Locarno Film Festival Artistic Director Giona A. Nazzaro has come to Saudi Arabia for the first time to serve on the jury for the presentation of work in progress at the Red Sea Film Festival’s industrial section, Red Sea Souk. Nazzaro, former director of Venice Critics’ Week, has been following Arabic cinema for some time, programming images that break with its form. He spoke to diversity about the challenges local directors face when trying to do new things.
My impression is that Arab directors are less committed to an author’s vision of cinema these days. Do you agree?
This is something that has been going on for quite some time. The fact is that there has been a major paradigm shift in cinema in the Arab world and the entire MENA region. This is largely because institutions like the Doha Film Institute have had the clarity and wit to bring many fascinating new talents to the map. A name that is synonymous with this is Ala Eddine Slim (“The Last of Us”), who hails from Tunisia. But at the same time, in order to gain visibility, Arab filmmakers are always being pushed to do something [Lebanese director] Ghassan Salhab calls a “problem-oriented” film. For example, a film like La Riviere (2021), Ghassan’s latest work – which I think is extremely good – hasn’t had the success of his previous film [“The Valley”] because there was no discernible “problem” to pin.
What I now see as the biggest challenge for directors in the region is that there is clearly a palpable need to express themselves in a way that doesn’t force them to just and always deal with “issues”.
What do you think dictates these narrative constraints?
It must be emphasized that these limits are not necessarily always set by the Arab countries themselves, but sometimes also by European expectations of an Arab film, which can be very restrictive. From my point of view, as directors of the Locarno Film Festival, we always want to be surprised and take unexpected paths. Last year in the Piazza Grande we premiered Bassel Ghandour’s dark thriller The Alleys, a film that could have been made [neorealist director] Giuseppe De Santis in Italy in the 50s or in the 60s by Pietro Germi. And I say that as a compliment. It’s an absolutely popular film; but it is also an auteur film; it’s fun but also tense. These are the names that must be supported in the region
Can you give me another example of an Arabic film that transcends “related” limitations?
Sure, when I was still in Venice for Critics’ Week, I was sent a film by a then-unknown Tunisian filmmaker named Abdelhamid Bouchnak. It was a horror film called Dachra (2018) that we screened out of competition and recently came out in a beautiful Blu-ray edition on Dachra in the US. [which is Tunisia’s first horror film] opened the gates to the idea that horror films could also come from the so-called Arab world. And also fantasy films and so on. You don’t always have to engage in poverty porn to make yourself understood, and that’s perhaps the biggest change.
I think if the commissioning editors and people in the Arab Film Funds are smart enough to support this new generation of filmmakers, we will be in for a lot of big surprises. Just think [Tunisian serial killer drama] Black Medusa directed by Youssef Chebbi and Ismaël. It’s a tiny genre film, but by the time you see what’s going on in Black Medusa, it’s already telling you the story of the film [current] Iranian uprising. There is a moment in the film when the female [killer] The protagonist is only triggered by seeing a cleric walking around at night. Obviously there are “controversial” elements, but you can’t have art without being controversial.
What do you think of Saudi cinema?
Directors in Saudi Arabia, like in Qatar and other countries in the region where cinema is new, are not as streamlined in their narratives as we would like. Whenever you open the door to the art of cinema, there are changes afoot that you need to work on. I see that there is a strong need on the part of Saudis to share stories, it’s something very important. We are just beginning and I can only hope that the Red Sea will continue to support the powerful positive energies that exist in this region.
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/locarno-giona-nazzaro-arab-cinema-1235448049/ Locarno boss Giona Nazzaro on Arabic cinema that sets new standards