Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Safar: The Festival of Popular Arab Cinema proves its popularity

This Friday at 8.30pm the film programme of Safar: The Festival of Popular Arab Cinema begins at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in central London with the Open Gala UK premiere of the award-winning 2013 contemporary drama Factory Girl. The fact that tickets for the premiere were sold out welll in advance is proof of the high level of enthusiasm for the Safar Festival and for Factory Girl, and augurs well for the rest of the Safar programme. The screening will be followed by a Q and A session with the film's legendary Egyptian-Pakistani director Mohamed Khan.

Factory Girl

The film's central character Hiyam is a young factory worker who has fallen under the spell of the supervisor, Salah. Believing that love can transcend their class differences, Hiyam pursues a dream of being together. When a pregnancy test is discovered in the factory premises, her family and close friends accuse her of sinning, and when Hiyam decides not to defend herself, she pays an enormous price in a society that fails to accept her. The film is presented in partnership with Dubai International Film Festival.
Factory Girl

Safar - organised by the Arab British Centre in association with the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) - is the only festival in the UK solely focused on programming popular Arab cinema. This year's festival follows the success of the inaugural Safar held in 2012. The Safar programme of film screenings runs from 19 to 25 September.

Safar includes both UK premieres and classics of the Arab silver screen. These will be accompanied by Q and As, special introductions and an afternoon forum bringing together some of the most significant figures of Arab cinema.

This year, Safar has expanded its scope to include an exhibition - Whose Gaza is it Anyway?- of Arab movie posters and film ephemera, all shown in the UK for the first time. The exhibition opened on 2 September and runs until 5 October.

Omar Kholeif

Safar’s Artistic Director Omar Kholeif says: “Popular histories are too often sidelined in favour of a particular breed of ‘art house’ cinema which seeks to emphasise a Eurocentric model focused on particular social, political and aesthetic concerns. Safar seeks to remove Arab cinema from the perceived notion that it is a peripheral or ‘third’ cinema. It is a celebration of the complex social histories inherent within popular Arab cinema, and highlights the significance of particular icons and makers.”
Noreen Abu Oun

Executive Director of the Arab British Centre, Noreen Abu Oun says: “The Arab British Centre exists to improve the British public’s understanding of the Arab World, and it does so by showcasing the best of the region’s diverse culture in its year-round programme. Cinema is the most widely enjoyed and accessible cultural output, which is why Safar remains a permanent fixture in our Calendar. Safar is an ever growing project, and will continue to develop to make popular Arab cinema widely available to the general British public. We are thrilled to be working with Dubai International Film Festival and the ICA for the second edition of Safar, which sees the addition of a month long exhibition of Arab film art and memorabilia.”

Safar chronicles the re-mapping of the future of Arab cinema, and allows a unique glimpse of what it might look like tomorrow.
Rock the Casbah

The films to be premiered at Safar 2014 include Rock the Casbah, to be shown at the Closing Gala Screening on Thursday 25 September at 8.45 pm.  This award-winning contemporary film by Moroccan director Laila Marrakchi unfolds over the three days of the rites of mourning dictated by Muslim custom, following the death of a prominent magnate and family patriarch, Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif). The solemnity of the occasion is disrupted by the unexpected return to the family fold of Sofia, the rebellious youngest daughter who left Morocco, against her father's wishes to pursue an acting career in the US. The film is presented in partnership with DIFF.

Rock the Casbah

The other highlights of Safar include:

Kit Kat

Kit Kat, voted one of the ten best Arab films of all time, is an early 1990s Egyptian comedy from Daoud Abdel Sayed, one of the most unique voices in global cinema. Sheikh Hosny is a marijuana-smoking blind man who lives with his old mother and his frustrated son in the Kit Kat neighbourhood. His son Youssef dreams of going to Europe to find work, and has a relationship with a divorced woman named Fatima. Sheikh Hosny refuses to admit his handicap and dreams of riding a motorcycle, he also spends his nights smoking marijuana with the locals in order to forget his miseries after the loss of his wife and the selling of his father's house. The film is presented in partnership with the Egyptian National Film Center.
West Beirut

West Beirut. is a late 1990s homage to Beirut. Set in 1975, this film documents the uprising that divided the city of Beirut into Muslim and Christian sectors that led to over a decade of civil war. A chilling story based on the award-winning writer and director, Ziad Doueiri's boyhood memories, this film underscores the terrors children suffer during wartime.
Salvation Army
Salvation Army (UK Premiere). This rapturous debut feature from Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia offers a charged, semi-autobiographical tale about a young graduate who must navigate the sexual, racial and political intrigue surrounding his arrival in Geneva. Inspired by his own autobiographical novel of the same title, Taia’s contemporary coming-of-age story unfolds with love, pain, desire and violence.

