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At Locarno Film Festival Israeli Palestinian Conflict Plays Out With Both Sides Seeking Attention

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks set to play out in a spirit of competitive co-existence at the Locarno Film Festival where, despite tensions and the prospect of an Arab boycott, filmmakers from both sides will be in attendance, attesting the prominent role taken by the indie-centric Swiss event as propagator of all cinematographies with a special urgency.

Locarno’s announcement in April that Israel’s vibrant film industry would be the focus of its informal market’s Carte Blanche pics-in-post showcase, thanks to a partnership with the Israel Film Fund, sparked immediate protest and a petition with signatories such as Ken Loach, Jean-Luc Godard and Mira Nair alongside prominent Palestinian auteurs Elia Suleiman (“The Time That Remains”), Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now”), Annemarie Jacir (“When I Saw You”) and many other prominent Arab filmmakers, including Egypt’s Khaled Abol Naga and Hala Lotfty.

They urged Locarno to drop the the Israel focus.

When the fest declined to do so, noting that Locarno throughout its 68-year history “has always been a place for freedom of expression,” many in international industry circles expected an Arab boycott of the fest.

But that has not been the case.

In fact the Arab presence in Locarno will be particularly strong this year.

“As the human atrocities in Palestine reached a new low the past few days, we feel it is important to underscore the political and cultural importance of being at Locarno,” said Alaa Karkouti, topper of Cairo and Abu Dhabi-based marketing and distribution company MAD Solutions.

After tensions flared over Locarno’s focus on Israel he decided to work on boosting the Arab presence at the event.

“We declined the call to boycott the festival because we strongly believe that it would not deliver the desired effects. How else will we tell our stories, if we don’t take our films, our culture, our traditions, our dreams and aspirations? If we don’t share them with the world? If we only allow ‘the others’ to tell their own version of their ‘struggles’?,” Karkuti said. “We would lose an important cultural platform. Boycotting is not the solution. On the contrary, we have to show a very strong presence of Arabic cinema in all festivals to gather as much support as possible.”

So MAD struck an agreement with Locarno’s management team to dish out a special prize in the Locarno’s Open Doors mini co-production forum which focusses on Africa’s Maghreb countries comprising twelve works from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria this year.

On top of that, MAD is organizing a series of meetings for Open Doors filmmakers with top Arab industryites including Mohamed Hefzy (pictured) head of leading Arab indie shingle Film Clinic; Wael Omar, topper of Middle West Films; Hani Osama, founding partner of film and TV shingle The Producers; Qatari/Lebanese Producer Aya Al Blouchi, founder of shingle Seat 26, and Karin Angela Schyle, coordinator at Germany’s Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation, known for its events, including one at Berlin, which aim to foster international co-productions between young German and Arab filmmakers.

Meanwhile, in a movie world diplomatic move, Locarno organizers recently changed the name of the Israeli pics-in-post focus from “Carte Blanche” to “First Look on Israeli Cinema.”

‘”Carte Blanche” did not reflect accurately enough the way in which the project is organized, and gave rise to misinterpretations,” said Markus Duffner, the event’s organizer.

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