The Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) opened last Thursday, starring 10 films from the South Mediterranean in its new programme on Arab Cinema, the Arabian Nights.
From Egypt, Cairo 678 by Mohamed Diab and Asmaa by Amr Salama is being screened, while Palestine is showing A Man Without a Cell Phone by Sameh Zoabi and Habibi by Sousan Yousef. From North Africa, audiences will discover Abdelhai Laraki’s Love in the Medina, Narjiss Nejjar’s The Rif Lover, and Leila Kilani’s On The Edge from Morocco, and Fatma Zohra Zamoun’s How Big is Your Love, an Algeria - Morocco coproduction. From Jordan, Mohammed Huski’s Transit Cities has been selected, and from Lebanon, Rania Stephan is showing The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni.
Susan Yousef, whose film Habibi last month won Best Feature Film in Dubai, is competing for the New Voices/New Visions Award to honour one of ten emerging international directors making their feature film debut at the festival, and whose films are currently without US film distribution.
So far feedback has been positive. On Saturday morning, Yousef tweeted: “#PalmSprings: adoring audience! Really! If this is a taste of what screening #HABIBI would be like throughout the U.S., I want more of it!”
The programme is to show the best of contemporary Arab cinema, as well as a glance back at its past. In the Three Disappearances of Soad Husni, an experimental documentary, Lebanese visual artist and filmmaker Rania Stephan explores the work of Egyptian actress Soad Husni, an Egyptian “Cinderella of the screen” who lived from 1941 to 2001. Through images of the actress, she delves back into Arabic popular cinema, a form that some critics have called “low art.”
“We are not here to uncover stories from behind closed doors,” the filmmaker told British magazine Little White Lies, “we are reflecting on cinema: what kind of images did Egyptian cinema produce? What emotions can these images express? What does this body of work tell us about this 30-year period of the Egyptian cinema? How were women represented? How was love represented, dating, flirting, kissing, the relation to the parents, girls and boys, the [previous] revolutions, etc? And also to talk about Soad Hosni as an actress: what is the work of an actress? What emotions does she produce? How does time change her? Some people had reservations about the format. They could’t understand that one can make a documentary with fictional elements taken from already existing VHS material. They have to understand that this is about the work of Soad Hosni, an homage to her as an actress, a tribute to her work not about the person, otherwise they don’t get it.
Five of the films showing at the Palm Springs Festival, including The Three Disappearances of Soad Husni, were directed by women. The four others were Habibi, The Rif Lover, On The Edge, and How Big is Your Love.
“We've all been watching the democratic protests and political upheavals in the Arab world over the past year, and we've been excited to find many progressive themes reflected in the new movies coming out of this part of the world,” said the festival’s artistic director Helen du Toit. “These films are revolutionary in their own way.”
The festival, which runs from January 5-16, is screening over 200 films from more 60 countries, including 40 of the 63 official submissions for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ best foreign language film. The festival boasts that it is is one of the largest film festivals in North America, welcoming 130,000 attendees each year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries.
For a full list of Arabic films screening as part of the Arabian Nights at the Palm Springs Film Festival, click here.
The Three Disappearances of Soad Husni - Trailer