The sixth edition of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival begins Thursday at the Heights Theatre. Staged by the Arab-American organization Mizna, the festival opens with "Garbage Dreams," a documentary produced, shot and directed by Mai Iskander, who will attend the 7 p.m. Thursday screening.
With a population of more than 18 million, and no citywide waste disposal system, Cairo is home to streets literally flowing with trash. A haunting opening shot sets the scene, as a decrepit pickup truck navigates through refuse-laden streets, carrying a mound of trash bags twice its size.
Iskander wisely grounds the larger story by concentrating on three teenage boys and one social worker, all part of "The Nothing Class," or Zabaleen. More than 60,000 Zabaleen make a meager living by collecting and recycling what people throw away. Their way of life is threatened when a company comes in to take over the trash business.
The festival balances out the serious with the comedic in its closing film, a farce akin to the work of the Coen brothers, though filled with much more hope for its characters. "Laila's Birthday," directed by Rashid Masharawi, is a deadpan delight filled with biting observational humor and clever sight gags. The film (7:30 p.m. Sunday) follows Abu, a former judge who now drives a taxi, during a stressful day in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that culminates in his daughter's birthday.
Between those two films, the festival expands its reach with three shorts from emerging filmmakers of the Persian Gulf (5:30 p.m. Saturday), a region that has never been represented in the festival. Also new is a program of short films for children (10 a.m. Saturday) from that region.
An event Sunday will spotlight local filmmaker Hisham Bizri, an associate Cultural Studies professor at the University of Minnesota, who will screen four of his films: "City of Brass," "Vertices," "Song for the Deaf Ear" and a fourth to be announced (2:30 p.m. Sunday).
Friday's highlight is the fun, touching and heavily stylized "Les Barons" (6:30 p.m.). Director Nabil Ben Yadir uses every trick in the cinematic book to tell the story of Hassan, an Arab in Belgium looking to detach from his best mates, fall in love and pursue his dream of being a comedian.
Saturday's "Pomegranates and Myrrh" tells the story of a recently wed couple dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a very personal way. Writer/director Najwa Najjar will attend the screening, at 8 p.m.