Looking for Umm Kulthuum by Shirin Neshat (Photo: Ahram Arabic)
Looking For Umm Kulthum, a film by Iranian artist and director Shirin Neshat starring Egyptian actress Yasmine El-Raes, is participating in the 74th Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days competition alongside 11 other titles.
While the film is centred on the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, it is not a biopic, according to Variety.
Neshat is quoted by Variety as saying that the film is the “story of an Iranian woman filmmaker, living in exile, who dares to make a film about an iconic Arab singer without being Arab herself… [it is] a very personal story, loosely based on my own experiences and challenges.”
The film was shot in Morocco and Austria, and is a joint production between Germany, Austria, Italy and Morocco.
In 2009, Neshat won the Silver Lion at the festival for her directorial debut Women Without Men.
She has received worldwide acclaim for her poetic films and photographs, which are often subversively themed and probe questions around religion and gender roles in contemporary Iran and the Middle East.
In 2012, she visited Egypt while working on the Umm Kulthum film, and gave a lecture at the American University in Cairo, where she talked about discovering filmmaking after years of working in photography.
During the lecture, Neshat also spoke of how she was inspired by Umm Kulthum’s ability to move people towards spiritual ecstasy and how she was universally loved.
“It is a story that has to be told,” Neshat said in an interview with Ahram Online.
Her frequent visits to Egypt during turbulent times in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution were reflected in her exhibition ‘Our House is on Fire’ at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in New York.
Yasmine El-Raes, the star of Looking For Umm Kulthum, is an award winning actress whose role in Factory Girl by late director Mohamed Khan earned her nine awards; a best actress award from the Dubai International Film Festival, best actress from the Malmo Arabic Film Festival in Sweden, among other local and international awards.
She recently appeared in the popular Egyptian film Hepta.
The Venice Film Festival will take place between 30 August and 9 September.
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