Around the Pink House
Around the Pink House, one of the most popular Lebanese films of the late 1990s, explores the changing urban landscape of Beirut after the Civil War. La maison rose (the pink house) is an old mansion in Beirut in which the Nawfal family found shelter during the Civil War. Unfortunately for them, their immediate environment is rapidly changing, as many of the old shell-ridden buildings are being torn down and replaced by new construction projects. When Mattar, the owner of the pink house, decides to sell it to make room for a large commercial centre, the residents of the neighbourhood become divided between the shopkeepers and businessmen in favour of a different kind of modernity.
The screening will be followed by a post-screening Q and A with director Khalil Joreige.

The Sparrow

The Sparrow  From the great auteur of Arab cinema Youssef Chahine comes this sumptuous digitally re-mastered 35mm print of a cinematic gem. Set shortly before and during the Six Day War in June of 1967, The Sparrow (1972) follows a young police officer stationed in a small village in Upper Egypt whose inhabitants suffer from the harassment of a corrupt businessman. The officer crosses paths with a journalist who is investigating what appears to be a scandal involving the theft of weapons and machinery by high ranking officials. Using the protagonist Bahiya's house as a meeting place, the police officer and the journalist come together to uncover this circle of black marketeers. During the inquiries, war breaks out and President Gamal Abdel Nasser announces his resignation.

The Saturday Forum at 1pm on 20 September consists of three 60-minute panel discussions. It will bring together some of the most significant figures in Arab cinema to publicly discuss the emergent trends and issues affecting contemporary Arab filmmaking, and is moderated by Safar’s Artistic Director, Omar Kholeif. The forum is a rare opportunity to capture the pulse of Arab cinema’s future.
In an exciting new addition to the Safar programme, the short films explore themes of memory, desire and place. This showcase presents stunning short film works from Ali Cherri, Roy Dib and Jumana Manna.

Exhibition: Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? (2 September – 5 October:
A central component of Safar, the exhibition Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? curated by Omar Kholeif is being held in the ICA’s Fox Reading Room. The display examines the history of Arab pop culture through printed matter – posters, notebooks, diaries and book covers, as well as through film and video.

poster for Al Asfour (The Sparrow) 1972

Included is a selection from the archive of Abboudi Bou Jaoudeh, a prolific collector whose archive located in Beirut holds one of the biggest collections of Arab film memorabilia; from rare Arab film posters to cultural magazines published from the 1930s to the present day, displayed in the UK for the first time.
La'bat al Huz (Roulette - Lucky Game) 1967

 Tareek Al Khataya (Way to Hell) 1968

Also from Bou Jaoudeh’s archive is a specially curated selection of historic publications curated by Beirut and Amsterdam-based artist Mounira Al-Solh. This material sits alongside a newly commissioned work by Sophia Al-Maria with Sam Ashby who exhibit an imaginary poster and sketchbook for her yet to be completed film, Beretta, a rape-revenge thriller set in Cairo. Additionally, Maha Maamoun presents Domestic Tourism II, 2009, a film that seeks to challenge how the image of the Egyptian pyramids has been used by the world’s tourist industry. Raed Yassin’s ebullient single-channel video work, Disco, 2010, also on show, tells the story of the artist’s father, a disco-addict and fashion designer who leaves his family to become a star in the Egyptian horror film industry.

Raed Yassin's Disco, 2010 (courtesy Kalfayan Galleries)

 Sophia Al-Maria's Beretta, 2-14

To view the full Safar schedule, click here 
To view the online catalogue, click here
To view the 20 second trailer, click here

Friday, September 12, 2014

Comma Press invites new Iraqi futuristic short stories by 10 November deadline

Manchester-based Comma Press is looking, by a deadline of 10th November 2014, for new short stories written by Iraqi writers and set in Iraq to be submitted for an anthology to be published in both Arabic (as an eBook) and English translation (book and eBook) in 2015. The anthology will be edited by the Iraqi short story writer and filmmaker Hassan Blasim, whose collection The Iraqi Christ, published by Comma, won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for Blasim and his translator into English Jonathan Wright.

Contributions will be selected according to how well they respond to the following brief.

Each story must:

• be set in the year 2103 - exactly 100 years after the allied invasion of Iraq.
• present visions of how the authors imagine life in particular Iraqi cities might be in 90 years' time.
• be a stand-alone drama and tell a complete human story in less than 6000 words.

Please note that the culture, politics, technology, architecture, and - most importantly - the language must all be set firmly in the future and tied to one particular real-life Iraqi city.

 editor and co-organiser Hassan Blasim

The reason for the futuristic setting is intedned to give Iraqi authors one of three possible opportunities.

