Winners of the 5th BBC Arabic Film Festival announced

Lina El-Wardani , Thursday 28 Mar 2019

The awards of the 5th BBC Arabic Film Festival (22-27 March) were announced during a ceremony held at the BBC Radio Theatre, London and hosted by a stand-up comedian Wonho Chung

BBC Arabic Festival
5th BBC Arabic Film Festival award ceremony (Photo: Lina El Wardani)

Directors from Tunisia, Iraq, Hungary, Egypt and Lebanon were among those to be recognised last night at the BBC Arabic Film Festival’s fifth annual award ceremony that took place at the iconic Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House in London.

The winning films explore themes ranging from political satire to a coming-of-age story, and from revolution to ecological disaster.

The BBC Arabic Film Festival - Young Journalist Award, one of the key awards, went to filmmaker Rabeb M’Barki for All is Well, Lella?!, a little-known yet shocking story of ecological demise in Tunisia.

Sam Farah, head of BBC Arabic said: “Rabeb M'Barki was courageous in her choice of covering the pertinent issue of ecological devastation in her city of Gabès. While most people in our part of the world are looking at issues of war and displacement, she has chosen water pollution, and she has chosen to cover it in a way that connects her city to the rest of the world.”

This year’s festival theme was stories of Arab women. However, the choice of theme came after the films were submitted to the festival, not before.

“We don’t specify themes. Each year, however, the films tend to focus on a certain theme. So this year the focus is on Arab women. Many of the films are made by men, but still women are at the heart of the film stories,” Farah told Ahram Online.

“We have no quota for women, and the festival is a reflection of reality. We encourage women and try to balace as much as we can, but we don’t police women or introduce a quota that patronises them,” added Farah.

Following in the footsteps of previous winners, Rabeb will receive training, mentoring and equipment to help develop her filmmaking as part of the BBC Arabic Festival’s commitment to independent filmmakers. Last year, Ali Al-Ibrahim won the Young Journalism Award for his film One Day in Aleppo. He was invited back this year to show a clip from his latest project, Anonymous Syria, on the opening night of the festival.

The BBC Arabic Film Festival Award for Best in Journalism was awarded to Birds of Sinjar by Ahmed Abid, a short documentary that tells the story of Hadi who has been bearing arms since his youth, one of the few survivors of the massacre against the Yazidis by the Islamic State (IS) group in Mosul.

Sheyma Buali, BBC Arabic Festival director, said: “This is a warm and lyrical film that conveys a harsh reality. While we are all thinking about the threat that the IS group is to the world, to women and other minorities, we have not quite heard about the way young men have had to respond. Ahmed focused on this issue of youth, arms and violence in a poetic and narrative way.”

Buali seemed content with the festival as it came to a close after a year of hard work, from the initial call, to the selection of films, to the festival, the competition and finally the awards. She cheerfully told Ahram Online: “Today, I am happy to call it a professional festival after five years. Our strength is in having a strong platform, like the BBC here in London. It has been a strong and amazing organic process based on trial and error." "It’s a rewarding learning process, with good feedback from the audience. The filmmakers are happy,’’ she affirmed.

Best Feature Documentary was scooped by Amal, a multi-award-winning film by Mohamed Siam. Shot over six years, this film follows 14-year-old Amal as she grows into adulthood in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, cutting between unfolding political events and pivotal changes in Amal’s life.

Best Short Documentary was won by Koka, the Butcher by Bence Máté. For the first time, the legendary pigeon races of Cairo are captured on camera and a young pigeon fighter must choose between his lifelong passion and romantic love.

Best in Short Film was awarded to Fadi Baki’s satirical short Manivelle - Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow. Manivelle, an automaton gifted to Lebanon by Charles de Gaulle in 1945, still haunts an abandoned mansion in Beirut. This mockumentary is about a man-robot whose ups and downs reflect those of his country.

This film was a big hit in the festival and besides the award it won audience applause, and raised their curiosity. Some people were seen by this reporter googling Manivelle (the fictional robot meant to be an Arab version of the Japanese Garendiser, which children adored worldwide during the 1980s). The film is a witty, humorous and deeply moving story between a man-robot Manivelle and his mechanic and best friend, Vartan.

Filmmaker Fadi Baki, who wrote, produced and directed Manivelle, acknowledged the audience was confused with the film as it features widely acclaimed characters — including renowned historian and political analyst Fawaz Trabulsi — who detail the history of Manivelle and make fun of everything along the way. The humour was shocking, yet funny. The audience reacted raucously to the very local Lebanese jokes said with the most serious and straight face from one of the most acknowledged politicians and historians in the Arab world.

“This story was very intriguing to me personally. The subject has been eating me up. Why don’t we have our own Arab super hero? As a kid, I grew up thinking Garendiser was Lebanese and I was shocked to find out he is Japanese. But the Arab audience won’t believe in the robot unless we Arabise him and humanise him. So I wrote this story as a robot given to Lebanon by French President Charle De Guelle. The film goes on to portray the glorious days of Lebanon, then the war, the rise and fall of cinema, and of Manivelle, his friendship story with Vartan. The film mocks everything and everyone in a bitter sweet slap on the face."

Best Topical Short was awarded to Sabeya by Dhyaa Joda. In the summer of 2014, the IS group launched a brutal campaign against the Yazidis in northern Iraq. Sabeya tells the story of one woman who builds a fort of resilience and wit whilst those around her flee to safety. It is based on a story by Iraqi writer Hassan Blassim.

This year’s award ceremony was hosted by acclaimed stand-up comedian Wonho Chung. He was joined by the judges, including BBC World Service presenter Jackie Leonard, Amnesty International’s head of video Jim Ward, and Curzon Cinema’s event programmer Michael Garrad.

Also presenting awards were BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow.

Live music was provided by Palestinian hip-hop crew DAM.

Some 24 films were screened across six days as part of this year’s festival.

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