Suicide bombers, drugs, sex -- bold filmmakers expose issues

Across the Middle East a new generation of talented filmmakers is breaking through. These talented directors — for whom no cow is too sacred — are raising eyebrows at home and abroad, winning awards and raising the profile of Mideast cinema to new levels across the world.

Hany Abu-Assad

Arguably the highest-profile Arab director around, Abu-Assad came to international prominence in 2005 with his third feature, “Paradise Now.”

Premiering at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, the tale of a day in the life of two Palestinian best friends turned suicide bombers took home three awards, including the Blue Angel for best European film.

Since then, the film has been generating plenty of controversy around the world, most recently when it took home the Golden Globe for foreign film.

The Palestinian director is currently prepping the script for his fourth feature. Untitled pic will be set in America and will be in both English and Arabic. “It’s about the American dream,” Abu-Assad says. He hopes to start shooting in the summer.

Khalil Joreige

Along with co-director and wife Joanna Hadjithomas, artist-turned-filmmaker Joreige finds himself at the forefront of Lebanon’s revitalized and buzzy cultural scene.

“A Perfect Day,” the couple’s second feature, evocatively captured a post-civil war Lebanon caught at a crossroads of war and peace, pain and resolution. The pic took home the Fipresci prize after its debut at last year’s Locarno Film Fest.

Having graduated from making documentaries — his 2001 film “Khiam” was a harrowing journey into a torture chamber in South Lebanon — Joreige often serves as a mentor to many of Lebanon’s finest and brightest, who attend his teaching seminars and art exhibitions, ensuring his influence on Lebanese cinema for years to come.

Marwan Hamed

Nothing seems to faze this Egyptian tyro. At 28, he was handed the reins of “The Yacoubian Building,” at $4 million, the biggest-budget Arab film ever. An adaptation of Alaa Al-Aswany’s hugely controversial bestseller, the film follows the exploits of the residents of a central Cairo apartment building, tackling subjects such as corruption, fundamentalism, prostitution and drugs. “The portrayal will be daring in a way that the current cultural atmosphere in Egypt is not used to,” says Hamed. Not that being in charge of that much moolah worried him. “I was more worried about how the audiences would accept it. It’s very bold.”

“Yacoubian” has been selected to play in the Panorama section of the Berlin film fest.

Tawfik Abu-Wael

The fires burn as incessantly in Abu-Wael’s eyes as they do in his acclaimed debut feature “Thirst.” Best described as one part Sean Penn and one part Terrence Malick, the unapologetically intense 29-year-old took home the Fipresci prize at Cannes, as well as first prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival and special jury prize at the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris,  for his tale of a Palestinian family in a deserted Israeli military outpost selling charcoal for a living.

Born in the Palestinian town of Um El-Fahim in Israel, Abu Wael graduated from Tel Aviv U., courting controversy ever since with his choice of projects. His 2001 short film “Diary of a Male Whore” caused a sensation when it was screened at film festivals around the region. Invited by the Cannes Cinefondation to take part in a five month workshop in 2004, Abu-Wael is currently working on his new feature.

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