Arab cinema: New York platform

With subjects spanning forbidden love in contemporary Egypt and living in conflict in the West Bank, a film festival in the Gulf has travelled to the US to raise awareness of contemporary Arab cinema abroad

In a vibrant city buzzing with the juxtapositions of East and West, traditional ways and contemporary lifestyles, a Romanian ballet dancer seeks to create a new life far away from her homeland; an Indian cabdriver with an uncanny resemblance to a Bollywood star tries to not let dreams take over his reality and Faisal, a pampered local boy feels the weight of his family’s expectations. This is contemporary Dubai and these stories seen through the lens of award-winning Emirati film director Ali Mostafa create a kaleidoscope of a place in his first feature film, City of Life.

Orientation: A New Arab Cinema is the New York platform for a series of 19 powerful features and shorts by filmmakers who have already captivated cinefiles in the Middle East. The showcase, screening this August at the prestigious Lincoln Centre, includes a number of films by female directors. First up is Cherien Dabais's Amreeka, the tale of an Arab mother and son's experiences of upheaval and racism after they move to America in the wake of 9/11. For those who prefer their stories told with love, there is Daniele Arbed's Beirut Hotel, a romantic thriller involving a Lebanese nightclub singer and a French lawyer. Love struggles to stay in the frame for Habibi, a Palestinian film about a young couple trying to stay together in the West Bank.

The Film Society of Lincoln Centre in New York (FSLC) and the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) are collaborating on the event to bring the films wider exposure. “One of the Festival's core aims is to enrich professional experiences in the region, while also raising the profile of regional works on the world stage,” comments DIFF Chairman Abdulhamid Juma. “We hope that the films selected for the FSLC will give audiences abroad the opportunity to experience the vibrancy and multi-faceted nature of Middle Eastern cinema.”

The stories are often hard-hitting. In The Rif Lover Moroccan director Narjiss Nejjar skilfully portrays Aya, an innocent young girl dreaming of romance but caught up in a web of deception and greed. Cairo Exit, a film where every character is looking for a way out of stifling poverty, uses the lives of three charismatic sisters to sketch a portrait of a country facing its difficulties.

“New filmmakers, often educated outside the region and well aware of contemporary international film styles, have begun to create a new Arab cinema that fearlessly engages in a dialogue with their respective societies,” says Richard Peña, programme director at the Film Society of Lincoln Centre. “Broaching subjects unthinkable even a decade ago.”