Liverpool Arabic Film Festival (LAFF) 2011
By Omar Kholeif, Film Programme Curator.
FACT is delighted to announce its expanded collaboration with the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival (LAAF), with the first formal incarnation of the Liverpool Arabic Film Festival (LAFF). Presenting a broad programme of new film releases alongside re-mastered classics, the programme presents hard-hitting drama with gripping documentary, and lavish musical spectacle.
The focus of this year’s programme is a fiercely political one. As the social fabric that defines the Arabic world perpetually changes and the hierarchies, which imbue it, continue to restructure, it is more important than ever for audiences to consider the diversity of narratives that occupy daily life in the Arab world. Arched largely around character-driven stories, these films and discussions will illuminate the identities that exist behind these contested localities. Filled with the bite of revolutionary dissidence, the programme seeks to look at the history and politics of the Arabic-speaking world through the eyes of renegade filmmakers.
At the heart of this year’s festival are three re-mastered 35mm film prints by the late Egyptian auteur, Youssef Chahine (1926-2008). Chahine’s films draw a narrative arc throughout the programme – his themes of revolutionary protest, spectacle and melodrama, having given birth to modern Arabic cinema. The link is made even more explicit by the fact that many of the filmmakers in the festival have either been inspired or directly collaborated with Chahine himself. In the latter case, both Marianne Khoury and Yousry Nasrallah were former assistants of the late screen icon.
The focus of the festival bears a strong emphasis on Egyptian cultural production, not only because of Chahine’s Egyptian roots, but also because of the country’s long-standing role and reputation as the dominant national cinema in the Arab-speaking world. With this specific focus, we hope that the festival’s film programme will serve a plural focus: to entertain and inform, but also, to act as a hub from which meaningful dialogue can begin.
Hello, Omar — tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Programme Producer at FACT, where I work with the team to curate and produce wide ranging film programmes, exhibitions and conferences. I’m also writer and curator, specialising in film and visual culture from the Arab world and I am very interested in artists and filmmakers who work with cutting edge narrative forms and new media. Before FACT, I lived in Scotland, where I worked on a human rights-focused documentary film festival.
What can we expect from the LAFF?
Audiences can expect to see a series of gems, some are classics and others have rarely, if ever been seen in the UK. They are dramatic, gripping and entertaining features that seek to contradict and subvert some of the popular representations that audiences usually see of Arabic men and women. Expect tears, spectacle and some fierce debate afterwards.
What do you think makes Arabic filmmaking so unique? What makes any kind of filmmaking unique?
The filmmaker or the artist involved in its production. Yet, like any creative person, the filmmaker is influenced by his or her linguistic and cultural tradition, and equally in many cases, the social and political situations from which their work is produced. The Arab-speaking world has a rich history of cultural expression much of which isn’t preserved properly, which is a genuine shame, as I believe Arabic cinema is as rich and rewarding a cultural form as any other ‘World Cinema’.
Can you tell us how you went about programming the festival?
I was interested in producing a festival where all of the films dialogued with each other. I already had a deep knowledge of most of the filmmakers involved and was well aware that Arab cinema unfortunately lacks many of the conventional distribution and archival models of most Western cinema. The programme is very much informed by my own political interest in seeing the changing structures beneath the surface of the Arab world. It was incidental that such events have started to consume the news channels in recent months.
What are your highlights for the festival?
I am really proud of everything here, but my personal highlight is the restored 35mm print of Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria, Why? (1979), which was a film, growing up, that taught me that a little boy shouldn’t be afraid to dream. I think audiences will relish all of Youssef Chahine’s films in the programme, he was a late great auteur! I am also delighted that we are pioneering the films of the Noury Brothers, Marianne Khoury and Yousry Nasrallah, who are all vastly underrated in this part of the world.
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