Saturday, Sep 5, 2009
Writer/director Cherien Dabis
Director Cherien Dabis straddles two worlds
The filmmaker examines the complexities of modern Arab American identity in 'Amreeka.'
By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 4, 2009
Before the Persian Gulf War exploded in the early 1990s, Cherien Dabis and her family were popular, well-respected members of their adopted Ohio town. Her father, a physician, and mother were Palestinian immigrants from the West Bank and Jordan who'd moved to the United States shortly before Dabis' birth. Dabis says she grew up wanting "so badly" to be an all-American girl.
But when the war began, her family went from being treated as friends and neighbors to being turned into pariahs and outcasts. Hostile, anonymous notes were left in their mailbox. "Those Arabs should leave town!" someone screeched to the local newspaper. A florist told Dabis' mother that she couldn't shop there anymore because other customers had threatened a boycott.
The worst blow occurred when Secret Service agents came to Dabis' high school to investigate a false report that her 17-year-old sister had made a death threat.
"It was a huge turning point in my life," Dabis said recently at a Beverly Hills hotel.
As the war continued, Dabis also was struck by what she regarded as stereotype-saturated TV news depictions of Arabs and the Arab world. "At the age of 14, I sort of made it my mission in life to change that representation," she said, laughing softly. "I didn't know how I was going to do it."
Following college and a couple of career twists, Dabis (whose name is pronounced Sha-REEN Da-EYE-bis) eventually settled on writing and directing movies as the means to her mission.
Her new feature, "Amreeka," which had its world premiere at last winter's Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters today, is her clearest articulation of the challenges and complexities of modern Arab American identity and the passions and cultural pratfalls that animate the process of assimilating to a new society.
The movie relates the story of a Palestinian single mother named Muna (played by Haifa-trained theater and movie actress Nisreen Faour), who immigrates to the rural American Midwest with her young son (Melkar Muallem) in hopes of bettering their lives. She arrives at a time when tensions between the U.S. and the Arab world are simmering, which significantly affects the story.
But if the film's briefly glimpsed political backdrop is serious, even grave, "Amreeka" plays mostly as a shrewdly observant, tender-hearted domestic comedy of intra-family conflict and reconciliation. The pleasures of eating, the awkwardness of adolescent craving for peer approval and the vagaries of middle-age romance all fall within its generous, humane scope.
"There's so much comedy in family," Dabis said. "You know one another so well and you know exactly what buttons to push."
She could relate
Many aspects of "Amreeka" mirror the director's own life. Born in Omaha in 1976, she grew up feeling that she was neither fully American nor fully Arab. While striving to fit into American society, she spent summers in Jordan, watched Arabic satellite TV, was constantly served Middle Eastern food by her mother at home, and engaged with her family in constant discussions about the Middle East around the dinner table.
Years later, when she moved to New York and studied film at Columbia University, Dabis was able to blend into the ethnically mixed metropolis more than she had been able to in the Midwest.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Dabis said, she could be "like the fly on the wall, where I got to hear what people were saying about Arabs."
The fallout from the attacks, she believes, further galvanized Arabs and Arab Americans to start investing in mass media, the arts and other communication platforms, "trying to change our image to the rest of the world."
That effect was perhaps especially notable for Arab and Arab American women, a number of whom have emerged prominently in the last several years as artists, memoirists and writers.
"There were a number of women who were probably pursuing this path, but 9/11 sort of illuminated our path, really gave us a sense of purpose," Dabis said.
Partly out of that impulse, "Amreeka" was born.
When she began writing her screenplay's first draft in 2003, Dabis wanted to make a movie that would show "who we are as everyday people, without all the politics." But some who read the script early on told her it was "too light," "too slice-of-life" and "too specific," she said.
Eventually, she found her champions in the nonprofit Film Independent, which accepted her into its directors lab program; the Sundance Institute's Middle Eastern screenwriters lab; and National Geographic Entertainment, which is distributing "Amreeka" as the company's first feature-length narrative fiction film.
Lisa Truitt, president of National Geographic Cinema Ventures, praised "Amreeka" for employing humor, artful storytelling and a perceptive anthropological eye to depict a world known to relatively few Americans as well as to defuse potentially divisive subjects. "It doesn't preach. It's not hard-core political," Truitt said, speaking from Washington, D.C.
The crew was wary
Shooting "Amreeka" posed significant challenges, as did casting (Dabis held casting sessions in Europe and the Middle East, including Palestinian refugee camps). The director said she always wanted to film the movie's opening scenes in the West Bank, despite the logistical and paperwork challenges of bringing a crew there. Before the trip, Dabis said, some of her crew members were apprehensive about possibly encountering danger.
But in the end, she said, her production team was warmly received by West Bank Palestinians, and "every stereotype and misconception was shattered."
