Written by Hiba Sleiman
This year, at our 2nd annual film festival, the Toronto Arab Film gathers a strong selection of short films from all around the Arab world, the United States, Europe as well as from our local film scene in Canada.
Strong and crucial narratives familiar to both the Arab and Canadian audiences represent the Canadian Arab perspective in this year’s festival: Storm Child, Jardins Paradis, Clebs, Écume and Ain’t No Time for Women. Five beautiful visual depictions and interpretations of belonging, displacement, immigration, identity, survival and safety.
Some of the films meet in a metaphorical space yet diverge in narrative and experience. Some play with documentation, some with fiction.They contemplate a feeling, a personal inquiry and a concurrent reality through the mediums of a fictional story, a true context and ‘pleasant experimental’ visuals as one of the filmmakers states.
The diversity in the filmmakers’ creative voices echoes what they intend to communicate with the audiences.
Écume is a story inspired by real people and familiar life events. A thrilling and authentic battle for survival unfolds through a friendship and a camaraderie facing the threatening stressors of life. In this Canadian production, the director, Omar Elhamy, follows a group of friends in a fast paced tempo as they embark on a journey to fight for what they believe to be their right and necessity to survive. The urgency in the film is thrilling and the struggle is real and relevant to those who have known no safety or insurance of what is to come.
Jardins Paradis is an experimental short film that examines the themes of identity, belonging and questions them through a nostalgic lens. Yza Nouiga, the filmmaker, chose to marry a personal feeling to an unrelated personal experience. In this Canadian production, the director creates a space where an interpretation of ‘home’ meets another potential ‘home’. She chooses specific elements to recreate a momentary resort where one examines their roots and questions their certainty of identity.
Clebs, realised in Morocco, is a strong metaphorical contemplation of mundane life. Through a documentation of 750 dogs, Halima Ouardiri, the filmmaker sheds the light on injustice, displacement and explores the ‘space’ from an aesthetically beautiful lens to make visible a harsh and unfair reality. With only a few lines towards the end, the film gives the viewer the freedom of interpretation and projection and is a treat for the eye.
Storm Child is a multilayered story of struggle and pursuit. Produced in Canada and directed by Ines Guiennaoui, the film follows a child’s search for safety, once again, after fleeting threat and having found refuge. A new threat follows the family and is clearly manifested in the child’s attempts to find peace.
Ain’t No Time for Women blurs the line between fiction and realism. It is an authentic and heated political conversation between women of different ages at a hair salon in Tunis. The director, Sarra El Abed, exhibits a sharp and crucial conversation in a raw and warm atmosphere. A beautiful mundane setting that exposes life matters, political actualities and the role of women in both.
After a successful inaugural year, this year’s festival will be held from May 27-30. In addition to these beautiful local films, a number of international short and feature Arab films will be screened. The festival lineup also includes Q&As with the filmmakers, a masterclass in producing, a workshop on accessing the Canadian Film Industry and a panel that further discusses speculative storytelling in the Arab cinema.