Sunday 23 July 2017

Shubbak: Imagined Futures

A couple weeks ago I spent an evening in the Barbican watching the only part of the Shubbak Film Festival: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture that I made it to this year—a program of five short films titled “Imagined Futures.” These were not all science fiction, by any means, although at least two of them explicitly position themselves within the genre. I’m not going to try to review the films or the collective here, but give a few thoughts and reactions—if you can catch any of this series for yourself, you should surely do so.

Mare Nostrum is a Syrian/French production directed by Anas Khalaf and Rana Kazkaz, which in 13 minutes shows us a Syrian father apparently being irrationally cruel and abusive to his young daughter. The father’s own anguish at his daughter’s fear and suffering makes it clear that there is more going on, and the story ends on a heartbreaking—if all-too-familar—dénouement.

An animated short film from Lebanon directed by Chadi Aoun, Silence lasts only 15 minutes and is a beautiful/terrible dystopia where silence is obligatory (and brutally enforced by military agents), and rebels dance supernaturally to a music that seems to result from their choreography. Very nicely animated, tear-provoking film.

Selma, a joint Algerian/French production directed by Batoul Benazzou, is at 35 minutes the longest in this anthology, and rather than futuristic is about a girl worrying about her future after graduating school. Another longish piece, the 21-minute Lebanese parable Submarine, directed by Mounia Akl, is about the only woman who refuses to abandon her town when the garbage crisis gets apocalyptically out of control.

The shortest film of the evening was the 10-minute, Palestine/Denmark co-production Nation Estate, directed by and starring Larissa Sansour (who also joined us for a Q&A in the theater after the films), a squeaky clean dystopia in which the entire Palestinian people are housed in a single huge tower block. Their lives are luxurious, well-fed, with plenty of space for everyone and every resource and comfort they could want. The protagonist even has an olive tree in her living quarters, and instant, classic Palestinian food in preserved containers in her kitchen. The pseudo-utopian setting is so convincing that—Sansour tells us—a German critic went so far as to delightedly proclaim that this would be a good solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict! A spine-chilling, and more subtle science fiction offering than most of those shown here. Other than a couple of fascinating/infuriating anecdotes, the Q&A was brief and rather shallow (the questioners’ fault, not Sansour’s), but the collection of shorts made for some nice contrasts, and none of the films were duds.

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