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New Arab films tackle terrorism, war – ‘Young directors have social, political themes on their minds’

LOS ANGELES, April 9, (RTRS): Ever since the Arab Spring in 2011 sparked a wave of uprisings that fueled hopes of transformation and transition from dictatorships to democracies, Arab directors have felt compelled to depict the complex changes going on in their nations. Now, some are feeling a greater urgency to take on themes surrounding the Islamic State group and terrorism, while still tackling issues of immigration and stultifying cultural mores.

Producers in Paris and Brussels — cities still reeling from recent Muslim extremist attacks — are proving crucial in shepherding films that address pressing Arab topics, as are institutions in the Arab world, such as the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra workshop, which took place March 4-9 in Doha.

Belgium’s venerable Dardennes brothers served as co-producers for Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia’s timely drama “Hedi,” a subtle, taboo-breaking love story largely set in Tunisian beach resorts devoid of tourists after the deadly 2015 ISIS attack on a hotel in the resort town of Sousse.

Intention

“My initial intention was to write a love story,” says Attia of “Hedi,” which scored prizes for best first work and best actor at the recent Berlin Film Fest. “But through the journey of self-discovery of this young man, we can draw a parallel with young democracy in my country.”

Tunisia’s Dora Bouchoucha Fourati, the main producer on “Hedi,” was among a group of global industryites who attended Qumra. Projects on display there indicate that young Arab directors have social and political themes on their minds, as well as deeper issues pertaining to terrorism.

“Quite a few of the projects reflect the world that we live in,” Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman said of the 33 DFI-backed works chosen for pitching and feedback sessions, script consultations and rough-cut screenings. “(Qumra filmmakers have an) urgent need to figure out how they can make sense of a disjointed world.”

Features in various stages at Qumra included French-Moroccan director Uda Benyamina’s “Bastard,” about a young Arab woman who deals drugs in the Les Pyramides ghetto outside Paris; “My Uncle the ‘Terrorist,’ “ a documentary by Lebanese first-timer Elias Moubarak about a relative who was involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre; and Lebanese-Spanish filmmaker Laila Hotait Salas’ drama “Stolen Skies,” in which a bomb explosion in Cairo causes an Egyptian journalist’s suppressed memories to resurface, influencing her dealings with her mother, husband and daughter.

“It’s about how the current (Egyptian) situation of war and dictatorship and religious conflict affects our most intimate relationships with our bodies and our sexuality,” says Salas.

Grips

A new Qatari shorts section at Qumra included two projects about arranged marriages: Nora Al-Subai’s dark comedy “A Ranged Marriage,” about a desperate wife plotting to kill her husband on their first wedding anniversary; and Amna Al Binali’s “The World Is Blue,” a drama about a woman coming to grips with her sister’s upcoming nuptials.

Notably, a study unveiled during Qumra by Northwestern University in partnership with the DFI found that in 2015, independent Arab films were twice as likely (26 percent) to be directed by women as were their counterparts in mainstream cinema (13 percent), which comprises Hollywood fare and popular pics from Arab filmmaking centers.

Among those supplying feedback to the filmmakers at Qumra were Funa Maduka, global content buyer for Netflix; Marie-Pierre Valle, head of acquisitions at Wild Bunch; Sundance Institute programmer Matthew Takata; and Toronto topper Cameron Bailey. Mentors included writer-producer-director James Schamus, director Joshua Oppenheimer, Russian auteur Alexander Sokurov, Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Japan’s Naomi Kawase.

Oppenheimer, who held an onstage conversation about his documentary “The Look of Silence,” about a family confronting the men who killed one of its members in the Indonesian genocide, said he was inspired by the Qumra filmmakers’ “urgent need to figure out how they can make sense of a disjointed world, when they themselves, and their own experiences of the world, have been formed by that same violence.”

 Also:

LOS ANGELES: Kino Lorber has acquired all US and Canadian rights to Leyla Bouzid’s “As I Open My Eyes” a week prior to the film’s US premiere on April 14 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Following the film’s Tribeca screenings, “As I Open My Eyes” will play at this year’s COLCOA (“City of Light, City of Angels”) and is in competition at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film also won the Europa Cinemas Label prize as the best European film in the Venice Film Festival’s independently run Venice Days section.

The film is set in the summer of 2010, just before the Jasmine Revolution. It depicts the clash between culture and family as seen through the eyes of a young Tunisian woman balancing the traditional expectations of her family with her creative life, as the singer in a politically charged rock band.

Variety’s Jay Weisberg called the film “a skillfully made drama” in his review. It stars first-time actress Baya Medhaffer.

Kino Lorber will open the film at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Sept 9. A digital and home media release is set for early 2017.

The deal was negotiated between Kino Lorber CEO Richard Lorber and Hannah Horner from Doc&Film International.

LOS ANGELES: “Narcos” star Pedro Pascal has joined Fox’s spy comedy “Kinsgman: The Golden Circle” opposite Taron Egerton.

Matthew Vaughn is returning to direct from a script he co-wrote with Jane Goldman. The 2014 original, “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” was based on the comic book “The Secret Service,” created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, and follows the training of a potential secret agent to take on a global threat from Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine.

Vaughn also produced the original, which grossed a surprisingly healthy $415 million worldwide. Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine also starred.

Halle Berry has been in talks to star as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Several recent reports have indicated that Julianne Moore has been in talks to play the villain in the sequel.

It’s unclear whether Strong will return for “Kingsman 2” but Egerton recently indicated in a Tweet that Firth will come back. Fox has dated “Kingsman 2” for release on June 16, 2017. Pascal, a native of Chile, portrays a DEA agent on Netflix’s “Narcos.” He played Oberyn Martell in the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” and has wrapped on Zhang Yimou’s “The Great Wall.” Pascal is repped by WME and Untitled Entertainment. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

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