Sheffield DocFest features plentiful documentaries from the MENA

Among the world premieres at the festival this year, a documentary on Palestinian freedom fighter Marwan Barghouti, a film about the ever-changing city of Beirut by Nadim Mishlawi and 'El Arena' on a rap competition in the Middle East.
Sheffield DocFest features plentiful documentaries from the MENA

The Sheffield DocFest is the UK’s leading documentary festival and one of the world’s most influential markets for documentary projects. They champion and present the breadth of documentary form –- film, television, immersive and art –- in the vibrant city of Sheffield each June. The atmosphere presents makers and audiences a place for inspiration, debate, development, learning and challenge, with a programming which represents DocFest's core values –- creativity, empathy, freedom, inclusivity and internationalism.

In 2021, DocFest hosted a hybrid edition, with over 45,000 virtual and in-person attendances and 2056 industry delegates from over 70 countries. This year's DocFest, in their 29th edition will take place predominantly in-person, bringing documentary makers, professionals and audiences back to Sheffield between 23 – 28 June 2022. A selection of films from this year’s programme will also be available online UK-wide from the 23rd to the 29th of June.

This year's festival has a film for everyone, with highlights including a look into the A Film About Studio Electrophonique, the Sheffield-based recording studio which nurtured a generation of synth-pop musicians,Adam Ondra: Pushing the Limits a thrilling record of legendary Czech rock-climber, Nothing Compares a riveting portrait of Sinead O’Connor, Off the Rails two parkour-obsessed friends facing up to reality following the death of their friend, and Karaoke Paradise a feel-good film about Finland’s passion for Karaoke.

And we love that there are plenty of SWANA titles featured as well, including the world premiere of Lebanese doc El Arena by Jay B. Jammal and pictured in the header, about some of the finest rappers in the Arab-speaking world who gather in Beirut, hoping to be crowned King of the Battle.

Following is a list of the films on MIME's radar.

Marwan – Tomorrow’s Freedom - UK, Palestine, Israel, 2022, by Sophia and Georgia Scott is also a world premiere at DocFest. The film features the story of Marwan Barghouti, who is often described as the "Palestinian Nelson Mandela" and is regarded as a leader of the First and Second Intifadas. Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for all the obvious reasons. Even though he was once a supporter of peace talks between his homeland and Israel, he later became disillusioned with the process and became a leader of Tanzim, a paramilitary offshoot of Fatah. Israeli authorities have called Barghouti a terrorist, accusing him of directing numerous attacks, including suicide bombings, against civilian and military targets alike.

1341 Frames of Love and War – Israel, 2022 by Ran Tal is a UK premiere and tells the story of Israeli photographer Micha Bar-Am through archival footage and the narration of Bar-Am along with his wife Orna. But also the history of the birth of Israel through the conflicts and resolutions of WWII. It is a needed journey through the perils of forgetting the past and MIME interviewed Tal for the film's world premiere in Berlinale earlier this year. The film is a must-watch, even if at the polar opposite of the story of Marwan Barghouti. Or is it?

After the End of the World – Lebanon, 2022 by Nadim Mishlawi is a world premiere at Sheffield and is a film produced by one of our faves, Georges Schoucair at Abbout Productions. Set amongst the constantly changing city of Beirut, this rousing film explores the knowledge and history spaces can hold, and what happens when those spaces disappear. With sound designed by Rana Eid, this promises to be a haunting, necessary look into one of the most beautiful cities in the world, albeit it one recently described by a friend as "the saddest city in the world," thanks to institutional corruption and political mishandling.

And Still I Sing – Canada, 2021 by Fazila Amiri. This is European premiere of a documentary about two singers competing for the winning spot on talent TV show 'Afghan Star' and how they come to terms with what life will be like with the return of the Taliban. In 2009 director Havana Marking dove into the reality talent show filmed in Kabul and featured the booming, but still young and growing, world of pop culture in Afghanistan. This was then a country newly liberated after more than 30 years of stifling Taliban rule, where women were beginning to enjoy public freedoms, even though the conservative culture of the past years was still rearing its ugly head. It will be fascinating to watch this film about the same competition in a new era of Afghan history.

My Paper Life – Belgium, France, 2022 by Vida Dena premiered earlier this year at Visions du Réel. It is Belgium-based Iranian filmmaker Dena's debut feature documentary and it follows two Syrian girls adjusting to life in Brussels, after she befriends a Syrian family in Belgium. They communicate past traumas and future dreams through drawings.

El Arena – Lebanon, UAE, 2022 by Jay B. Jammal is a world premiere. While those who know and love the Middle East realize what a perfect fit rap music, and its lyrics of defiance are to voice the inconsistencies faced by artists based in the Region, it may appear a strange thing to outsiders that a contest like the one staged at The Arena in Beirut exists. Yet battle rap leagues are popping up throughout the Middle East and they bring together the finest rappers in the Arab-speaking world. Jammal's film is about one such event, unfolding against the backdrop of the current turbulent political climate in Lebanon and features the various personalities all vying to be crowned King of the Battle.

Hafreiat – Jordan, Spain, Qatar, 2022 by Alex Sardà is yet another great world premiere from the Region featured at this year's Sheffield DocFest. The film's synopsis reads: "Abu Dya is a former drug dealer hiding out with his family in rural Jordan. As they decide which path to take with their lives, the only work he can do is at an archaeological site run by Spaniards. As he tries to keep his family afloat, he will face his most hidden fears and the possibility of starting over and escaping the spiral of misery, trafficking and prison."

For more information about Sheffield DocFest and to watch the films, check out their website.

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