In the wake of recent events, Americans have been seeking ways to broaden their understanding of the history, customs, and life of the Middle East. Copies of the Koran are in high demand from bookstores; New York Times bestsellers have included Islam: A Short History and From Beirut to Jerusalem. The cinema, too, offers a unique portal into understandings of the contemporary Arab world. As a contribution to this national discussion, the HFA brings together a group of films that focus specifically on challenges faced by children in areas of the world too long isolated from view within America (as well as one on the plight of women in Afghanistan). Through these examinations of young lives, we hope to add to the awakening public consciousness of social issues in a range of nations from Africa to the Middle East.
Special Event--all seats $10
January 10 (Thursday) 8 pm
Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Iran 2001, 35mm, color, 85 min.
With Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantaï, Sadou Teymouri
Farsi with English subtitles
The most recent film by one of the masters of the new Iranian cinema, Kandahar, inspired by true events, is the timely story of a woman’s attempt to enter Afghanistan to reach her sister in the Taliban-controlled city of Kandahar. Disguising herself in the required head-to-toe burkha, the expatriate Nafas--a Canadian journalist who fled her native Afghanistan as a teenager--wends her way to Kandahar in the company of a string of Afghan characters, since it is illegal for women to travel alone. Adding to the suspense is the stringent time frame in which Nafas must complete her mission: her sister, maimed by a land mine and in despair over the condition of women in her country, has threatened to commit suicide at the next solar eclipse, only three days away. Kandahar won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and is being distributed in the United States by Avatar films.
January 11 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Abolfazl Jalili
Iran 2001, 35mm, color, 96 min.
With Kaim Alizadeh, Rahmatollah Ebrahimi, Hossein Hashemian
Farsi with English subtitles
In the Iranian border town of Delbaran, a fourteen-year-old Afghan refugee lives with an Iranian couple, helping them run their roadside tavern, a regular stop for a colorful assortment of truck drivers, merchants, and opium smokers. Kaim is the agent through which we see the world of illegal Afghan laborers, the Iranian police who hunt them down, and adults who take desperate measures to survive in this dangerous landscape. The barren, red-toned beauty of the surrounding desert, a succession of broken-down vehicles, the sounds of automatic weapons from the nearby civil war, and the recurring image of a young boy running form the backdrop to this spare study of the rigors of political exile, painted in rapid brush strokes. Abolfazl Jalili, Iran’s poet of social realism, was trained as a painter and calligrapher before turning to cinema: here, as he sketches the repetitive minutiae of daily life, a wry and unexpected humor emerges and moments of human decency break through the harshest of circumstances.
January 12 (Saturday) 7 pm
Award-winning Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri’s most recent work follows the relationship that develops across several months between two young Palestinian girls: Mona, who lives in a Beirut refugee camp marked by the economic marginalization of Lebanon, and Manar, who resides in Bethlehem’s Al-Dheisha camp, under Israeli military and economic control. The two girls begin their relationship via e-mail and are eventually given the opportunity to meet at the border upon the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon. As in Masri’s earlier films focusing on children, Children of Shatila (1998) and Children of Fire (1990), Frontiers of Dreams and Fears exhibits an optimism that defies the circumstances of its subjects.
January 12 (Saturday) 8:30 pm
Directed by Jean Khalil Chamoun
France/Lebanon 2000, 35mm, color, 100 min.
With Majdi Machmouchi, Ammar Chalak, Christine Choueiri
Arabic with English subtitles
To escape the civil war between Christians and Muslims, a family moves from the countryside to Beirut--only to be caught in an equally dangerous situation. The film revisits the decade and a half of civil war in Lebanon that ended in 1990 through the eyes of Rami, following the boy from age twelve to adulthood as his family struggles with unemployment, death, and the disappearance of loved ones. Documentary filmmaker Jean Khalil Chamoun, in his first fiction film, combines archival footage and a verite style to create a harrowing overview of the senseless conflict that left his country in physical and moral tatters. Yet even as he funnels this history through his young protagonist, he invests the shadows of the past with “noble dreams and precious memories.”
January 17 (Thursday) 7 pm
January 18 (Friday) 7 pm
January 19 (Saturday) 9 pm
Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf
Iran 1998, 35mm, color, 85 min.
With Massoumeh Naderi, Zahra Naderi, Ghorban Ali Naderi,
Farsi with English subtitles
“My daughters are like flowers. They may wither and die in the sun.” So explains the father who has locked away his twin eleven-year-old girls as prisoners in his home in a poor section of Tehran for their entire lives, presumably to protect them from the world, and especially the masculine eye. Concerned neighbors report the family to social services, who remove the neglected and uneducated girls but eventually return them to their pained father and resigned, blind mother. Based on a true story that sparked public controversy in Iran, eighteen-year-old Makhmalbaf’s first feature film combines news clips and dramatic sequences reenacted by the actual family to explore the ambiguous position of women in Iranian society.
January 15 (Tuesday) 7 pm
January 17 (Thursday) 9 pm
Directed by Kamal Dehane
Belgium 1998, video, color, 54 min.
French and Arabic with English subtitles
Director Kamal Dehane was a child during the Algerian war of liberation during the 1960s. The horrors he recalls from that period sadly parallel similar devastation in recent years, in which an estimated 100,000 lives have been lost since the cancellation of free elections in Algeria. Dehane intermixes archival images from forty years ago with subtle interviews with contemporary children. In speaking of their experiences, this new generation breaks the silence that has come to dominate large sectors of the country’s population and the international community.
Screens with Algeria, The Children Speak (see above)
Directed by John Zada and David Rountree
Canada 2000, video, color, 50 min.
Made under the watchful eyes of a government censor, this documentary focuses on child labor in Egypt, where two million young people constitute eleven percent of the country’s work force. Showing children as young as seven and eight working in carpet factories, craft workshops, printing plants, and agricultural settings, the film investigates the lack of education and free time the children receive, even as their employers tout the benefits of learning a trade. Filmmakers Zada and Rountree are careful to acknowledge the cultural differences that emerge when Western eyes examine the difficult issues of developing countries.
January 19 (Saturday) 7 pm
Filmmakers Shapiro, Goldberg, and Bolado offer an alternative account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they follow the lives of seven children of different backgrounds in Jerusalem over the course of three years (1995–98). While the children live only twenty minutes apart, they inhabit completely different worlds and know nothing of each other’s lives: their picture of the world is formed by the adults around them and the circumstances in which they live. Although some promise for understanding is offered by an initial meeting of the children for soccer and conversation, an epilogue to the film reveals the growing physical, historical, and emotional gaps between them. Promises won the Canal+ Audience Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the San Francisco Film Festival.