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Understanding Arab culture through films

Fest underway in Seoul and Busan offering 8 acclaimed movies

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Published : 2014-06-22 20:29
Updated : 2014-06-22 20:29

As part of the 7th annual Arab Cultural Festival, the Arab Film Festival opened in Seoul and Busan for Korean audiences to gain a wide range of knowledge and understanding of less-explored Arab culture.

“I hope that through the films of the festival, the audience discovers that the Arabs share the same contemporary and universal issues with us,” said Chung Yong-chil, the secretary-general of the Korea-Arab Society, the host of the festival.

The festival runs from June 19-25 in Seoul’s Arthouse MOMO at Ehwa Womans University and Busan Cinema Center from June 20-26.

The festival kicked off with “Factory Girl” from Egypt, directed by Mohamed Khan. The film gained much attention at the 2013 Dubai International Film Festival, one of the leading film festivals in the Middle East, as it received the best picture and the best actress awards.

The film follows the story of a young factory worker, Hiyam (Yasmeen Raess), in inner-city Cairo, who goes against imposed social norms and follows her desires and dreams. She lives in a woman-dominated world, working at a textile factory and living with her mother and sister, until Salah (Hani Adel), a newly hired floor manager, walks into her life. They believe that their ardent love can overcome class differences, but end up facing a my riad of obstacles, including malign rumors spreading in the factory. However, she refuses to address the accusations out of pride and personal belief. 
A scene from “Factory Girl,” the opening film of the 2014 Arab Film Festival. (Factory Girl Official Website)

The film offers a glimpse of the day to day life of a woman living in a very confined society of gender disparities and class hierarchies. Against the backdrop of ongoing political and economic upheaval in Egypt, Khan’s brave and socially engaging film helps audiences to understand the social issues with a touch of Egyptian humor and melodrama.

The festival includes seven other acclaimed features from different Arabic countries, most of them being introduced for the first time in Asia.

“When Monaliza Smiled” from Jordan is similar to “Factory Girl” in that it depicts a confident woman defying social norms, yet, has a different ambience and resolution.

Two rare and very personal documentaries are included in the program. “My Love Awaits Me by the Sea” from Qatar is directed by Palestinian filmmaker Mais Darwazah. The film is based on the director’s own pilgrimage back to her homeland Palestine for the first time as she discovers the poetic notion of love and freedom, while she questions her personal fears. “The Man Inside,” from Kuwait, is written and directed by French documentary maker Karim Goury. He also talks about his personal reflection of searching for the father he never met, in a hotel room in Kuwait.

“Omar” from the UAE is directed by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, who was invited to the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It won a jury prize for the “Un Certain Regard section,” an award for different and original themes. The film was also screened at the recent Busan International Film Festival

“The Proof” from Algeria, “Blind Intersections” from Lebanon and “Rock the Casbah” from Morocco all illustrate underlying traditional family issues clashing with external forces.

The six-day film festival not only includes the film screenings but also has special programs, including dialogues with Arab culture experts. Admission is free for all visitors and all the films will have Korean subtitles. For detailed schedules and information, visit http://fest.korea-arab.org

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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