Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's showing at the Muslim film festival in New York?

Muslim film festival shouting to be heard
New York: More than 30 movies from the Arab and Muslim world will be playing at a week-long New York film festival.
The Alwan Film Festival, created by a nonprofit group in lower Manhattan, features several well-known Middle Eastern directors. The films tackle timely subjects like the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
With American troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the West's relations with the Muslim world perhaps the defining challenge of the decade, those involved in the festival want to help Americans learn what the Muslim world is all about.
"It's very important that Americans of all backgrounds come and see the films, especially on the event of the fifth year after 9/11," said Bader Ben Hirsi, a British-Yemeni director whose film opened the festival on Friday.

"It's important to see what the Middle East really is. I watch TV here and it's completely different from the Middle East I know."
But the films are playing at just three lower Manhattan cinemas and the small festival has barely registered on the media radar of the city, coming as it does just before the much bigger Tribeca Film Festival whose programme also boasts a substantial number of films from the Muslim world.
Hirsi said he hoped the festival would draw a diverse audience. "It would be nice, but I don't think it will be. I think the people that will turn out will probably be Arab Americans or Arabists," he said.

While several of the Alwan Festival films focus on current affairs, Hirsi says his is a "bittersweet romantic comedy," the story of a wealthy young man who is about to marry a woman he has not met but who falls in love with another woman.

A New Day in Old Sanaa is the first feature film made in Yemen, Hirsi said. It was a struggle to make it because of the bureaucracy, funding problems, misunderstanding and suspicion in Yemen, and even an actor getting stabbed, he said.
"I thought the hard part was over but the thing that really I just can't get is, we had incredible reviews... and we've seen people charmed by this film. But sales agents and distributors...just don't know what to do with it. It's not what they expect from the Arab world."