Director Abderrahmane Sissako boldly chose to make his latest feature film, TIMBUKTU about the recent Islamic extremists’ takeover of Mali. With nimble footing, he negotiates his way through this oppressive period of sharia law through humour, strong characterisation and multiple narratives unfolding across unbelievably gorgeous landscapes. Opening with militants shooting at ancient tribal artefacts as target practice, we see how everyday life continues, but with severe punishments for anyone who doesn’t conform. So there’s no music, no bare hands, legs or feet, no football, and no smoking – though we overhear soldiers discussing the merits of Messi versus Zidane, and one of the leaders goes off for secret smokes. And just when it seems that maybe it’s bearable, the law comes down hard on a nomad and his family, and the action is punctuated by lashings and fatal stonings. Deservedly nominated for the festival’s official Best Film award.
Based on a real-life story from Ethiopia, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s DIFRET tells an everyday tale of the unpleasant tradition known as ‘telefa’ that allows men to ‘abduct’ girls against their will, then marry them. Focusing on one 14-year-old schoolgirl, Hirut, who shot her aggressor and was sentenced to death, we follow her case as it is taken up by legal aid pioneer Meaza Ashenafi, who keeps hitting brick walls, but never gives up. She gets the local press involved in Hirut’s cause, puts the pressure on the local police and legal system, and defies the tribal elders. Quite an achievement to film this in his homeland with limited resources to hand, Mehari deserves plaudits for bringing this important story to our attention, pushed forward not only by his producer wife, but also with considerable clout from their fervent supporter Angelina Jolie.
In the vein of all those answer songs from back in the day, FISHING WITHOUT NETS is the low-budget answer film to last year’s Tom Hanks’ movie Captain Phillips and its Danish predecessor, A Hijacking. First-time director Cutter Hodierne has expanded his original, 2012 Sundance-award-winning short, pulling in mainly first-timers, along with experienced actors like Reda Kateb as a captured crew member. This is unashamedly from the opposite point of view, focusing on the desperate Somalian pirates themselves, a ragtag bunch of criminals and the naïve innocents they’ve dragged into the venture. Abdikani Muktar is terrific as the fisherman and reluctant participant who just wants to provide for his family. But it all goes wrong when they find that the tanker they’ve hijacked on the high seas is carrying no oil, making the crew the only valuable commodity. Edgy and thrilling.
Filmed mainly in Morocco, THE NARROW FRAME OF MIDNIGHT, the debut film from Tala Hadid, explores memory, place, dreams and loss, all swirling around writer Zacaria as he first helps a young orphan escape her captors, then heads off in search of his brother in Iraq, travelling via Istanbul.
Hitting a completely different tone, Amr Salama’s Egyptian coming-of-age comedy EXCUSE MY FRENCH had to overcome censorship not once but twice before being approved. Funny right from the start, this is young Hany’s story of reduced circumstances forcing him to move from his comfortable Christian college to a Muslim school run by a motley crew of teachers, where his fellow pupils are anything but welcoming. Not only does Hany have to fit in to get by, but he’s powerless to help his favourite female teacher when she’s singled out, and the film doesn’t flinch from showing the stark realities of life amidst many humorous incidents.
Go to page 6 for the India, Pakistan, China and Korea…