Eye on the Mideast: Fest adds Africa-savvy curator

Fall Fest Preview 2011: Toronto Film Festival

For Rasha Salti, the festival’s newly created position of programmer for African and Middle Eastern Cinema in February couldn’t have come her way at a more exciting time for the vast and varied cinematic region.

“With the revolutions across the Middle East, people are waiting to see how it’s going to affect cinema,” she says from her Beirut homebase. Despite a few key regional festivals canceled this year, Salti says, “There’s a new political horizon for every country, and transformative conversations are happening within the state institutions that sponsor filmmaking and festivals.”

Salti has programmed a from-the-revolutionary-frontlines Egyptian omnibus pic slotted in Mavericks, an Iraqi docu, two from Morocco, two from Lebanon (including Variety’s 2008 Director to Watch Nadine Labaki’s sophomore pic “Where Do We Go Now?”) and a Tunisian film that she considers a perfect example of the “crazy but completely captivating stories” she is encountering in Africa.

In the world-preeming “Almost Brando,” Tunisian cinema master Ridha Behi melds his story of finding young Brando look-alike Anis Raache — “the spitting image of the man in his 20s,” Salti asserts — and encountering Brando himself at home (with ideas for a script and an oxygen tank) just a few months before the Hollywood legend’s death.

“There is something really exciting going on in African cinema,” Salti says. “I think it’s a reaction that will be sustained — as Europe stopped being interested in Africa and European producers turned their back on the industry, I suspect African filmmakers have started to make the films they want to make.”

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