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'Starve Your Dog', Dir. Hicham Lasri, 2015| © Matrice Media/ICA
'Starve Your Dog', Dir. Hicham Lasri, 2015| © Matrice Media/ICA
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The Best Films To See At The SAFAR Film Festival

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 9 January 2017
Back for the third time since its 2012 founding by the Arab British Centre, the biennial Safar Film Festival is the only festival in the UK dedicated to Arab cinema. Taking over the Institute of Contemporary Arts for five days of taboo and stereotype-busting, this year’s lineup includes a selection of films from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon – here are our top picks.

Before the Summer Crowds, 2016

Directed by one of Egypt’s most acclaimed directors, Mohammed Khan, Before the Summer Crowds is a light-hearted satire that wryly explores the social dynamics at play between a group of bourgeois-type holidaymakers on Egypt’s north coast. Delving into the characters’ backstories and plucking skeletons from their closets, Khan (who sadly died in July of this year) skilfully examines the hypocrisies of the self-centred middle-classes of Egyptian society, happy to judge publicly what they themselves practice privately.

Love, Theft and Other Entanglements, 2015

A simple-minded, apolitical, Palestinian anti-hero steals a car in the hopes of raising cash to get out of the country with his married lover, but his plan is complicated by what he finds in the boot — a kidnapped Israeli soldier. This off-beat, absurdist comedy is the first feature-length film from young Palestinian director and cinematographer Muayad Alayan, who has had a fair bit of success abroad with his previous narrative shorts. After studying in San Francisco, Alayan returned to Jerusalem with a vision of nurturing a grassroots, organic filmmaking culture, setting up a collective of filmmakers and non-filmmakers with which to bring people together to tell stories by and about Palestinians — Love, Theft and other Entanglements is the fruit of this labour.

Let Them Come, 2015

Set in the tumultuous times of late 1980s Algeria, when conflicts between government forces and radical Islamists were beginning to signal a coming storm, this dark narrative explores the impact, both psychological and concrete, of political violence on a secular, semi-dysfunctional family group, caught up in a wave of atrocities committed on Algeria’s civilian population. The first narrative feature from documentarian Salem Brahimi, Let Them Come is a brutal and devastating testimony to the wide-reaching effects of sectarian struggle, channeling themes that can resonate across the Arab world today.

Starve Your Dog, 2015

Taking things down the experiential route, Moroccan director Hicham Lasri explores the aftermath of the Arab Spring in the second chapter of his dog-themed trilogy, following on from They Are the Dogs. A semi-washed-up journalist desperate to get back on top attempts to conduct a surreal interview with Driss Basri, the country’s former Interior Minister who served during a two-decade-long reign of terror, bringing to light the struggles of Morocco’s recent past. Arty and non-naturalistic to the bone, Starve Your Dog straddles comprehensive narrative and inscrutable avant-garde à la Jean-Luc Godard, with beautifully shot, quick-paced montages and an arresting soundtrack.

As I Open My Eyes, 2015

Another feature film debut, Leyla Bouzid’s touching drama foregrounds revolutionary themes in Tunisia through the eyes of a young female rock singer, caught in a tug of war between the promises of freedom and the pressure of convention. Set in summer of 2010, in the months preceding the Jasmine Revolution, the youngster’s rebellious nature is given a sobering edge by the audience’s foresight concerning the somewhat dubious benefits achieved by the political upheaval. Examining the familial, cultural, and political pressures so often burdening women, both in youth and later years, As I Open My Eyes gives a compelling insight into the fabric of contemporary Tunisia, enjoying a strong festival run on its release.

The Safar Film Festival will run from Wednesday 14th September — Sunday 18th September. More information here.

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