Adventurous filmgoers seeking novel viewpoints and fans of Arabic-language movies can see the regional premieres of recent films from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria and even the Arab-American Mecca of Detroit at the 2013 Twin Cities Arab Film Festival. The 23-film series, running Wednesday through Sunday, aims to present the full spectrum of Arab life, from the personal to the geopolitical. The program boasts prize-winning films rarely shown in the United States, encouraging viewers to see beyond the mainstream entertainment media’s stereotyped images of belly dancers, bombers and billionaires.
The festival, now in its eighth year, was founded in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, noted festival co-founder and curator Mohannad Ghawanmeh, “a time when Arabs were represented near-singularly in the news. Ignorant, stereotypical representation of Arabs was nothing new to us, of course, but the intense and pervasive vitriol with which such representation was charged was.”
The film series, he said, is intended to “present and promote Arab and Arab-American artistic expression through the best films that we could get our hands on, films that are certain to surprise, stimulate and entertain Twin Cities audiences.”
The program opens Wednesday (7:30 p.m. at Walker Art Center) with the deadpan Lebanese comedy “OK, Enough, Goodbye.” A hit at international festivals, the film will appeal to fans of “Seinfeld’s” all-purpose nuisance George Costanza, whose spiritual twin lives in the rundown port of Tripoli. The story concerns a testy 40-year-old baker (Daniel Arzrouni) who still lives with his long-suffering mother (Nadime Attieh), pestering her with childish requests and petty complaints until she throws up her hands and takes the next bus to Beirut.
Directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia build a sly, slow-simmering comedy of aggravation, with the rudderless antihero forced to interact with the world he’s long held at arm’s length. His delayed coming-of-age arrives as he gradually develops the social skills to take the neighbor kid to a fun fair, hook up with a phone-text flirt, and make some clumsy overtures of friendship to an Ethiopian maid. By the fade-out, the grumpy loner has taken a few baby steps toward emotional independence. In subtitled Arabic and Ethiopian.
Films by Lebanese-American director Hisham Bizri, who teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, have been shown at the Cannes Film Festival, the Louvre Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cinémathèque Française, and the Cairo Opera House. His latest, “Sirocco” (7 p.m. Sat. at the Heights Theater, where all other films will be shown), a 2012 Sundance presentation, is an otherworldly detective story where the mystery is the enigma of death itself. The eerie 15-minute short incorporates a haunting soundtrack, forbidding desert landscapes and footage from an archaic “Mummy” horror film to nightmarish effect. In subtitled Arabic. Bizri will be present for a Q&A.
Worlds away is “Horses of God” (9:30 p.m. Sat.), which follows two brothers growing up in a Casablanca slum and the events that lead them as young adults to become violent madrassa-schooled jihadis. The Moroccan/French/Belgian co-production, inspired by an actual 2003 kamikaze terrorist mission, played last year at Cannes, an indication of its polished craftsmanship. “Horses” is an emotionally powerful portrait of poverty and crushed hopes intersecting with religious fundamentalism. Stars Abdelilah Rachid and Abdelhakim Rachid handle demanding roles convincingly, and director Nabil Ayouch infuses their quest with nerve-shredding dramatic tension. In subtitled Arabic and French.
Also in store is a special secret screening of a dramatic and moving major prizewinner at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, curator Ghawanmeh’s top pick of the festival (6:30 p.m. Sunday, Heights). In subtitled Arabic.