Arab cinema is witnessing a new wave of creativity in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts, said directors at the Venice film festival where some of the emerging talent from the region was on show.
Social themes that were previously kept bottled up are now making their way on film and the monopoly of older established directors is being whittled away as the repercussions of new freedoms are felt in many parts of the region.
“There is something in revolution that gives you energy. It makes you want to talk and explore,” said Hinde Boujemaa, a Tunisian director who brought her moving documentary “Ya man aach” (“It Was Better Tomorrow”) to the festival.
“I have a lot of hope for Arab cinema in the coming years,” she told AFP.
“There are new ideas, a new way of seeing things, a new type of cinema. And on top of that we have the freedom to speak,” she said.
Boujemaa’s film was shot during and after the Tunisian revolution of January 2011 and focuses on a troubled divorced mother whose hopes for a better life after the uprising are dashed as she struggles to hold on to her children.
The director said she found the heroine of the documentary when she was out filming demonstrations against the Tunisian regime, adding: “I think anyone who had a video camera in Tunisia at that time went into the streets.”
She said she wanted to tell the story of Aida because she saw her as one of the poor mass of Tunisians often passed over in media coverage.
“The people are ignored. She is the people who are ignored and it is the people who carried out the revolution!” she said.
The feature film “El sheita elli fat” (“Winter of Discontent”) by Egyptian director Ibrahim El Batout, which was shot during and after the protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak, also focuses on individuals.
“It’s one of the most amazing experiences of my acting career. The givens were exceptional. Everything was exceptional!” said actor Amr Waked, who plays an Internet activist who was tortured under the regime.
Waked was one of the first Egyptian celebrities to come out in favour of the Tahrir Square protests and joined the demonstrations.
El Batout said: “Unexpectedly, the huge wall that we were all trying to carve a small hole in, crumpled down with the fall of Mubarak and his regime.
“There was no time to think or feel so I jumped back into my old routine... I started to see how I can make a film,” said the former war zone cameraman.
Abdulhamid Juma, chairman of the Dubai International Film Festival, which announced a partnership with the Venice film festival this year to showcase Arab cinema, said a new generation of directors was emerging.
“We are currently witnessing a new generation of incredible talent eager to engage with audiences across the globe, there is an overriding feeling across the industry that the new sense of freedom has opened up creativity,” he said.
But Juma noted that while there has been a boom in the production of short films and documentaries in the Arab world “it will be some time before we see a full-length feature that is hard-hitting, honest and less veiled.”
Dubai is playing a role in this process as its post-production support programme Enhaaz has supported 34 films and is aiming to fund 15 projects a year with up to $100,000 (79,000 euros) per film for up-and-coming directors.
Two of the films helped in this way were shown in Venice including “Wadjda” the first film entirely shot in Saudi Arabia by newcomer Haifaa Al Mansour.
The movie won audience hearts in Venice with its story of a girl testing the boundaries of a conservative world in which women live tradition-bound lives.
The plot is Wadjda’s quest for a bicycle which she is not allowed.
“I think a lot of younger generation filmmakers want to make films about how they see the world and they are coming out very dynamic now with revolutions everywhere,” Al Mansour said in an interview at Venice’s Excelsior Hotel.
“The complexity of the society is boiling and coming up and it’s a great environment for filmmakers. For documentaries for example, you just put a camera in the street and you will come up with amazing stuff,” she said.
Al Mansour said filmmaking in the region could also act as a liberal counterbalance to more religiously-inspired creativity.
“We want liberal arts to play more of a part in shaping Arab nations in the future, not just conservative ideologies like Islamic art.”