Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Arab "Spring" of a Different Kind: Film

The winds of change have whirled all around the globe in the past several years and with them have come changes unimagined by those raised in certain parts of the world. Restrictions on activities, especially those of women, have remained and we have seen attempts to push the envelope in this area with some success.

But what of the creativity that flowered in the Arab world and left us in admiration of the beauty, the creativity and the craftsmanship? Primarily, it had come in magnificent books and architectural majesty that still stands today for all of us to view, if only on the Internet. They are works of mastery and art to be appreciated as seen as harbingers of what could be. But where?

In the past several years efforts have quietly begun to allow a new form of creative expression to flourish and it has promise. The film industry may have come to the Arab world extremely quietly even as it was being applauded in non-Arab countries. One 2012 film, Wadjda, directed by Saudi Arabia's Haifaa Mansour, a woman who would see her film winning awards at the Venice Film Festival and other competitions.  Filmed in Saudi Arabia, it had its home premiere in truly unusual circumstances.

Film premieres are not the flashy affairs they are in the West and, in fact, are not permitted, nor are movie theatres in Saudi Arabia. So, this film about a young girl who simply wants to ride a bike, was shown (according to a report in the Wall Street Journal blog) to a hand-picked audience directed not to tweet about it and ushered into the German Embassy in Riyadh for a quiet viewing. It received the welcome it had enjoyed at other screenings and appears to be a hit.

Is this the only film to be made in the Arab world? No because, apparently, the Internet has opened channels for film experimentation. dramatic expression and free distribution to a world of viewers.  But this film may stand out because the director is a woman, although that's not its claim to fame. It is a film about a simple subject told in a manner that makes it both engaging and thought-provoking.

Recently, film actor Kevin Spacey participated in the creation of The Middle East Theatre Academy. Here, young 35 Arab future filmmakers will receive the training they require to become actively involved in developing projects and seeing through to ultimate viewing.

The new Arab Spring has sprung and the best is yet to come.

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