Cape Festival of Arab And Middle Eastern Cinema Opens At Chatham Orpheum

By: Tim Wood

The Lebanese comedy “Halal Love (and Sex)” opens the Cape Cod Festival of Arab and Middle Eastern Cinema at the Chatham Orpheum Theater May 4.

CHATHAM – The Chatham Orpheum Theater will host the opening night of the Cape Cod Festival of Arab and Middle Eastern Cinema tonight, May 4.

“Halal Love (and Sex),” a comedy by Assad Fouladkar, will be screened at 6 p.m., and will include a pre-screening reception featuring Middle Eastern hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

The biennial showcase highlights movies by filmmakers in the Arab world, the Middle East and the diaspora, as a way to foster understanding about the region and its culture, according to organizer Rebecca Alvin.

“I started the festival in 2012, both in response to the Arab Spring and out of curiosity about a cinema (or actually several cinemas, as I learned) that I was totally unfamiliar with even though I’ve studied film my whole life,” Alvin, a Brewster resident, said in an email. “Once I started looking at the films of directors like Nacer Khemir of Tunisia, Yousef Chahine of Egypt, and of course Abbas Kiarostami of Iran (who we’re spotlighting this year), I saw incredible vision and power in their work, and it just opened up a whole new world for me as a filmmaker and a cineaste.”

This year's offerings show the range of films from that part of the world, starting with the Lebanese comedy “Halal Love (and Sex),” which deals with everyday people dealing with romantic entanglements and their Muslim faith and trying not to sacrifice either.

The second film in the series, “Houses Without Doors,” is a documentary by Avo Kaprealian about the life of an Armenian family in the Al Midan section of the Syria city of Aleppo, where persecuted Armenians found a home a century ago and which today houses many displaced Syrians.

Kaprealian said the film is about watching what was happening in Aleppo, in itself a subversive activity. He said he was arrested and investigated for filming the life of the city's displaced people.

“This was a very sad reality, that we cannot do anything, we can only watch,” he said via email. “But why? This question led me to see how complicated the situation is.” That led him to investigate the history of his people and the city and whether the revolutions of the 20th century really changed anything.

“I was filming there for three years,” he said of Al Miden, “and seeing how every simple thing changes in some way. And then it began to change its identity, to be destroyed, and so many refugees and displaced people from the Aleppo countryside came to Al Miden and found their new homes there, when, in the same time, the Armenians who lived here for a hundred years, and had been a part of this land, had to flee and leave the country.”

The film follows the story of his family leaving Aleppo, but Kaprealian said he never wanted to do a pure documentary about the city or his family.

“These are huge topics which needs hundreds of films for better understanding,” he said. He also didn't want to film just tragedy and “blood and tears and corpses.”

“Rather, I said to myself, if I will show some real life, I have to show my real life, my story firstly, in order to be more faithful, and to be more real. I was filming only certain things, only very certain moments, very little moments, I wasn't filming all the time. So I did this with some kind of generalizing.” The results, he said, shows “the daily life of simple people who really cannot change anything, and have to live the conditions of war they never wanted.”

By showing movies that residents probably would never otherwise get a chance to see, Alvin said she hopes to create an empathy with people whose depiction in American film and news is often negative.

“I think it's really important not to live in a Hollywood bubble,” she said, noting that the films in the festival often have unfamiliar culture references because they are rooted in the region's dominant religion of Islam. “I know when I was a kid just learning about the world, going to see Italian movies and French movies really broadened my sense of the world and my place in it. Also, many of the films are influenced by European cinema more than Hollywood cinema, so there is a quiet and a beauty to them that is quite cinematic.”

It can be difficult to get Cape Codders to attend films outside of their comfort zone, but those who have attended Alvin's festival in the past have been appreciative, she said.

“And when we do Q&As with the filmmakers, we are all really struck by how sophisticated and complex the questions are. That’s one of my favorite things about Cape Cod, the intersection of small-town charm, stunning nature, and very erudite people,” she said.

The festival will also feature the regional premiere of “Tickling Giants,” Sara Taksler's documentary about Bassem Youssef, a surgeon who became a comedian and TV host who was dubbed “The Egyptian Jon Stewart.” The satirical program became immensely popular but Bassem eventually left the country after arrests and physical threats shut down the show.

The festival closes May 7 with “Yallah! Underground,” a documentary that features Arab musicians and artists in four countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel) with an eye toward music and art as political and social comment in an area of the world that has recently been experiencing a major cultural and generational shift.

For scheduling and ticket information, visit capecodfilmsociety.wordpress.com/cape-cod-festival-of-arab-middle-eastern-cinema/coming-attractions/.

Cape Cod Festival of Arab and Middle Eastern Cinema Schedule

“Halal Love (and Sex),” May 4, 6 p.m. at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, with short film “E.A.S.”

“Houses Without Doors,” May 5, 7 p.m. at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, with short film “Daesh Girl.”

Tribute to Iranian Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami and screening of “Taste of Cherry,” May 6, 4 p.m., at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, with short film “Only Five Minutes.”

“Tickling Giants,” May 6, 7 p.m. at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, regional premiere. Shown with short film “Light Sight.”

“Yallah! Underground,” May 7, 7 p.m. at WOMR studios in Provincetown, with the short film “I am Palestine.”