|2016-03-24|||||Screening Network of Arabic-Speaking Regions—NAAS Discussion at the Berlinale|
Revisiting the Berlin International Film Festival for the first time in almost ten years, I discovered among the scores of screenings and market activities one event in the Forum Expanded section that intrigued me—a panel discussion with NAAS, the Network of Arab Arthouse Screens. Forum Expanded is a film festival program offering screenings, exhibitions, and discussions, this year under the theme “Traversing the Phantasm.” The diverse lineup which bisects the borders of film and art (and included a presentation of the Lab Laba Laba project from Indonesia, which YIDFF 2015 also showcased at Old Photo Studio Nishimura as a part of the Asia Film Communities: A Glittering Constellation program) presented a strong Arab presence which was echoed in all Berlinale programs this year.
A network of independent arthouse cinemas in the Arabic-speaking world is aspiring to connect and nurture ties between local filmmakers and film exhibitioners with audiences in order to build and improve the base for community film spaces. Their efforts are urgent and their environment in part common to the scene in Southeast Asia and Latin America.
Established in 2009, NAAS acknowledges that alternative film spaces in Arabic-speaking countries share the reality that local films are often shown more often in Berlin, London, New York, and other foreign cities than at home. Members of 12 organizations from eight Arab countries came together to discuss the issues that confront them and to strive to develop film culture across the region.
In Berlin, representatives from member organizations in Tangier (Morocco), Cairo and Alexandria (Egypt), Tunis and Cartago (Tunisia), Beirut (Lebanon), Ramallah (Palestine), Jerusalem, Amman (Jordan), Khartoum (Sudan), and Dubai (UAE) gathered for internal meetings. Hana Al-Bayaty from Cairo's Cinematheque-Alternative Film Center, Youssef Shazli from arthouse cinema Zawya in Cairo, Hania Mroue from Beirut’s Metropolis Cinema, and Mohammad Shawky Hassan of NAAS sat on the panel of a public forum.
During the two hour session, the strongest statements were about goals and future agendas—Hana Al-Bayaty spoke about (and I paraphrase) how, until now, filmmakers and distributors had emphasized the diversity of Arab representation in the eyes of international film audiences. NAAS instead, she said, aspires to encourage the respective audiences in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine, UAE, and Jordan to take on their own rich forms of expression and challenges, their conflicts and interests to appreciate films as their own. The panelists, while mentioning the many obstacles and unclear future they face, spoke also of the solid results of their screening activities. I was greatly inspired by their strong sense of motivation to tackle things anew, and was heartened with the heated debate that day in Berlin.