
We are the enemy,
Even in a place we call home.

Who wants us?
We are foreign both here and there,
Neglected,
Misfits,
Tainted,
Always an outsider,
No matter where we go:
Undesired,
Unwelcome,
Uninvited;
Constantly carrying a cross embossed with a crescent,
Chained to the baggage begotten to us by both nationalism and ethnicity;
Embodied by a passport that is our contrast,
Our weight,
Our contradiction,
Our privilege,
Our prison.
We are prisoners to our own country,
To our own identity.
To hyperbolic politics,
Empty shepherding,
And abandoned relics.

We belong nowhere…

We’re never good enough for anyone!
And no matter whom you ask,
Or where they’re from,
Regardless of their religion,
Their eye color,
Their skin,
Their accent,
Their ID card,
This is always who you are in their eyes:
Arab as a sickness,
American as a curse.

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A Good Library is Hard To Find

January 7, 2012

What is more important in a library than anything else – than everything else – is the fact that it exists.  ~Archibald MacLeish, “The Premise of Meaning,” American Scholar, 5 June 1972

The other day in Jordan, my mother made the day of a young Spanish woman with whom we were chatting by telling her she could be Audrey Hepburn’s double.  This was true enough, but what struck me was how quickly the woman

Faten Hamama

blushed and said thank you,  banging on her tea cup to make sure her boyfriend had heard the compliment.  Audrey Hepburn was before my time, let alone this younger woman’s.  Yet the three of us shared a common language:  Hollywood films.  What we didn’t learn of this language on the big screen or at home, we were taught via the video store, TV, or iTunes.   Or for those of us who wanted to perfect the language, our knowledge grew through classes—and through access to a film library.

Jordan’s Royal Film Commission is in my favorite part of Amman, Rainbow Street, which fits because the street is named after the city’s first cinema, the Rainbow Theatre, now long gone. I love the film commission because it has given Jordan a genuine film fan and filmmaker community.

But perhaps more uniquely, it has a cozy film library over looking old Amman.  It’s not big or comprehensive, but if you’re looking for film that brought Syrian cinema to an international audience in 1972, you can scan the shelves and find it:  The Leopard.  Arabic films have a language of their own and very few people learn it because the Middle East has no significant film library and no effort has been made to educate students about Arab cinema.

While everyone laments the decline of reading in the world, particularly the Middle East it seems, one forgets that good libraries also house novels and films, perhaps both truer windows into who we are and who we were than any text or history book could ever be.

Before Kramer vs Kramer made divorce a topic to carry a movie or Broke Back Mountain told of the tortured deceits of closeted homosexuality, Egypt’s most famous actress Faten Hamama was dealing with them in the 1974 film Oridu Hillan  (I Need a Solution) . (Honestly, I haven’t seen it recently, so I can’t verify the gay issues that my cousin said were implied in the divorce.)  The movie in fact changed Egypt’s divorce laws.

When looking for the roots of today’s revolutions, much of it can be found even in the poorly produced and directed very broad comedies and melodramas of Egypt over the past decade—rife with farcical scenes about men not being able to afford marriage because jobs are always illusive, scenes government institutions and the absurd rules applied to the Everyman when he tries to feed his family or take care of their health needs, and scenes of the brutal consequences of speaking out against the corruption.

Arab cinema is not always at level of most Western cinema, but it has a long history that lays scattered—and damaged by time—because libraries don’t have the importance they should.   Arabs have a long film history that is their history.  Yet sadly, Arabs don’t have as much as they should a language in which they can say, “You remind me of Faten Hamama in….”