The New Orleans Middle East Film Festival shows an array of award-winning and politically significant films from Egypt, Iran, Turkey and other Middle Eastern nations. The festival includes features and documentaries and is not limited to political topics, but a couple of the notable focuses in the 2011 slate of films are the Arab Spring uprising in Egpyt, political repression in Iran and life in Gaza.
The opening night feature is This is Not a Film, credited to Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. Panahi was arrested by the Iranian government and convicted of colluding to commit crimes against the republic for his intentions to make a film about Iran's 2009 election, which was won by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years. While appealing his case, he and Mirtahmasb made a film inside his home, deftly describing his situation indirectly via filmed conversations with his lawyer and imagining a film he would make if cleared of the charges. The film was smuggled out of the country on a USB drive hidden in a cake, and it screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
There are several films about the uprising in Egypt. Visiting filmmaker Ahmad Abdallah brings two films about cultural change. Heliopolis (screens Thursday, Dec. 15) chronicles personal longing and simmering frustration in a neighborhood designed to be a modern government district in the ancient city of Cairo. In the feature Microphone (pictured; screens Saturday, Dec. 17), Khaled (Khaled Abol Naga) returns to Alexandria after years abroad to find that his girlfriend is no longer interested and there's a thriving and unruly underground culture, burgeoning with a new wave of hiphop, rock, graffiti, skateboarders and art. It was completed in 2010, and many called it a harbinger of the youth unrest that bubbled up in the January 2011 uprisings. Also screening is 18 Days (Friday, Dec. 16), a collection of short films by Egyptian directors (including Abdallah) about the Jan. 25 revolution.
Documentaries include Dubai: A City of Dreams about the immense disparity between the nation's oil wealth and the foreign laborers used to build its architectural marvels. Woman (Friday, Dec. 16) is Ziad H. Hamzeh's profile of Nobel Prize nominee Bouthaina Shaaban, a Syrian woman who has fought for Arab women's rights.
On view during the festival is A Children's View from Gaza, a show of artwork by children living in Gaza that was supposed to show at the Oakland Museum of Children's Art but was cancelled due to political pressure. For a full schedule, visit www.zeitgeistinc.net. — Will Coviello
New Orleans Middle East Film Festival
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net