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LOS ANGELES, Jan 20, (RTRS): Films from the Arabic countries will be a strong feature of the Berlin Film Festival’s Forum section, which has just completed its main program. Many of the films are from young directors from the region, but they explore both the past and present of their home countries.
In “A Magical Substance Flows into Me,” artist Jumana Manna sets out in search of the musical diversity of the Palestinian region. Tamer El Said’s feature “Akher ayam el madina” (In the Last Days of the City) sends his alter-ego Khalid through the director’s home city of Cairo, which is in a state of uproar.
Maher Abi Samra’s documentary “Makhdoumin” (A Maid for Each) grapples with the employment of maids from the southern countries of the world in middle-class Lebanese households, a practice at once omnipresent and kept largely under wraps.
“Barakah yoqabil Barakah” (Barakah Meets Barakah) by Mahmoud Sabbagh is a remarkably candid Saudi Arabian love story, which uses stabs of acerbic humor as a counterweight to the difficulties the couple face.
War makes its presence felt too. In “Manazil bela abwab” (Houses without Doors), Syrian-Armenian director Avo Kaprealian filmed the clashes on the streets of Aleppo from the window of his housing block over several years, linking together his portrait of the mainly Armenian neighborhood with fiction and documentary images of the genocide carried out on the Armenians.
Civil wars, forced migration and the repercussions of exploitative working conditions are equally pressing issues in other regions, where filmmakers employ a wide range of cinematic forms to explore these subjects.
The documentary “Ta’ang” by Chinese director Wang Bing shows everyday life in a largely unknown conflict. While sections of the Ta’ang minority fight for independence against the Burmese army on the border with China, women and children seek refuge in provisional tents dotted around the valleys of the region.
Close by, before the backdrop of the armed struggle between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army, director Midi Z follows his brother into the titular city of Jade in “Fei cui zhi cheng” (City of Jade). With the mining companies having fled the skirmishes, young men now take advantage of the power vacuum to seek their fortune there, with opium on hand to make the risky work that bit more bearable.
What makes people turn to such dangerous work as mining? Portuguese director Salome Lamas explores this issue in “Eldorado XXI.” The Peruvian town of La Rinconada is located at an altitude of 5,100 meters on the edge of a gold mine, a dystopian world that scarcely seems possible in the 21st century. A formally radical montage of images and sound documents conveys the scale of both the mining landscape and the physical effort it demands.
Philip Scheffner’s “Havarie” also conducts a formal experiment, this time one that grapples with the experience of forced migration and how it can be made tangible. A three-minute video clip of a tiny dinghy floating in the Mediterranean recorded by an Irish tourist on a cruise ship is extended to feature-length. With the coastguard’s radio broadcasts, the accounts of those possibly on the boat and the hobby filmmaker each leaving their mark on the voiceover, the documentary challenges the standard representations of crisis situations.
A second film by Scheffner revolves around the representation of those who often don’t get a say in the process. The German director passes the camera on to Roma Colorado Velcu, who uses it to document his family’s new life in Berlin. “And-Ek Ghes…” is the portrait of a fresh start, staged by Velcu with a healthy dose of wit and self-deprecation.