The Arab world has long dished up heaping servings of documentaries, but there’s something different these days: the quality of the films is higher thanks in part to Arab fests and funds that are fostering what could become a new wave of more naturalistic cinema in the region.
The proliferation of Arab factuals first started about a decade ago as broadcasters Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya began producing plenty of low-budget straightforward pieces depicting regional turbulence.
But more recently docus from the region have become much more lively and original, as their helmers gain greater cachet and more international traction.
“Through documentaries, Arab filmmakers are moving towards a more structured and articulated storytelling narrative,” says ADFF chief programmer Teresa Cavina. She cites 3D docu “Iraqi Odyssey,” by Switzerland-based Iraqi director Samir, tracing the migrations of his extended family, now scattered all over the world, weaving wistful and witty testimonies of his relatives with rare documents from private and state archives, plus Ottoman film footage.
She also points to directors Amer Al Shomali and Paul Cowan’s “The Wanted 18,” which re-creates a story involving the Israeli army’s pursuit of 18 cows on a Palestinian collective farm and makes use of stop-motion animation, drawings and interviews. Both will screen in Abu Dhabi after bowing in Toronto.
Making its world preem in Abu Dhabi will be “Pirates of Sale,” an observational docu about a group of young people who are picked out of hundreds to join a famed circus on the edge of one of Morocco’s poorest slums. It’s co-directed by Moroccan Merieme Addou and Brit Rosa Rogers.
The fest will also host a panel with producers and fest honchos on Arab cinema and how it’s perceived in the outside world. Docus will certainly be a big part of the conversation.
“I think that there is a strong need for storytelling that is rooted in reality,” says fest topper Ali Al Jabri.
This could easily spill over into fictional features as well. “The more you look at reality, the more you want to talk about reality in your own personal way,” he says.