Mizna’s Arab Film Fest: A week of cinema
Thursday 10 November @ 21:43:09
by Lydia Howell
A Lebanese pop singer. Islam’s prophet gets a bio-pic. Friendship and family. Arab feminism and female sexuality. Life under occupation. Mizna’s third annual Arab Film Festival (Nov. 11-17) offers 35 films, encompassing fictional features, documentaries and short eclectic works.
“We got to choose from the best of 21 countries. We looked for works that were artistic, political and cutting-edge with messages Americans don’t get very often,” says Kathryn Haddad, executive director of Mizna, the Minneapolis-based national Arab-American Literary Arts Journal hosting the festival.
are something associated with the Middle East. Everything is about the news
and events of the day—and rightfully so, because the U.S. has its hands
in the Middle East in ways that Americans should know,” Haddad acknowledges.
“But, when it comes to stories, to seeing the human side, fiction can
do that in ways that maybe documentaries can’t.”
Hollywood cranks out increasingly contrived thrillers, few of which can match
the suspense of Palestinian/Italian production “Private” (Thur.
Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.).
Inspired by true events, Saverio Costanzo’s drama shows a middle-class
Palestinian family whose house is taken over by the Israeli Army for use as
a surveillence post. Mohammed, the gentle patriarch, quietly refuses to vacate,
and the family at night is confined to one room, with soldiers living upstairs.
Absolutely gripping to the last moment, the film by the Rome-based Palestinian
Costanzo, evokes Alfred Hitchcock’s ability to frighten audiences by what
is not shown, but only heard. How each family member reacts to the almost unbearable
pressure is an in-depth psychological metaphor for Palestinian reality under
“In 2004, the Italian production company attempted to enter ‘Private’
in the Academy Awards Foreign Film category. It was rejected because it wasn’t
in Italian,” says Haddad. “In 2003, ‘Divine Intervention,”
another Palestinian film, was rejected because they said Palestine isn’t
films explore fact and fiction. A banned Egyptian short story, “House
of Flesh,” is an exquisite tale of female sexuality, aching with eroticism.
“They Were Here” is a ghostly look at labor through an abandoned
Syrian plant. “Hamida,” from Tunisia, views a simple event from
a schizophrenic’s perspective. “Face A, Face B” is acclaimed
stage director Rabih Mrone’s memory piece about growing up during Lebanon’s
“One of my favorite films is ‘We Loved Each Other So Much’
(Sun. Nov. 13, 10 a.m.), maybe because I’m Lebanese myself,” Haddad
says. “Amazingly artistically done, how he entwined the history of the
Lebanese civil war with the famed and beloved singer, Fairuz. She’s been
singing about 50 years and is loved across the Middle East and her music is
Fairuz’s voice echoes jazz phrasing, as if Astrud Gilberto (“Girl
From Ipanema”) was Arab. Multiple views abound: a strongly nationalistic
Christian cab driver; a Palestinian, who as a teenager joined a terrorist group;
a housewife whose apartment was bombed; a photographer. Their convergence through
Fairuz’s haunting voice testifies to art's redemptive power.
The name “Osama” (meaning lion) is as common in Arab countries as
“John” is in ours. “Being Osama” (Sun. Nov.13, 4 p.m.)
follows five diverse Arab men: a devout Muslim teacher, an assimilated Egyptian
CD importer, a young Palestinian rocker, a traditional Lebanese musician, a
young Syrian activist. Each share their first name with bin Laden in post-9/11
more than in most film festivals, women’s works are well represented,
with many films from a Palestinian perspective rarely seen by Americans. Mai
Mari’s “Frontiers of Dreams and Fears” (Sat. Nov. 12, 7:30
p.m.) centers on the tenacity of friendship between two Palestinian girls living
in separate refugee camps. Azza El-Hassan’s “Kings and Extras”
(Mon. Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.) follows a trail of contradictory clues in a mystery
of the absurd, a search to find vanished Palestinian archives. Both women speak
after their screenings.
“Where is Iraq?” (Wed. Nov.16, 7:30 p.m.) should be required viewing.
Director Baz Shamoun returns to his ravaged homeland after 27 years in exile.
On the Jordan/Iraq border, Iraqis remember Saddam’s grim rule, yet, looking
at the U.S. occupation, ask, “Are we another Palestine?”
“It was really important for us to show films about Iraq from Iraqi peoples’
perspective. We wanted to do a whole day or more of films from Iraq but, we
didn’t get many films—for obvious reasons,” Haddad says. “Ironically,
Mizna’s first Arab Film Festival opened the day the U.S. invaded Iraq.”
Mizna's Third Annual Arab Film Festival, Fri. Nov.11-Nov.17. $8 general/$5
students,low-income; $50 general pass /$40 students, Mizna members. Heights
Theater, 3951 Central Ave. NE, Mpls. 612-788-6920. Complete schedule: Mizna.org
Kathryn Haddad is featured on “Catalyst” Tues. 11 a.m. and the KFAI
News, 6 p.m. Thurs. Nov. 10, KFAI 90.3FM Mpls 106.7FM St.Paul. Archived for
2 weeks after broadcast at KFAI.org.