The Middle East is featured in several films, but not only in terms of war. Two films focus on issues of immigration and marginality in Israel. There was also a retrospective of Cuban political cinema.
DocLisboa. One of the films which took a prize this year is “300 Miles”, which is the distance between Daraa and Aleppo. Syrian film maker Orwa al Mokdad shows how the country has been split in two by the war, now in its 6th year using the perspective and thoughts of a 6yr. old girl.
Among the believers (2015) is the extraordinary story of the Red Mosque in Pakistan, which was finally destroyed by the Pakistani army in 2007 in a raid killing 150 people.
The mosque was the headquarters of a network of other mosques and Islamist preachers, who supported ISIS in Pakistan, and focused on indoctrinating children in its schools.
This powerful film follows this quest of Abdul Aziz Ghazi to impose Sharia law, while being courageously and publicly opposed by nuclear physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, up to the crisis in 2014, when Aziz tried to justify the massacre of 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar by ISIS, and public opinion finally turned against him.
The Cuban retrospective series was based on the theme of ‘impossible cinema’, reflecting the pre-revolutionary situation in Cuba where film-making did not exist, and the rapid exploitation of cinema by the new government.
chronicles the efforts of the government to produce a record sugar crop and remarkable footage of Fidel Castro’s self-criticism when the magic 10 million tonnes were not reached.
The paradoxes of Israeli democracy
“Between fences” (2016) is by Avi Mograbi, one of Israel’s most controversial film-makers. He is a founder member of Breaking the Silence, the organisation which gives Israeli soldiers a place to publicise abuses in the Occupied Territories, and published the book, “Our harsh logic”.
The film deals with the situation of 3,000 asylum seekers held at the Holot detention centre in Israel’s Negev Desert. Their countries of origin, Eritrea and Sudan, are considered so dangerous that they have Group Protection under UN rules, but due to Israel’s refusal to grant them Refugee Status they are not allowed to work or travel beyond the immediate area of the camp.
Until 2009 Israel refused to even consider any application for Refugee Status, and in 2015 approved just one application.
Using an abandoned building a few kilometres from the detention centre at Holot in the Negev desert, Avi Mograbi worked with the theatre director Chen Alon with techniques from the Theatre of the Oppressed, developed by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal, to allow the subjects of the film to also be its actors, and then to switch roles with a group of Israelis.
In Mograbi’s film, and more generally during his masterclass he looked at the paradoxes and injustices in his own country.
In Gulistan, land of roses, the day-to-day life of Kurdish women guerrillas in the Syrian war is filmed as they continue training for the inevitable fighting to come.
Leffest: Israel again, Bedouins between tradition and modernity
Sand Storm by Elite Zexer was awarded a Special Jury Prize. It takes a close look at the place of women in Bedouin gypsy society in Israel, where polygamy is still accepted.
The film was funded by Israeli money and directed by an Israeli. It was very popular in Israel and played in ordinary cinemas as well as on the festival circuit. But political issues are controversial.
A Q&A by the lead actress Layla Ammar, led to emotional audience responses; she was challenged that she had ignored the politics of the occupation, while others defended her saying that the film was about the situation of women giving personal anecdotes.
The situation in the film is that a woman is divorced by her husband, because after having five daughters she has not provided him with a son.
On top of this he banishes her from their home because she shouted at him in public. At the same time, she faces another crisis because her daughter wants to marry a man that her husband considers too poor.
The complexity was revealed in the Q&A when someone innocently asked whether the daughter could not just run away with her boyfriend.
Ammar pointed out that this would bring further shame on the family who would then be ostracised by their community, and not helped if for instance the Israeli army came to bulldoze their house. In reality, the women are in an open prison, and the men too are constrained by ancient social conventions.