As the end of the 62nd Berlin Film Festival approaches, Euromed Audiovisual looks back at some of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern films selected to an edition which has included a special focus on the Arab Spring. Time for a summary and a brief scan of press reactions…
No genre can claim to get as close to reality as documentaries and three films set in these revolutionary Egyptian times came to confirm this. Journalists and women were in the centre of the approach of documentaries willing to portray the wind of change. Bassam Mortada’s Reporting… A Revolution, which took part in the Berlinale Special section, intertwined the narratives of journalists Mostafa Bahgat, Ahmed Abdel Fattah, Shaimaa Adel, Samah Abdel Atty, Nora Younis and Ahmed Ragab and the footage they filmed during the 18 days of conflicts which led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. "The film is about six reporters struggling between neutrality and their dream of freedom," explained Mortada, who had initially thought of putting a script together but ended up realising that personal accounts would result in more genuine and vibrant material.
Another documentary with a similar premise of witnessing a world on the verge of change was seen in the Panorama sidebar section. Egypt-US co-production Words of Witness, by Mai Iskander, follows young Cairo-based journalist Heba Afify in her efforts to reflect the diversity of opinions of the Tahrir Square protesters. Outside the journalism bubble, but still adopting the same female-driven perspective was Hanan Abdalla’s In the Shadow of a Man. Also featuring in the Panorama section, the film showed the lives of four women trying to understand what has happened in their country. Does tradition still reign or is there space for real female emancipation?
In the Panorama film The Virgin, the Copts and Me France-based director Namir Abdel Messeeh travelled back to his native Egypt to interview the Copts (Egyptian minority Christians) about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The film attracted both audience and press, with ScreenDaily describing it as a “touching insight into the lives and dreams of villagers in a remote area of Egypt”.
Outside the sphere of documentary, Egyptian Welsh director Sally El Hosaini’s feature debut My Brother The Devil raised the question of the integration of Egyptian descendants in UK society. Tackling several prickly issues, from homosexuality to the use of drugs, the film was described as “a slap in the face” by Cineuropa critic Boyd van Hoeij.
Two Spanish co-productions also addressed sensitive Arab issues. Wilaya, by Pedro Pérez Rosado, focuses on a family of Spanish-speaking Sahrawi, a stateless, mixed ethnic population inhabiting the deserts of Southwest Algeria. The Hollywood Reporter praised its “terrific widescreen cinematography” and the “captivating score by Sahwari singer Aziza Brahim”. Starred and Produced by Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, Sons of the Clouds/The Last Colony, by Alvaro Longoria, reflects on the story of Western Sahara, which is a largely unknown issue outside Spain. Daily newspaper El Pais highlighted the documentary’s beautiful photography and the remarkable way that Longoria films “the magnetism of the desert”, which “mingles with the restlessness, the rage and the hopelessness of a forgotten people”.