Inside Al Jadid - Film Reviews

‘The Iranian Trilogy’
Broken Promise: The Incarcerated Innocents of Iran

Iranian director, writer, producer, and cinematographer Mehrdad Oskouei, recipient of the The Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award and Full Frame Inspiration Award, among many others, completed his “Youth Behind Bars” trilogy (which included “It’s Always Late for Freedom” (Cinema Guild, 2007) and “The Last Days of Freedom” (Cinema Guild, 2011)) with his final installment, the award-winning “Starless Dreams” (Cinema Guild, 2016). The completed trilogy “exposes the lost innocence of juveniles incarcerated in Iranian Correctional Facilities, posing the question of social and civil responsibility for these children… Oskouei has perfected his unobtrusive camera technique to disclose the heartbreak of these young Iranians, as well as the harsh failures of their families and their society, which have failed to protect these innocent souls. His moving work will be of interest to human rights advocates, as well as those working with troubled juveniles, and youthful victims of drug abuse. All three films will leave even the most hard-hearted of viewers mourning the crimes committed against these children, and the broken promises of their lives.” (Professor Lynne Roger has reviewed these three films for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 21, No. 72, 2017.)

Images are courtesy of Cinema Guild.

Film Celebrates Steadfast Spirits and Brave Optimism of Syrian Refugees

George Kurian's documentary, "The Crossing" (Cinema Guild, 2015), "opens with the refugees having already arrived at the first stop on their odyssey, Egypt. However, this turns out to be a mere pit stop on the way to Europe for the group of mostly professionals, who include a pharmacist, a musician, an IT specialist, and a journalist, among others. With their mainly professional backgrounds, and their varied religious affiliations, the group offers a true reflection of the Syrian population mosaic. Harassed by the Egyptian police, and fearful of being deported back to Syria, they decide to enlist the services of smugglers to help them reach Europe." Even in the midst of difficulties, sense of humor was never absent. As Mr. Fawaz Azem notes in his review of the film for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid (Vol. 21, No. 72), the refugees "poke fun at themselves, and at the Egyptian smugglers, who, ever so respectful of God’s little gifts, still have no qualms about stealing from their clients. Eventually, when an oil tanker comes along to rescue the refugees, they, in what I felt to be vintage Syrian fashion, ask the crew to ‘swear by God’ that they’re going to Italy." (Image is from the film, courtesy of Cinema Guild).

Today’s Egypt and Nasser’s Unfinished Revolution

Following her award-winning “Umm Kulthum, A Voice Like Egypt” (1996), Michal Goldman returns with her recent documentary, “Nasser’s Republic: The Making of Modern Egypt” (Icarus Films, 2016). “The period, and film, resonate with the current political, social, and economic turmoil in Egypt, a time preoccupied with the debate as to which course the country will follow in the future… In addition to the use of rare footage, archival material, and expert interviews (making the documentary an invaluable resource for scholars and historians), Goldman enhances her documentary, making it a must-see film, with the objective stance she maintains while narrating this legendary and contentious story. Her choice of varied and passionate commentators (peasants, professors, historians, secularists, Islamists, and Nasser’s daughter, Huda), and the decision to allow them to define and passionately express their beliefs, highlight this impressive film.” (Professor Nada Elnahla Ramadan reviewed this film for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 21, No. 72, 2017. Stills are from the film, courtesy of Icarus Films.)

Young War Correspondents: Risking it All for the Story

Jerome Clement-Wilz offers an interesting look into the lives of war photographers in his award-winning documentary “A Baptism of Fire” (Icarus Films, 2015). The film follows freelance photographer Correntin Fohlen and other fellow journalists, a generation that finds themselves in extremely high-risk and life threatening situations around the world. Clement-Wilz tracesFohlen’s travels, starting from Cairo during the Arab Uprising in 2011 to Haiti, with stops in France, Libya, and Syria along the way. The camera reveals the dangers of the profession, and in one scene in Libya, the ensuing violence drives Fohlen to retreat and give up on taking photos, fearful for his life as gunshots and mortar tear across the streets. The death of fellow colleagues in Homs, Syria (Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin) then causes Fohlen to reflect on the nature of his work and the value of his own life. The documentary provides an in-depth look into the social and psychological impacts of journalism on world media. Jerome Clement-Wilz, a writer and cinematographer, has also directed the documentaries “Horse Being” (2016) and “Printemps” (2015). Professor Lynne Rogers reviews “A Baptism Fire” for the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016.

Photo courtesy of Icarus Films.

Sacrificing History for Copper: The Battle for Mes Aynak

Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori launches into a desperate fight to preserve his country’s heritage after the unearthing of an ancient site, rich in Afghan culture. “Saving Mes Aynak” (Icarus Films, 2015), directed by Brent E. Huffman, reveals the historical importance of Mes Aynak, a 5000-year-old archaeological site on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Huffman’s camera follows Temori, a practicing Muslim, as he struggles to protect the ancient site from threats posed by a Chinese Copper Firm. The site rests atop a potential mine thought to possess such abundant copper resources that the Chinese have invested three billion dollars in the mineral rights to it. Because of this, Mes Aynak might be lost to the mining operation. Though there are rumors of bribes amounting to 30 million dollars, the mine’s estimated value of 100 billion dollars makes it incredibly difficult to fend off China’s persistent efforts. As the Chinese rush into the project, they permit Temori only one year to clear out the site, forcing him to ask for international help. At the end of the documentary, Mes Aynak’s fate remains both uncertain and urgent, as only 10% of the site has been excavated. Director Brent Huffman works as an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University as well as a documentary filmmaker. Professor Lynne Rogers reviews his documentary in the forthcoming Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016.

(Image courtesy of Icarus Films.)

A Syrian Doctor Returns, Just ’50 Feet’ From Home!

Winner of the Jury Award and Audience Award, director Skye Fitzgerald has introduced his most recent documentary, “50 Feet from Syria” (Cinema Guild, 2015), which offers an intimate look into the gruesome brutality of the Syrian Civil War, which started in March of 2011 and still ravages the country to this day. The documentary follows the American-Syrian orthopedic surgeon Hisham Bismar, who, after watching footage of Syrian casualties, decides to return to Syria, after leaving it 30 years earlier. Inspired, Bismar brings a suitcase full of donated metal bone implants and journeys to a Turkish hospital on the Syrian border. There, he reveals the horrors inflicted on innocents as he tends to an overwhelming number of patients, from children to adults. While some might expect the majority of the graphic scenes to be centered on doctor’s medical procedures, instead, Bismar pans the camera on those with traumatic or physical injuries, showing his audience that the true terrors lie in what the victims must face on a daily basis. However, despite its dark tones and horrific images, the film manages to convey an underlying symbol of hope in the form of a man volunteering to transport the injured across the border to a hospital. Both a cinematographer and a producer, Sky Fitzgerald has a body of work that includes other documentaries such as “Finding Face” and “Bombhunters.” A review of his documentary, “50 Feet from Syria,” by Lynne Rogers is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016.

 (Photograph Courtesy of Cinema Guild)