Friday, January 25, 2008

Film Series: Reel Voices from the Middle East

Global Studies is proud to present Reel Voices From the Middle East, highlighting
seven significant cinematic contributions from the widely diverse Middle East
region. The series selections offer valuable glimpses into the day-to-day
experiences of a wide variety of individuals, ushering us beyond broad-brush
headlines and into the very human relationships of people that live there.

Free and Open to the Public

Each film will be screened at 7 p.m. in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium of the
University of Pittsburgh (650 Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh 15213). We hope you'll join
us for a Reel Voices From the Middle East Opening Reception on Friday, February 1,
at 7 p.m.


Friday February 1 - Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt
A documentary about Egypt's (and the Arab world's) legendary superstar, a
singer-performer in a category all her own: Umm Kulthum, perhaps the greatest singer
who ever lived. Omar Sharif narrates while we are shown bits of her life story,
interviews, live performances, and the Egyptian public's reaction to this legend,
coming from all levels of Egyptian society.

Thursday February 7 - Four Women of Egypt
Amina Rachid was raised in a non-religious, Westernized, aristocratic household
before embracing socialism and fighting for social justice. Another deeply committed
activist, Shahenda Maklad, a Muslim, was a student demonstrator in Egypt's national
movement who lost her husband to a political assassination before pursuing political
office herself. Her mentor, Wedad Mitry, a devout Christian, is a militant
nationalist leader and author. Their friend, Safynaz Kazem, is a political
journalist and strict Muslim. These four women are the subject of this impressive
documentary exploration of opposing religious, social, and political views in
modern-day Egypt.

Friday February 8 - Mahmoud Darwich: As the Land is the Language
It is sometimes difficult for Westerners to imagine the huge popularity that poets
enjoy in the Arab world. From the Middle East to North Africa, poetry is considered
a living art that should be performed on stage by the authors themselves. When the
great Arab poet Mahmoud Darwich recites his poems in Cairo, Beirut, or Algiers (or
even in Paris and London), packed crowds come to mouth the verse with him. This
film, which follows Darwich from the Cisjordanian desert to Paris via Cairo and
Beirut, and tracing the path of his exile from Israel, sets out to understand this
popular fervor and share the emotion distilled by Darwich's words and inimitable
rhythm. It not only allows the viewer to appreciate his work in its totality, but
also places it in a political, historical, and cultural context.

Thursday February 14 - 20 Fingers
Banned in its home country, this Iranian drama offers an intimate view into the
relationships between men and women. Organized into seven conversations between
different couples-each played by director Mania Akbari and Bijan Daneshmand-this
often harrowing film shows people trying to find their way in a changing world,
divided between modernism and tradition.

Friday February 15 - Under the Moonlight
Seyyed Hassan, a young seminary student, is preparing to don the clerical attire.
While other students are also busy with similar preparations, Seyyed Hassan's
supplies are stolen by a small boy. To identify the culprit, Seyyed Hassan sets out
for the suburban area where he meets people who have never met a cleric and know
nothing about the clerical profession. Under such unfamiliar circumstances, Seyyed
Hassan acquires a new understanding of society and human beings.

Thursday February 21 - Turtles Can Fly
From acclaimed director Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses) comes the first
film shot in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Heart-wrenching as well as
spirit-raising, Turtles Can Fly mixes humor and tragedy to startling effect,
resulting in a timely masterpiece about children struggling to survive in an endless
war zone. On the Iraqi-Turkish border, enterprising 13-year-old Satellite (Soran
Ebrahim) is a de facto leader in a Kurdish village, thanks to his ability to install
satellite dishes and translate news of the pending U.S. invasion. Organizing fellow
orphans into landmine-collection teams so that they can eke out a living, it's all
business until the arrival of a clairvoyant boy and his quiet, beautiful sister.

Friday February 22 - Forget Baghdad
This film reflects on the clich├ęs of the Jew and the Arab in the last hundred years
of cinema, combined with the biographies of some extraordinary individuals:
Iraqi-Jewish communists. Over the years, Samir, himself the child of Iraqi
immigrants in Switzerland, has focused on the issues of alienation and the formation
of identity in his films. In the context of this discussion, professor Ella Shohat,
sociologist and film historian at the City University of New York, is one of the
most important figures in the film. Raised in Israel as the daughter of Iraqi Jews,
she reflects on her history. The film also focuses on the life stories of four other
exceptional individuals: Shimon Ballas, professor of Arabic in Tel Aviv, is involved
in the pro-Palestinian peace and civil rights movement; Sami Michael is one of
Israel's most famous best-selling authors who broke with the communists back in the
mid-1950s; Moshe (Moussa) Houri is a wealthy kiosk owner and building contractor in
a Tel Aviv suburb who to this day continues to vote for communists; and Samir
Naqqash is the only one of the four who still writes in Arabic. His works of
literature have brought him critical acclaim and quite a number of prizes, but
publishers these days are no longer interested in bringing out his books, neither
those in the Arab world nor those in Israel.


Reel Voices From the Middle East is co-sponsored by the Global Studies Program of
the University Center for International Studies, Less Commonly Taught Language
Center, ULS-Stark Media Services, and the Film Studies Program at the University of
Pittsburgh; with additional support from CERIS (Consortium for Educational Resources
on Islamic Studies), the Pittsburgh chapter of the ADC (American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee), the Pittsburgh-Gulf Initiative.

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