As always, New York’s annual Tribeca Film Festival (which runs June 9-20) throws up some intriguing and often exciting programming choices, and its hybrid 2021 edition certainly delivers, with a programme punctuated with a handful of Middle Eastern films and titles linked to the region.
Playing in the International Narrative Competition section is Ayten Amin’s Souad (Egypt-Tunisia-Germany). On the bus, a stranger meets Souad(a breakout performance by Bassant Ahmed): she excitedly explains that she’s studying for finals at the university in Zagazig, Egypt, and shows her photos of her fiancé, Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem), an army officer in Sinai. It sounds wonderful—but it’s not exactly true.
In reality, Souad is torn between the expectations set by her traditional upbringing and her social media-based life among her peers, which splits her life in two. By day, she helps her family around the house and looks after her teenage sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh); by night, she’s glued to her phone sending sexts to her distant content creator boyfriend Ahmed in Alexandria.
Having its world premiere in the Features section is Simple as Water (US, Syria) is a soft-spoken meditation on love, displacement, and fracturing familial relations from Academy Award-winner Megan Mylan (Lost Boys of Sudan, Smile Pinki). From Turkey to Greece to Germany to the U.S., the bond of close relatives transcends borders for Syrian families impacted by the repercussions of perpetual war.
Also showing in Features is Moneymood (Israel) directed by Talya Lavie A bride and groom arrive at their lavish honeymoon suite on their wedding night. Instead of relaxing and enjoying a romantic night together, they get into a fight that quickly derails into an all-night odyssey through the streets of Jerusalem.
Screening in Tribeca Critics Week is The Ballad of a White Cow (Iran). With their realistic script and beautifully simple filmmaking, Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha co-wrote and co-directed this multi-level narrative about capital punishment and the complications that ripple down in the wake of the initial tragedy.
Also a link to the region is with Greek-Dutch film Do Not Hesitate, directed by Nadim Carlsen. Somewhere in a Middle Eastern desert, a truck carrying a Dutch military convoy breaks down. A small group of soldiers is ordered to stay with the wreck. As they wait for a repair team, they mistake a goat for an adversary and shoot it dead in the bushes. The repair team doesn’t arrive, but a 14-year-old boy, the goat’s owner (Omar Alwan), does. He latches onto the band of soldiers, demanding proper compensation for his goat.
After losing contact with their base, the group is forced to split up, leaving three young soldiers—Erik (Joes Brauers), Roy (Spencer Bogaert), and Thomas (Tobias Kersloot)—behind with the truck and their unwanted companion.
Algerian actress Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Atomic Blonde, Star Trek Beyond) stars in Settlers (UK-South Africa). Following ecological disaster, a family from Earth eke out an existence on a desolate Mars homestead. Reza (Jonny Lee Miller, Elementary) and his wife Ilsa (Boutella), do their best to protect nine-year-old daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince, The LEGO Movie 2) from the perils of this forbidding landscape.
There is also a regional link with documentary The Scars of Ali Boulala (Sweden-Norway), directed by Max Eriksson. At 16 years old, Ali Boulala (born in Sweden of Finnish and Algerian descent) was on top of the world: the Swedish skateboarding prodigy snagged a sponsorship from Flip Skateboards, who flew him out to LA at the height of the '90s skating craze.
Boulala spent his days trying to nail new tricks for DIY videos and hanging out with a global cohort of other precocious pros, who loved Boulala for his charisma and punk-inflected style.But the indulgences of life on tour—especially for a group of death-defying teenagers—took its toll, building to a tragic accident that changed Boulala’s life forever.
Also screening is No Ordinary Life (US), directed by Heather O’Neill, a documentary witnessing the ravages of war and conflict, and the aftermath of violent uprisings, are circumstances that most people shun or avoid—but for news photographers and camerapeople, it provides them a conduit to spotlight injustices and turmoil for a global audience. Five women—Mary Rogers, Cynde Strand, Margaret Moth, Maria Fleet and Jane Evans—were pioneer camerapeople that were active participants in this dangerous line of work.
Their resilient coverage of tumultuous events around the world—from the Arab Spring Uprising to upheavals in Lebanon and Iraq—provided a necessary window into how our world was changing, and their courageous access into these circumstances brought transparency and accountability to the forefront.
For more information and the watch the films check out the Tribeca Film Festival website.