Alesia Weston, associate director of Sundance's feature film program, said, "What's so lovely about the film is it's such an honest reflection of who" Dabis is.
Movies such as "Amreeka" and "The Kite Runner," Weston said, are proving that audiences are growing more comfortable with films that speak in ethnically and culturally mixed voices. "We no longer think, 'Well, the English-speaking part of me thinks this, and the other part of me thinks that,'" she said.
Dabis said her Arab American upbringing, "being taken out of one world and put in another," definitely helped shape her "anthropological outlook" on life.
She has used that talent in past professional work, including writing several episodes of Showtime's lesbian-centric drama "The L Word" and penning and directing the 12-minute short film "Make a Wish," about a Palestinian girl who wants to save money to buy a birthday cake.
"I can relate to a number of marginalized communities," said Dabis, who has dated both women and men. "I can go back and forth between the two worlds."
Which is what she'll presumably be doing with her next feature film, about an Arab American woman who goes to Jordan to plan her wedding.
"I'm still concerned with that fish out of water," she said.
Screening in Los Angeles
Source : levantinecenter.org
Saturday, Jun 23, 2012
The Second "Kazakhstan Montage of Cinemas: Film & Cultural Festival" launches at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) in Los Angeles on Aug. 3 for a one-week celebration of Kazakh cinema and culture, including musicians.
The festival is a stellar opportunity for directors, producers, location scouts, and the general public to get an understanding and appreciation of this exotic locale without leaving home.
Sweeping from the Caspian Sea on its Russian border to the Altai Mountain range on the Chinese border, Kazakhstan has a rich nomadic history as well as a powerful current tapestry of cultures. Since gaining independence in 1991, the Central Asian Republic has embraced its remarkable filmmaking past that dates back to the 1930's, when Sergei Eisenstein made his classic Ivan the Terrible in this mystic land, and has even given rise to several "New Wave" movements.
Opening night on Aug. 3rd begins with a reception at 7 pm, and includes a program of live entertainment until 11 pm, at the DGA Theater.
Sponsored by Kazakh Geographic Society (KazGeo.kz ), helixfilmsinc.com , the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Honorary Consulate of Kazakhstan in Los Angeles, the festival includes Advisory Board Members Steven-Charles Jaffe (GHOST, K19), David Marconi (Screenwriter, ENEMY OF THE STATE), and Ambassador Erlan Idrissov.
Tickets cost $10 (including free parking) can be purchased from the festivals website. "Kazakhstan Montage of Cinemas: Film & Cultural Festival 2012" will be held Aug. 3 - 9 at the Directors Guild of America on 7920 Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, California
For more information, please see www.kazakhfestival.com - KazakhFilmFestLA@gmail.com
Source : HelixFilmsInc.com
Sunday, May 27, 2012
The 65th Festival de Cannes drew to a close tonight with the closing awards ceremony hosted by Academy Award nominated actress Berenice Bejo.
The top prize was captured yet again by Michael Haneke for his portrait of an elderly couple Amour. This is the second time he has bested Jacques Audiard who was also in competition with De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone). Haneke becomes one of the few two-time Palme d'Or winners alongside Alf Sjoberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Bille August, Emir Kusturica, Shohei Imamura, and Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and only the second after August to win with consecutive films his previous Palme d'Or was for his 2009 film Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon).
Matteo Garrone picked up his second Grand Prix for his film Reality. Previously, he had won in 2008 for Gomorrah.
The surprise winner for the Jury Prize was Ken Loach with The Angels' Share. He previously won the Palme d'Or in 2006 with The Wind That Shakes the Barley.
Another previous Palme d'Or winner won Best Screenplay. Cristian Mungiu who made 4 luni, 3 săptămâni ?i 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) returned with După dealuri (Beyond the Hills), and it also shared the Best Actress for its stars Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur.
In spite of the heavy American representation in the selection, the only American film to win a prize was Benh Zeitlin's Un Certain Regard entry Beasts of the Southern Wild which won the Camera d'Or for first film. Last night, it had won the FIPRESCI international critics' prize.
Complete list of winners for the 65th Festival de Cannes
Amour, Michael Haneke (France-Germany-Austria)
Reality, Matteo Garrone (Italy-France)
The Angels' Share, Ken Loach (U.K.-France-Belgium-Italy)
Carlos Reygadas, Post tenebras lux (Light After Darkness) (Mexico-France-Germany-Netherlands)
Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, După dealuri (Beyond the Hills) (Romania-France-Belgium)
Mads Mikkelsen, Jagten (The Hunt) (Denmark-Sweden)
Cristian Mungiu, După dealuri (Beyond the Hills) (Romania-France-Belgium)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (U.S.)
PALME D'OR FOR BEST SHORT FILM
SESSYZ-BE DENG (SILENCE), REZAN YE?YLBA?
Source : www.ensonhaber.com