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‘Her Name Is Petrunya’ wins Arab Critics’ Award for EU films

DOX BOX makes push to boost Arab, African docu filmmakers

Producer Labina Mitevska, Acc Co-Chief Alaa Karkouti, Efp Managing Director Sonja Heinen.

LOS ANGELES, Nov 24, (RTRS): “Her Name Is Petrunya”, a satirical drama by Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska, has won the inaugural Arab Critics’ Award for European Films. The film, which positions itself as “a feminist cry against a patriarchal Macedonia in the grips of bullying machismo and hidebound religion,” according to its review in Variety, was selected by 42 Arab film critics from 24 nominations submitted by national film institutions from across Europe.

 European Film Promotion, an agency that boosts the global profile of European cinema, and the Arab Cinema Center revealed the winner on Saturday at the Cairo Int’l Film Festival.

 The aim of the award is to promote European cinema in the Arab world, and raise the interest of Middle Eastern distributors and other industry players in European films, as well as putting a spotlight on the work of film critics from Arab countries in bridging cultural differences and introducing audiences to new forms of cinema.

 During an event at Cairo festival, EFP’s managing director Sonja Heinen, Alaa Karkouti and Maher Diab, co-founders of the Arab Cinema Center, and Cairo festival director Mohamed Hefzy presented the award to Labina Mitevska, the film’s producer, one of its lead actresses, and the director’s sister.

 In a joint statement, the Mitevska sisters said: “This award shows that culture is universal and that cinema can speak across continents. We believe in the power of cinema to exchange ideas and change minds, but, most importantly, to dare to say the unspeakable and the undesirable and, by doing this, start many uneasy, but necessary conversations.”

 EFP’s president and head of the Czech Filmcenter, Marketa Santrochova, said of the film: “Its strong message demanding equal rights for women is universal. The film’s heroine, a level-headed everywoman, doesn’t budge an inch to male dominancy and argues her case with clear-sighted common sense.”

After being appointed director of DOX BOX earlier this year, the acclaimed French-Egyptian documentary filmmaker Jihan El-Tahri had a vision for how she could foster the continued evolution of a Berlin-based organization already devoted to the development of a sustainable documentary industry in the Arab world.

 From the start, that meant strengthening ties between the Arab region and sub-Saharan Africa, “having spent 30 years of my life trying to connect the north of the continent to the south of it,” said El-Tahri, whose credits include the Emmy-nominated “House of Saud”. “It’s the idea of being that bridge that for me was really important.”

 El-Tahri points to the fundamental challenges facing both African and Arab documentary filmmakers, working without broad financial or institutional support in their own regions, while frequently being marginalized by funding bodies in the global north. “We’re trying to be more inclusive,” she said. “We’re trying to build these bridges for those who have been kept out of the system.”

 To that end, DOX BOX has launched a range of new initiatives to complement its already successful editing residency in Berlin, which hosts documentary filmmakers at a critical stage of their editing for up to 12 weeks. People’s Stories: Past and Present is a support program for documentary projects addressing, questioning and breaking social taboos. Art & DOX is focused on bringing down the walls between different visual genres in the audiovisual industry. DOX Garage offers tailor-made consultancies or hands-on mediation for documentary projects facing a particularly thorny predicament.

 The organization has also introduced Women in DOX, a long-term fellowship program designed to build capacity for Arab and African women documentary filmmakers. The fellowship will offer women from different generations, cultures and disciplines a chance to acquire and perfect the end-to-end skills of creating a documentary, from conception to completion.

 “It was really about sitting back as a filmmaker and going through my own obstacles throughout my career, pinpointing what are the lacks that exist, and what are the holes that we can plug in as an institution,” said El-Tahri. “What we are trying to do is years-long, holistic, from A to Z, where people will go through every step of the system.”

The six participants for the inaugural three-year program will be selected from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan and Tunisia.

 On Nov 23 in Amsterdam, El-Tahri will take part in a panel entitled “Docus Development Platforms in the Arab Region,” which will bring together representatives from four leading organizations working to build a better infrastructure for documentary films from the Arab region. It’s part of a day-long program hosted by Al Jazeera Documentary and running parallel to IDFA.

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