The themes of family crisis and personal identity run through four films on show in Cairo as part of a festival organized in support of Syrian artists and culture.
The festival, “MINA: Artistic Ports and Passages 2021,” is the second of its kind run by Ettijahat, an independent cultural organization set up in Beirut in 2011. (See a related article, “An Eye on the Cultural Landscape of Syria.”)
“What brings these films together is their filmmakers’ passion for identity and self-related questions, and the directors’ journey of exploration,” said Ayham Abushaqra, an artist and the forum’s curator.
The films are: “Ibrahim: A Fate to Define” by the Palestinian-Jordanian director Lina Al-Abed, and three by Syrian filmmakers: “The Way Home” by Wael Kadlo, “The Final Scene” by Eyas Almokdad, and Zeina Alqahwaji’s “Sugar Cage“.
“What brings these films together is their filmmakers’ passion for identity and self-related questions, and the directors’ journey of exploration.”Ayham Abushaqra
An artist and the forum’s curator
“In every film, there is a question and research about a family’s internal conflicts or past secrets,” said Abushaqra. “All of them open up to questions of the present and how to live and confront them.”
All four films received financial support from Ettijahat’s Arts Program, which supports Syrian artists and cultural entities and artistic initiatives in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
The first MINA festival was held in Beirut in 2017. The second was twice postponed and now coincides with Ettijahat’s tenth anniversary. (See a related article, Nonprofit Groups Shift Tactics to Help the Arts Survive the Coronavirus.”)
A Father’s Disappearance
“Ibrahim: A Fate to Define” begins with a monologue by Lina Al-Abed: “I was too young to remember your presence and notice your absence,” she says, speaking to the father who disappeared when she was 6.
A secret member of the Palestinian Revolutionary Council, her father left home one day in 1987 on a regular mission and never came back. The film provides the context for that event.
Through dialogues with her family members, Al-Abed monitors the circumstances of her father’s mysterious disappearance and its reflection on their life choices.
The film won the Best Arab Feature Documentary Film Award at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival in 2019 and the Jury Prize of the Tunisia’s Gabes Film Festival in 2020. It also toured festivals around the world, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Palestine Cinema Days.
In its construction, the film resembles an investigative journey, which the director described in an online discussion that took place after the screening: a journey which highlights the link between her and her father.
“After more than 30 years of your absence, who has a definitive answer about what happened to you?” she asked in an unmistakable Palestinian accent.
Personal stories are the collective theme of MINA 2021. The four directors seek to understand the complexities of their situation in their countries by digging into memory. They start by focusing on their immediate surroundings, with close-up shots or zooming in on family members providing intimate details.
In his debut film “The Way Home,” Wael Kadlo uses self-narration to recall early chapters of his family’s story. He interviews family members in a reproachful tone with shocking questions that resemble interrogation about the reasons for the family’s early disintegration.
Filmed between Syria and Beirut, the director says that “convincing my family to appear in the film was the biggest challenge I faced … especially since the topic revolved around delicate details such as divorce, family separation and illness.”
Kadlo, who is based in the Netherlands, sees no problem with focusing on self-narrative. “The film is subjective, but it shares the stories of many Syrians,” he said.
“Family conditions explain, in a more metaphorical way, many of the reasons for the fundamental imbalance that afflicted Syrian society in general, which was manifested after the political conflict following the mass uprising in 2011.”
Kadlo uses pictures from his family archives showing his childhood and his young mother before she married his father, as well as school certificates and old audio recordings of his and his father’s talks during his travels away from Syria. He uses them as support for the stories he exchanges with his family in front of the camera.
“The film is subjective, but it shares the stories of many Syrians.”Wael Kadlo
The Way Home
Coming to Terms With the Past
The family theme continues in “Sugar Cage,” in which Zeina Alqahwaji interviews her parents to explore the familiarity and typical daily challenges facing Syrian girls with their families.
The autobiographical narrative of Eyas Al-Mokdad’s documentary “The Final Scene” combines his relationship with his brothers during the revolution in Syria. According to Ettijahat’s synopsis, it is “the story of brothers separated by distances and among whom the war planted impassable borders.”
The four films, which are being screened at the Zawya Cinema in Cairo, illustrate the power of autobiographical stories in the face of barbarism, and all the absence, loss, dispersion, and pain they carry.
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The MINA Forum presents theatrical, cinematic, visual, musical and literary productions, as well as discussion panels on current cultural issues. Besides Cairo, events are also taking place in Lebanon and Sudan, and online, in partnership with 17 cultural institutions and associations, with the participation of more than 115 artists.