DUBAI: Here is our rundown of all the movies featured in competition at this year’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which begins Nov. 30 .
Director: Tawfik Alzaidi
Starring: Maria Bahrawi, Yaqoub Alfarhan
The Saudi filmmaker’s debut feature was shot in AlUla and makes full use of its stunning setting. It is set in 1996 and follows Nader, a teacher in a rural town who once harbored dreams of becoming an artist, as he mentors a talented teen, Norah, and tries to convince her that the restrictions she faces may one day be gone, and she will be free to express her creativity. Sixteen-year-old Bahrawi, who plays the title role, was cast just two weeks before filming in her first real acting job after an exhaustive search. “When we auditioned, she had basically zero confidence, because she’d just been rejected for another role on the basis that she ‘couldn’t act,’” Alzaidi told Arab News in a recent interview. “But I saw Norah’s spirit in her. She understood what it was like to want something more and to not be sure if she would get it.”
Director: Ali Kalthami
Starring: Mohammed Aldokhei, Hajar Alshammari, Mohammed Alttowayan
In his film about a man in desperate need of money who becomes a delivery driver and steals illegal items from bootleggers to sell himself, Kalthami aimed to celebrate his hometown of Riyadh in as honest a way as possible. That meant not shying away from its less-glossy parts.
“Usually, when you see this city, it’s in commercials that only want to show you the beauty of Riyadh, but it’s a beauty without tension, so it’s missing truth,” Kalthami told Arab News in September. “Our aim was for every shot, every location, to reflect the emotional journey of Fahad, and at the same time show the history of this city — both its past and future (are) strikingly present with every turn of his wheel.”
‘Inshallah A Boy’
Director: Amjad Al-Rasheed
Starring: Mouna Hawa, Haitam Omari, Yumna Marwan
Al-Rasheed’s debut feature was the first Jordanian film ever to screen at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It tells the tale of recently widowed Nawal, a nurse living in a low-income neighborhood in East Amman with her daughter Nora. The only property her late husband Adnan left behind was a truck, which his brother Rifqi insists on selling so he can reclaim some of the money Adnan owed him. To stall Rifqi’s demands for recompense, Nawal claims she is pregnant, knowing that if she were to have a son then Rifqi would have no claim on Adnan’s estate, including the apartment she lives in.
In an interview with Arab News shortly after the film screened at Cannes, Al-Rasheed stressed that he wanted the film to be an “authentic and accurate” portrayal of certain aspects of Jordanian society, but that it is not a commentary on all of that society, adding that he was not generalizing, but telling a specific story. “If half of our society is crippled because of oppression and inequality, then how can this society develop?” he said.
“We need to understand each other in order to evolve as a society. I don’t believe that cinema — or art in general — has a responsibility to change the world around us, so I’m not trying to change anything with my movie,” he added. “I’m trying to open conversations.”
Director: Zarrar Kahn
Starring: Ramesha Nawal, Bakhtawar Mazhar, Mohammad Ali Hashmi
The Pakistani-Canadian director’s debut feature is a horror film with parallels to “Inshallah A Boy.” After the death of the family patriarch, a mother and her daughter are beset by malevolent forces, in a thinly veiled commentary on the male-dominated society in which they live. “A lot of it is about the mother’s dilemmas and the daughter’s traumas,” Mazhar (who plays the mother) told Arab News in May, after the film screened in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.
Directors: Afef Ben Mahmoud, Khalil Benkirane
Starring: Afef Ben Mahmoud, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Hajiba Fahmy
The Tunisian husband-and-wife directorial duo’s debut feature centers on a contemporary dance troupe. On the eve of their tour’s final performance in Marrakesh, one of their star performers, Aida, is injured (probably deliberately) by her partner Hedi. The troupe head off together on their bus to find a doctor, but an accident means they end up walking through the forest at night — a trek on which several secrets are revealed as the dancers get to know each other better.
