BAM presents the second annual Contemporary Arab Cinema, a diverse program of films from across the Middle East and North Africa, showcasing the depth and variety of Arab cinema today. Grappling unflinchingly with issues of prejudice, women’s rights, ethnic identity, sociopolitical upheaval, history, and tradition, these eclectic documentaries and narrative features are by turns personal, political, funny, and fervent dispatches from an ever-evolving region.
The series opens with Sameh Zoabi’s “Tel Aviv on Fire“ (2018), a charming satire set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which a slacker PA on a popular Palestinian soap opera begins pilfering plot points from an imaginative Israeli border guard, followed by a Q&A with director Zoabi. Other titles include Jawad Rhalib’s When Arabs Danced (2018), a richly sensorial documentary on boundary-pushing Muslim dancers, actors, and artists at work, followed by a Skype Q&A with the director; Hajooj Kuka’s aKasha (2018), a freewheeling feminist farce from South Sudan; Waad Al-Khateab’s For Sama (2019), a SXSW Best Documentary-winning documentary chronicling the filmmaker’s life in Aleppo during the civil war; and Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s drama Fatwa (2018), in which a father returns to Tunisia following his son’s death, and discovers the young man’s involvement in an extreme Islamist organization.
Other films include Cyril Aris’ The Swing (2018), a lo-fi, intimate portrait of a Beirut family’s love and lies, followed by a director Q&A; Mohammad Saeed Harib’s Rashid & Rajab (2019), an infectiously goofy body swap comedy, full of slapstick gags and sly observations on Emirati and Egyptian cultures, followed by a Skype Q&A with the director; Egyptian-Austrian director Abu Bakr Shawky’s feature debut Yomeddine (2018), a luminous, bittersweet road movie about a leprosy survivor; Nadine Labaki’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning neorealist stunner Capernaum (2018); Syrian documentarian Talal Derki’s undercover portrait of a militantly fundamentalist father and son, Of Fathers and Sons (2017), followed by a Skype Q&A with Derki; Amr Gamal’s 10 Days Before the Wedding (2018), a heart-pounding, civil-war set romance, and the first Yemeni-made film to screen commercially in Yemen; and Ahmad Abdallah’s EXT. Night (2018), a freewheeling meta-satire from one of Egypt’s leading contemporary directors.