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San Sebastian spotlights Arab films

Middle Eastern movies get set in Motion

San Sebastian is plumbing a final film frontier: the Arab world.

It promises interesting returns. Largely limited to the Maghreb region (such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), unfinished-film showcase Cinema in Motion now takes in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine.

Its four-film section Sept. 23 spotlights three talented women helmers and is knit by a sense of urgency.

Two films — Moroccan Leila Kilani’s “Nos lieux interdits” and Mahmoud Al Massad’s “Recycle” — are documentaries.

“Lieux” interviews relatives of political prisoners who disappeared under Hassan II. It’s more a contempo study of Moroccans’ still-shaded reactions to the disappearances than a simple historical record. Al Massad brings his talent for humored portraits of redoubtable mavericks, seen in “Shatter Hassan,” to a trip around the Jordan home district of slain Iraq insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Lebanese two-hander “Je veux voir,” by Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas, follows Catherine Deneuve on a visit to Lebanon. The visuals — Deneuve, bombed-out cityscapes — are reportedly near surreal.

Rising U.S.-Arab director Annemarie Jacir will present early extracts from “The Salt of This Sea,” about a U.S. hip-hopper’s experiences in the Middle East. It’s fiction, but it’s lensed with a gritty, neo-docupic style.

Of the 20 films presented, some 12 were docus, says section coordinator Jose Maria Riba. That’s a sign of the times — and Arab directors’ urgent need to bear witness to them.

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