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Cannes Prize Winner ‘Capernaum’ to Kick Off New Arab Film Festival in Paris

Lebanese director-actor Nadine Labaki and her drama “Capernaum,” an award winner at Cannes, are set to kick off the first edition of the Festival Des Cinemas Arabes, an ambitious new event in Paris dedicated to Arab films.

Capernaum,” about a 12-year-old boy who takes his parents to court “for giving me life” in the painful world of Beirut’s slums, won the Cannes Jury Prize last month. Labaki and her film, which will play out of competition, will inaugurate the 11-day Arab film festival June 28 in Paris’ Institute du Monde Arab (Institute of the Arab World). 

The event will mark Labaki’s return to the Paris institute where in 1997 she won the best short prize, awarded by the institute’s Biennale of Arab Cinema, for her student movie “11 Rue Pasteur.” The biennale was scrapped in 2006.

Twelve years later, the Parisian cultural organization is putting Arab cinema back on display with the new film festival, which “opens a new cycle, full of promise,” former French culture minister Jack Lang said in a statement. More than 80 titles, including features, documentaries and shorts – all recent Arab productions, some of them international premieres – will unspool for Paris audiences. About 100 guests, comprising talents, producers, sales agents and journalists from the Arab world and Europe, have been invited. There will be industry panels and creative programs such as the New York-based Cinephilia Screenwriting Shorts Lab.

A special section of the fest will focus on shorts from Saudi Arabia, which recently lifted its religion-related ban on cinemas after 35 years.

A panel organized in collaboration with the Haifa Independent Film Festival will thrash out some of the difficulties Palestinian filmmakers and producers are forced to contend with and provide an overview of Palestinian cinema since 1948.

European premieres in the fest’s narrative competition include Moroccan director Mohammed Achaour’s comedy “Lhajjates,” about four elderly Moroccan women who join forces to rebel against the suffering and injustice they are subjected to, and Emirati director Amer Salmeen Al Murry’s soccer comedy “Fan de Amoory.”

The new Arab cinema event in Paris, the city where Arab directors have historically found a crucial piece of their financing, follows the sudden cancellation earlier this year of the Dubai Film Festival, which had been the Arab film industry’s main market.

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