They can use the setting to either:

(i) completely escape the political/religious context of Iraq today, and write about a different society/environment altogether;

(ii) write allegorically about the present (or recent past, e.g. the invasion) through the prism of the future; in other words, they can project current issues onto an ostensibly otherworldly or unconnected setting (use the future to write about now);

or to

(iii) write literally about the influence of the invasion 100 years down the line.

Comma invites submissions from Iraqi authors working across all genres - not just science fiction. "We feel that it's just as interesting to ask literary writers to try their hand at something they've never considered before, whether that be science-fiction or futurism; an allegory which allows authors to express what normal literary realism doesn't; or the opportunity to metaphorically comment on the present political, social and cultural existence through the prism of the 'future' (2103)", says Comma. "In short, we are interested in stories about relationships, comedies, existential narratives - everything! Not just science fiction and politics!!"

Ten stories will be included in the anthology. Comma envisions that each will be set in a specific Iraqi city in the year 2103.

With the exception of Kut, Najaf and Kirkuk which have already been commissioned, submissions can be set in any of the cities outlined in the list below.

Comma can pay £200 for every story it publishes. However it cannot pay for a story if it does not ultimately publish it.

If you would like to write for this project, please contact the two organisers via email to express your interest and to check that the city has not already been taken: and

DEADLINE for submissions: 10th November 2014 

co-organiser Christine Gilmore

The Setting
The setting is important - "the history of each city should be written into its future". The list below isn't exhaustive - you can pick other cities or even regions if your story is not limited to an urban setting. Feel free to contact Comma with your queries and ideas!

Cities to choose from: 

In Iraq:
1. Baghdad
2. Basra
3. Mosul
4. Karbala
5. Fallujah
6. Tikrit
7. Nasiriya
8. Amarah
9. Sadr City
10. Ramadi
11. Ukbara

In Kurdish Iraq:
1. Hewlr / Erbil
2. Silman /Sulaymaniyah
3. Dihok
4. Zaxo
5. Kelar
7. Rewandiz /Rwandz
8. Helebce / Halabja
9. Saml / Sumail
10. Ranye / Ranya

Comma wants writers to think about which city to choose to set their work in creatively, and carefully. For example, if you want to write a piece of classic utopian/dystopian futurism, Basra might be a very interesting setting. Basra is the town from which HG Well's futuristic saviours, the 'Wings Over the World', appear, to save war-torn Western Europe in his book and film The Shape of Things to Come. Or if you're interested in a Borges-inspired vision of the future, Ukbara might be a great setting. Ukbara is the real-life origin of Borges' unreal city 'Ukbar' in his famous "Tln, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". The very fact that it's a real place undermines Borges' un-real game, so perhaps it could be a setting for a more existential set of questions, about the nature of reality. These are just examples.

H G Wells
Frequently Asked Questions  
Why has 2103 been chosen as the date in which the stories must be set?  
The idea here is both to give Iraqi writers some creative space to reflect on the long-term legacy of the Iraq invasion and, simultaneously, the chance to escape the pressures of the current political climate by projecting their visions of Iraq in the future. Setting the stories 100 years after the invasion gives writers freedom to be creative. They can choose exactly what direction they want their story to take, whether that be a complete escape from the present into a fictional future world; a realistic projection of the war's aftermath and how its' legacy affects the future; or an allegorical portrayal of contemporary issues in a future setting. Remember that for many science fiction writers, setting a story in the future gives them greater freedom to critique the present and evade the censorship and social taboos that so often hamper creative expression.

What are the requirements?  
The story should not have been translated into English before and should be written in response to the brief above. It must be fictional and set in one particular Iraqi city; the stories must be human stories rather than political. Each story will present a vision of how the authors imagine life in their chosen city in 90 years time, but through the story's context or background readers must grasp something of the city's past as well as the long term effects of the US invasion.

Who is eligible to submit a story?
Comma welcomes submissions from all Iraqi writers. We are particularly seeking authors currently based in Iraq.

Will the book be published in Arabic?  
The anthology will be published in both Arabic and English as an e-book, but the English version will also be published in print. Is Iraq + 100 a science fiction book? No! Science fiction is one possible genre, but the anthology is open to all styles and genres as long as the stories are set in the year 2103.

How many words can the stories be?
Ideally stories will be between 1250 - 3500 words in the Arabic, although we can be flexible.

How much will Comma pay for my story if it is published?
Comma can pay £200 for each story that it chooses to publish in the anthology.  

When is the deadline for submissions? All submissions must be received by 10th November 2014

Supported by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial).