From 21–30 April 2021, ALFILM – Arab Film Festival Berlin returns for its twelfth edition. While the German capital’s cinemas remain closed due to the pandemic, the festival will take place via Indiekino Club, a new streaming platform offering audiences the festival experience from the comfort of home. ALFILM brings together a diverse selection of films from the Arab world, with striking cinematography, gripping stories and bold statements at the heart of this year’s selection, bolstered by strong protagonists who defy all odds and fight for change. Dealing with a wide variety of themes like migration, gender roles, or the question of memory, the contemporary fiction and documentary films paint a vivid and personal picture of a changing region. This year’s Spotlight section, entitled Genres Revisited: Visionary Imagery and Fragmented Narratives in Contemporary Arab Cinema, takes a deeper look into fiction films that re-examine mainstream genres through an author’s perspective. Ahead of the festival’s launch, Something Curated highlights nine screenings spanning the programme’s various sections not to miss.
200 Meters, 2020 || Ameen Nayfeh
ALFILM opens on 21 April at 7.30pm with the Palestinian fiction feature film 200 Meters. ST Mustafa (Ali Suliman) and his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik) live 200 meters apart in two villages separated by a wall. Every evening, Mustafa greets his family from balcony to balcony, but this distance seems irreparable when he learns that his son is lying in a hospital bed. Rushing to cross the Israeli checkpoint, Mustafa is denied on a technicality. But a father won’t give up and he will do anything to reach his family. A 200-meterdistance becomes a 200 kilometre journey, as Mustafa, left with no choice, attempts to smuggle himself to the other side of the wall. 200 Meters is a pulse-pounding odyssey in which a father must fight against the absurdities and paradoxes of life in Palestine. The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and has since won numerous awards.
Amussu, 2019 || Nadir Bouhmouch
For many years, the village of Imider in central Morocco has been fighting against the exploitation of its water reserves by Africa’s largest silver mine. Its exploitation caused water shortages and crop failures locally. This resulted in the Amazigh communities living in poverty and unemployment due to being deprived of the natural resources surrounding them. In 2011, villagers occupied a central water supply on Mount Alebban and have ever since organised weekly protest camps and joint actions to maintain their position. They use traditional and indigenous means of mobilisation, but many of the young people have been detained in the wake of the protests. In collaborative work with local groups, director Bouhmouch documents the long-standing protest against exploitation and injustice, setting a collective memorial to the civil resistance through captivating images.
143 Sahara Street, 2019 || Hassen Ferhani
Along the national road, in the midst of the Sahara in the heart of Algeria, stands Malika’s small truck stop. The elderly lady serves coffee, tea, and eggs to adventurers, tired truck drivers and other travellers with whom she engages in chats about God and the world. Many of her visitors welcome the break from a long drive and enjoy coming back to her shop. Yet Malika doesn’t reveal much about herself. Her mini-café is the fortress behind which the childless, lonely woman is entrenched to watch the world go by. The inverted road movie, ingeniously photographed by Ferhani himself, remains close to its protagonists’ perspective and thus casually opens up a view on today’s Algeria.
A Son, 2019 || Mehdi Barsaoui
Tunisia, summer of 2011: Fares (Sami Bouajila) and Meriem (Najla Ben Abdallah) live well-off in the capital Tunis. Both are professionally successful and have a reliable circle of friends. On a trip to the south of the country, their 10-year-old son Aziz is seriously injured in an armed assault. In the hospital, the boy’s life hangs by a thread. However, the necessary liver transplant reveals a well-kept secret, the weight of which plunges the couple into an abyss of lies and crimes. In a race against time, they are forced to redefine themselves anew, both morally and personally. Barsaoui’s stirring debut film had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival.
Divine Intervention, 2002 || Elia Suleiman
Nazareth is a city in the Middle East with a seemingly mundane everyday life, though tensions in the neighbourhood are sometimes high, and when people face problems, they are forced at times to take matters into their own hands. A film director living in Jerusalem can only meet his loved one, who comes from Ramallah, at the checkpoint outside the city. These are the rules of the Israeli occupation. From a sharp comedy, Divine Intervention suddenly turns into an action film, in which the transformation of the female character into a ninja seems to be the only answer to the absurdity of everyday life. In his delirious film, Elia Suleiman looks at behaviour patterns, aberrations and interpersonal relationships. Poetry, wit and love defy the adversities of life.
We Are From There, 2020 || Wissam Tanios
Jamil and Milad, two middle-class Syrian brothers in their mid-20s take a leap of faith and decide to escape their war-torn country to seek a better future. Jamil is a carpenter, Milad a musician. They both choose to illegally flee to Europe in the hope of rebuilding their lives. Their cousin, Wissam, decides to film their odysseys for over five years, following them from Damascus to Beirut, Berlin and Stockholm, and bringing back to life their happy childhood in Syria. In this tender and intimate film, Tanios questions the true meaning of “home” while exploring the human ability to cope with radical change.
In Vitro, 2019 || Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind
In Vitro is set in the aftermath of an eco-disaster. An abandoned nuclear reactor under the biblical town of Bethlehem has been converted into an enormous orchard. Using heirloom seeds collected in the final days before the apocalypse, a group of scientists are preparing to replant the soil above. In the hospital wing of the underground compound, the orchard’s ailing founder, 70-year-old Dunia (Hiam Abbass) is lying on her deathbed, as 30-year-old Alia (Maisa Abd Elhadi) comes to visit her. Alia is born underground as part of a comprehensive cloning programme and has never seen the town she’s destined to rebuild.
So What If The Goats Die, 2019 || Sofia Alaoui
Abdellah (Fouad Oughaou), a young shepherd living in the mountains, is forced to brave the snow blocking him in order to get food and save his cattle. Once he gets to the village, he faces an alien invasion that forces him to question the world as he knows it. This cinematographically-striking short film has won the Short Film Grand Jury price at the Sundance film festival and the French César for Best Short Film.
My English Cousin, 2019 || Karim Sayad
Sayad’s second feature film is the chronicle of an exile and the portrait of a migrant society characterised by hard work and social insecurity. In 2001, Sayad’s cousin Fahed left Algeria to build his future illegally in England. But the reality of working two jobs is tougher than expected, and Fahed is lonely despite the friendly relationship with his colleagues. A bride from Algeria is being suggested, but Fahed has long been estranged from his old home and has never quite arrived in his new one. Through sensitive observations, Sayad contrasts a British working class shaken by deindustrialisation and instability with a disillusioned youth in Algeria, and thus tells of the universal search for a good life and for personal dignity.
Feature image: Still from Divine Intervention, 2002. Directed by Elia Suleiman