Dispatches from the Street

Like most ethnic or identity-oriented events, the Arab Film Festival was created for a core constituency fed up with being misrepresented by the mainstream media. (Exhibit A: The preponderance of swarthy Arab villains in Hollywood action flicks. Exhibit B: The depiction of Palestinians as terrorists, suicide bombers, or poverty-stricken refugees in network newscasts.) Eleven years on, the festival has gradually shifted its focus from reacting to stereotypes to showcasing the breadth, depth, and vitality of Arab cinema. Take the nocturnal Beirut comedy Falafel, which begins with a college student out looking for fun and deepens and darkens into a portrait of the anger lurking under the surface of Lebanese society. In A Muslim Childhood, the veteran Moroccan director Moumen Smihi explores the collision of faith, secularism, and modernity in luscious 1950s Tangiers. The opening night film, Making Of, alerts us right from the outset that artistry and experimentation trump dogma at the AFF. At crucial points in this tale of a disillusioned Tunisian dancer recruited as a suicide bomber, the actor and director debate the incendiary themes laced throughout the script. The festival has moved well beyond its original target demographic, and that’s welcome news in suspicious post-9/11 America.

Making Of starts at 7 p.m at the Clay, 2261 Fillmore (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $6-25.
Oct. 18-28, 2007

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