As the conflict in Syria reaches a fever pitch and the democratic revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia enter a tenuous and sensitive stage of transition, the phenomenon known as the “Arab spring” is clearly one of the most intriguing, involving and frustrating stories of our new millennium. Most of what we know about these conflicts, as well as the simmering tensions in places like Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, are in tidy two-minute news reports, but these human stories require a much deeper and longer platform in which to understand their underlying conflicts and possible resolutions. That is why it is so exhilarating that the Panorama section of the Berlin International Film Festival is devoting a good number of films in its Panorama Dokumente section to explore the turbulence and promise in the Arab World and the Middle East.
The Panorama Dokumente section opens this evening with THE RELUCTANT REVOLUTIONARY by British director Sean McAllister. The film tells the tale of a Yemenite tourist guide who slowly abandons his professional distance towards the political “spring” in his country. His experiences with the filmmaker, who he befriends as one the last tourists to his strife-ridden country, politicizes him in ways that are both alarming and completely understandable. No matter what your personal politics, it is impossible to remain unmoved when the political sands are literally shifting underneath your feet. Several documentaries set in Cairo provide powerful insights into the game-changing events that continue in Egypt. In the film IN WORDS OF WITNESS, a 22-year-old woman journalist questions people on the streets about parliamentary elections and democracy, and reveal the hunger for democracy and reform and the frustration with the continued dominance of the military class. In the film IN THE SHADOW OF A MAN, women eloquently portray their views of events and how equal rights for women remains a crucial demand of the protestors while also being a sticky issue for even revolutionary men used to their macho dominance in Arab culture. Films relating to the Arab Spring appear in various fiction features and short films in different sections of the Berlinale, as well as professional market screenings at the European Film Market. The Festival is also organizing a number of panel discussions on the Arab world and filmmaking. Guests include writer Tahar Ben Jelloun (Morocco/France), filmmakers Mahmoud Hojeij (Lebanon) and Nadia El-Fani (Tunisia/France), filmmaker and journalist Mohamed Ali Atassi (Syria/Lebanon), artist and curator Maha Maamoun (Egypt), curator Sarah Rifky (Egypt), director and film activist Hala Al Abdallah (Syria/France), producer and filmmaker Hala Galal (Egypt), and producer Javier Bardem (Spain).