NYC Film Festivals

CinemaEast Meets West

(L-R) Rémi Martin and Kader Boukhanef in Tea in the Harem, one of the highlights of the third annual CinemaEast Film Festival

By Shahnaz Habib

For those who do not get enough of Middle Eastern and North African cinema on Netflix or in their occasional festival showcases in New York, the CinemaEast Film Festival is an opportunity to see a diverse range of selections culled from both established and emerging filmmakers. Opening Nov. 8 at IFC Center -- with the important sidebar Beur is Beautiful at French Institute Alliance Francaise -- the third annual program offers 52 features, documentaries and shorts from 15 countries.

Among them is France, where, today, the French-born children of immigrants from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco -- who are collectively known by the contentious term "Beurs" -- are making films that explore subjects that the French mainstream is still reluctant to address. Beur is Beautiful features nine films from the last 25 years, with subjects ranging from the dilemmas of Beur youth and the hangover of colonialism to the impossibility of going home and the intergenerational gap between immigrant parents and their children. The highlight is Tea in the Harem (Le thé au harem d'Archimède), the 1985 classic that gave the subgenre its name, which traces a friendship between two teenagers -- one Beur and the other white -- and the commonalities that unite them despite their differences.

The accompanying conference on Nov. 10 offers a closer view of the genre's key figures, history and contradictions while considering whether the term "Beur cinema" itself is a form of ghettoization. "I travel all around the world with my films to represent 'France,' " writer-director-actress Zaida Ghorab-Volta recently wrote in an essay published in the film journal Cineaste. "And it's only in France that I get invited as an Arab from the projects."

The festival also explores other political issues -- All I Want for Christmas documents Palestinians applying for permission to enter Israel during the season of giving -- while making room for funny, quirky glimpses of small towns and changing cities. Film itself is a popular theme in selections like Tehran Has No More Pomegranates!, in which a director and his crew turn the camera inwards to confront the impossibility of the filmmaking process. In VHS Kahloucha, the director films himself in an intimate journey from pre- to post-production and catches a moment of transition in Tunisian society. The TV is Coming depicts a small town in a frenzy about the arrival of a television crew.

Fest director Rasha Salti told The Reeler that the event strives to provide a counterpoint to grave news making headlines from the Middle East. "These films are not just about interesting causes or social problems," Salti said. "The stereotypes in the mainstream media have forced these filmmakers to go beyond the conventions of both cinema and journalism to produce stories that restore dignity and humanity to its subjects."

The CinemaEast Film Festival runs Nov. 8-15 at IFC Center; visit the festival Web site for additional program and ticket information.

Posted at November 7, 2007 6:27 AM

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