Zurich Film Fest focus on hashtag "MyReligion" to feature fantastic selection of world cinema

Among the gems, two MENA titles which question the lines drawn by our religious identity and how damaging those can be.
Zurich Film Fest focus on hashtag "MyReligion" to feature fantastic selection of world cinema

What is that old saying, one should never discuss either politics or religion with a friend? While Switzerland cannot be accused of ever taking sides when it comes to politics, this year's Zurich Film Festival is shining the spotlight on religion and how those lines in the sand that we draw around our beliefs can become a roadblock on our path to peace, and understanding.

"Whether in the U.S.A, Russia or the Middle East, we are seeing a comeback of religions," explained Christian Jungen, Artistic Director of the Zurich Film Festival. "This often leads to conflicts in coexistence within multicultural societies. That's why this year we are concentrating our efforts on the topic of faith, its merits and its dark sides. But we are also highlighting the substitute religions that are out there now for secular people, such as the Tiktok cult."

As part of an eight-film programme, #MyReligion aims to take a closer look at what faith and religion mean to people today. "We want to trace the various faiths, try to give them a social context," added Jungen, "we are not only concerned with historically evolved religions, but also with current ones that cause euphoria within our society and redraw the image of faith. Our screens will put the most diverse faiths in the beam of the projector and also illuminate them critically."

Faith is often what drives people's choices, whether right or wrong. It is not unusual to hear that a certain so-and-so, became an extremist when he encountered a certain belief. If we turn on the TV or read a newspaper, that idea is never far from our view -- as in the recent tragic case of Sir Salman Rushdie and his radicalized attacker.

Each year, the Zurich Film Festival deals with a hot topic in its "Hashtag" section, pointing to something that is also trending on social media. This year's hashtag section screens films under the title #MyReligion. It deals with questions of faith, euphoria and modern deities.  

Is God dead? Has modern society created new deities, religions and cults? What adorns the altars of modern times? Questions like these guide the 2022 ZFF audience through this year's Hashtag section, which, since its inception in 2018, has focused on a topic that has social media buzzing. Last year it was about sex, this year the spotlight is on religions and the many forms they take.

Among the gems to be screened, two titles from the MENA region, one Cannes screenplay winner Boy from Heaven by Tarik Saleh, an Egyptian/Swedish production; and the other the Israeli/Belgian docufiction Cinema Sabaya by Orit Fouks Rotem.

Boy from Heaven stars Tawfeek Barhom, Fares Fares, Yunus Albayrak, Mohammad Bakri and Makram J. Khoury in the story of Adam, the son of a fisherman, whose dream comes true when he receives a scholarship to the renowned Al-Azhar University in Cairo. While there, the sudden death of the ruling Imam of the institution creates a power vacuum that in turn, ignites a political battle, fueled by religion. The film's subject and themes tackled were so controversial that Saleh, already not well viewed in Egypt, had to film the story in Turkey.

Cinema Sabaya features Dana Ivgy, Joanna Said, Amal Murkus, Ruth Landau, Yulia Tagil and Marlene Bajali in a warm-hearted ode to the unifying power of art. On a video course by the budding director Rona, nine women of Arab and Jewish origin come together to learn the basics of filmmaking, and while sitting in a circle in front of the screen, they present short clips from their everyday lives and learn about their different circumstances.

Among the other films featured in this section will be the documentary Fire of Love, by Sara Dosa and narrated by Miranda July, on Katia and Maurice Krafft, the geoscientists couple whose love for volcanoes led them on a tragic path. Also the European premiere of the American comedy Honk for Jesus, Save your Soul by Adamma Ebo, starring Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Nicole Beharie, Conphidance and Austin Crute. And the documentary TikTok, Boom by Shalini Kantayya focusing on the younger generations' obsession with the platform and how they are sometimes using it to change the world around them.

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