Director: Shokir Kholikov
Starring: Abdurakhmon Yusufaliev, Roza Piyazova
The Uzbekistan-based director’s award-winning first feature is the story of a generational struggle between an elderly couple living in a rural village and their two sons, the youngest of whom has moved abroad while the eldest remains living nearby.
‘Evil Does Not Exist’
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Starring: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka
Hamaguchi’s eco-fable is set in a beautiful forest where single father Takumi lives with his young daughter Hana. But their peaceful existence is threatened when a Tokyo-based company decides to set up a glamping site for city dwellers, which will have severe consequences for the local environment.
Director: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Pavia Sidhu, Yugam Sood, Gourav Sharma
Movie based on the life of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu, the Punjabi-Canadian woman who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered at the demand of her mother and uncle after they took exception to her choice of husband, a rickshaw driver she met in the Punjab state of India while on holiday from her wealthy family’s home in Canada.
Director: Amanda Nell Eu
Starring: Zafreen Zairizal, Deena Ezral, Piqa
Malaysia’s entry for the next Oscars, Eu’s directorial debut is a body horror film that centers on Zaffan, an 11-year-old girl going through puberty who starts to experience extraordinary physical changes. “Tiger Stripes” won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes this year.
‘Six Feet Over’
Director: Karim Bensalah
Starring: Hamza Meziani, Kader Affak, Souad Arsane
This Algerian-French drama tells the story of Sofiane, an Algerian student in Lyon whose visa has been revoked, meaning he lives in fear of deportation. To (hopefully) legalize his status, he takes a job in a Muslim funeral home, where he finds himself developing a greater connection to his Arab roots.
‘Hiding Saddam Hussein’
Director: Halkawt Mustafa
Starring: Alaa Namiq
The Norwegian-Kurdish filmmaker has picked an enthralling topic for his latest documentary; its subject is Alaa Namiq, the farmer who, for more than 200 days in 2003, hid the world’s most wanted man, deposed president of Iraq Saddam Hussein, from his many pursuers by keeping him in a hole on his land.
‘Behind The Mountains’
Director: Mohamed Ben Attia
Starring: Majd Mastoura, Walid Bouchhioua, Samer Bisharat
Ben Attia’s dramatic tale of Rafik — a man just released from four years in prison for vandalizing his office and desperate to reconnect with his young son Yassine — embraces magical realism and fantasy. Rafik takes Yassine out of school and into the mountains. We learn that Rafik believes he can fly. The audience, meanwhile, is left wondering if maybe he can.
Director: Farah Nabulsi
Starring: Saleh Bakri, Mohamed Abdel Rahman
The Palestinian director’s feature debut follows both a Palestinian schoolteacher grieving the loss of his child and an American couple trying to rescue their son, an Israeli soldier who has been kidnapped by a resistance group. “This is a story that challenges stereotypes and lends some kind of insight into the lives and struggles of those people whose voices are often excluded or misrepresented,” Nabulsi told Arab News in September.
Starring: Marc Zinga, Lucie Debay, Eliane Umuhire
This drama from the Belgian-Congolese director (and hip-hop artist) Baloji tells the story of Koffi, a young man who was born in Congo but rejected by his mother, who believed him to be a sorcerer. His return to his homeland from Europe (along with his pregnant white girlfriend) is not the happy reunion Koffi had hoped for.
Director: Humaid Alsuwaidi
Starring: Hira Mahmood, Rashed Hasan, Osman Aboubakr
The Emirati director’s latest feature is set on the titular island in the Arabian Gulf. Emirati woman Dana inherits a run-down house there from her late father. She revamps the place and starts renting it out to tourists, a decision that sets her at odds with many of the island’s residents.
Director: Parviz Shahbazi
Starring: Mahsa Akbarabadi, Yasna Mirtahmasb
The veteran Iranian filmmakers latest feature focuses on Fred, a 23-year-old drifting aimlessly through life, unemployed and wasting what little money he can get his hands on on gambling. Even his own mother asks the police to take him away. But a chance meeting with Roxana — a talented and driven young woman — leaves Fred thinking he can turn his life around.