First-time filmmakers win host of awards at BBC Arabic Festival

Lina El Wardani from London, Thursday 30 Mar 2017

The Art of Moving
(Photo: still from The Art of Moving by Liliana Marinho de Sousa)

The winners of the 3rd BBC Arabic festival, which runs between 24 and 30 March, have been announced during the award ceremony that took place at London's BBC Radio Theatre. 

The awards ceremony included a stand up comedy show by Saudi comedian, actor and writer Hisham Fageeh, and a musical performance by Oum at the BBC radio theatre in London.

All but two of the awards were won by emerging filmmakers with their first screen offering.

The winning directors are from Germany, Syria, Algeria, Palestine and Egypt, and include former social workers, students and journalists.

The winning films show the diversity of films emerging from the Arab world; they include poetry, experimental techniques and two silent films, as well as unique documentary storytelling with exceptional access to untold stories.

The BBC Arabic Festival continues to showcase creative responses to real life hardships, and this is reflected in all of the films shown as part of the festival.

Shaimaa Buali, director of the BBC Arabic film festival gave Ahram Online an insight on the process of film selection and how this year 450 films applied for the festival and there was a committee of people from BBC and outside who filtered these films till they reached the 20 films who competed in the festival. 

In each of the four categories, five films competed for the prize. The jury comprised expert filmmakers and critics, with three judges in every category.

The jurors see the films one a month before meeting in London for two hours to decide on the winners. 

"Some of the meetings were done in half an hour or 45 minutes, with the jury deciding easily and unanimously. Others used the entire two hours, not because they were arguing, but because they wanted to be meticulous," Buali told Ahram Online.

The Winners:

Best Feature Documentary – ‘The Art Of Moving’ By Liliana Marinho De Sousa.

The documentary follows a group of Syrian video activists who make an anti-Islamic State satirical web series, as they try to travel to a safer place after receiving threats while at their base of Gaziantep in Turkey.

Kate Townsend, BBC executive producer of Storyville and a judge in this category, says “this film is a very fresh take on the impact of the Islamic State. The characters lent to a very strong story.”

Filmmaker Liliana Marinho De Sousa told Ahram Online that she is honoured to be one of the winners tonight and she is glad that her film was shown in London and on BBC Arabic.  

"We live in one world. The Syrian crisis and the refugee issue are universal and important to everyone. It is about time we stop using the 'you' or 'me' narrative, we are together in a challenging world," De Sousa said. 

Townsend told Ahram Online that the choice of this film for the feature award was a unanimous decision.

"It was a unanimous decision for all of us because The Art of Moving was a brave and distinctive piece of storytelling. It's an extraordinary, humorous story that takes us to the heart of Syria. The film also uses a creative range of documentary styles, like self shooting, and takes us to a great level of intimacy."

Best Short Documentary – ‘Aida’ by Maysoon ElMassry

This documentary, which is silent and observational, follows a flower seller in Alexandria, Egypt.

Sultan AlQassemi, Middle East commentator and judge in this category, said that the film is "beautiful" in how it conveys so much without the utterance of a single word.

ElMasry could not make it to the festival as she has exams in Egypt. The film was her school project.

Best in Reportage – ‘Fate, Wherever it Takes Us’ by Kadar Fayyad

This documentary uses experimental techniques to tell the filmmaker’s own story of her journey from the minefields of Syria to asylum in Jordan.

Best in Short Film – ‘Mare Nostrum’ by Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf

Mare Nostrum is the story of a Syrian father who makes the decision to put his daughter’s life at risk.

Nadine Toukan, film producer and judge in this category, says the film is "extremely accomplished cinematically, a very touching story about a very harsh reality.”

Kazkaz told Ahram Online that the start of the film, where a father pushes his daughter into the Mediterranean, was intended to shock the audience out of their preconceptions about the refugees.

"The judgment against the refugees and migrants is too harsh, it's horrifying. They risk their lives trying to escape death and a horrifying reality, but who is waiting for them on the other side?"

Kazkaz added that she and Khalaf wanted to see if the audience would judge the protagonist for throwing his daughter into the water, for sleeping in the same bed with her, or for the lack of conversation.

"At the end of the movie, the audience is forced to shake off their assumptions and judgments and realise that the father loves his daughter, but the reality is too harsh," Kazkaz explained.

Mare Nostrum has been screened in 30 film festivals all over the world, including Sharm El-Sheikh Film Festival, which took place earlier this month.

Young Journalist Award – ‘Ambulance’ by Mohamed Jabaly

The documentary is a first-person account of the most recent war in Gaza.

Sheyma Buali, BBC Arabic Festival director, says: “Mohamed has gone beyond showing promising skills in ‘Ambulance’, he has delivered a very strong point of view, quite literally taking us behind the headlines of a war still fresh in our memory. It will be very interesting working with him over the next year.”

The winner will receive support to make his next film. This will include equipment, training and mentoring. There is also the possibility of him being invited to present his film at the next festival, and for his film to be aired on BBC Arabic TV, as was the case with the last winner of the award, Jordanian film-maker Jumana Saadeh.

Liliane Landor Award for Best in Journalism – ‘Babor Casanova’ by Karim Sayad

The film follows two young football fans and their lives in Algiers, Algeria.

“Journalism can be defined in multiple ways. ‘Babor Casanova’ presents a unique and experimental way of approaching real life characters in a precarious social situation,” says Sam Farah, head of BBC Arabic. 

Farah told Ahram Online that he deliberately stayed out of the film selection process.

"The jury is made up of expert filmmakers," he explained, adding that the purpose of the film festival is not to "have a red carpet, Cannes-like event, but to find storytellers and encourage journalists and filmmakers to investigate their stories."

Farah remembers how back in 2013, when he was head of programmers and documentaries, it was difficult to find investigative pieces.

"A profile on Jumblatt or El-Sisi is not an investigative piece. We couldn't find documentaries. This is how the festival was born. Every year we choose a young filmmaker, younger than 30 years. We see promise in them and train them for a whole year, we invest in them," Farah told Ahram Online.

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