Much as I love film and much as it has been such a big part of my life, I don’t often watch the Academy Awards, even when I’m invited to Oscar parties at friends’ houses. Aside from crying along with the winners on the Miss USA pageant as a kid, I’m just not that interested in award shows—I’d rather see the movies. And when I lived in LA, the Oscars were just such a great time to go out and run errands, as the streets were as empty as Christmas.
However, this year I watched them because of another film award show. Two of my students, Reema Majed and Al Yazyah Al Falasi decided in March that their senior project would be create the first annual student film festival in the Middle East, with three awards to be given out for top documentary and narrative shorts. Monumental as a task as this is, they were determined, and the result as been several nights of insomnia for me, as I’m sure it has for them. One of those insomniac nights, I turned on the TV, a rather unprecedented event in of itself, and there were the Oscars just beginning. What the heck, I thought, I’ll keep them on and mark papers. The papers I had to read were for a class assignment in which I’d asked students to compare The Hurt Locker to Casablanca, as two movies set against war and the Arab world. In a class of 30, I’m the only one who preferred Casablanca, although most of the papers seemed to reflect an uncomfortable feeling about how the Iraqis were portrayed as unsavory or stupid and the US soldiers as the saviors of the Iraqis, if not the saviors of themselves. But in the midst of reading the papers, I considered it kismet (title of another movie with a Middle Eastern setting, albeit far more fantastical) when Steve Martin or someone mentioned that this was the first time 10 films had been nominated for the Oscars since Casablanca won in 1943.
Yes, perhaps if Jordan could manage to be the set for such a complicated shoot as The Hurt Locker, then perhaps it is the right time indeed for their to be a student film festival in the Middle East. I’m so excited for what our students have accomplished—the Zayed University Film Festival, which received nearly 70 films from eight countries from Egypt to Lebanon and Palestine to Qatar, including Iraq and Jordan, rolls out the red carpet next week, literally, for a festival that will showcase more than 30 films, including the 12 finalists. Many of the films seem to deal with the issue of identity amidst the turmoil of the filmmakers’ personal lives and the tumultuous and rapidly changing world they live in. Making a film as a student, particularly with limited means, is not an easy thing, nor is setting up a film festival to give them a chance to be viewed, so if you’re in town please come and enjoy the show. It’s an armchair seat into the minds of today’s Middle Eastern youth.
Check out the films playing at http://www.zuff.ae
Stay tuned for the winners!