Arab film festivals between the elite and the public | opinions

Italian girl Agatha goes through the plains and valleys on a perilous journey for the sake of her stillborn child. She hides the girl’s body in a small box that she carries with her as she wanders among the reefs of the mountains, hoping for a miracle to bring her daughter back to life, even for a second, after hearing about a place that brings dead children back to life. The mountains throw her from one area to another and the atmosphere changes to reflect a spiritual journey that the mother undertakes parallel to her physical journey.

Agatha shares her journey with a boy she meets by chance. He helps her and shares her journey that takes place more than 100 years ago in the movie “Little Body” by Italian director Laura Samani. It is a film co-production between Italy, France and Slovenia, and it won the Grand Prix at the 27th Tetouan International Festival of Mediterranean Cinema in Morocco, which concluded a few days ago.

The festival is one of the few experiences in the Arab world in which historical cities, other than Arab capitals, reconcile with the art of cinema, and a partnership is established between the elite and the public in the presence of the historical and tourist dimensions of the place. The festival, which is approaching its thirties, is establishing a partnership with educational institutions in the city at all educational levels, raising the slogan of cinemas in the process of reforming and developing education. By committing to a partnership process, special offers for children and teens, workshops and other activities. Because the city is relatively small, the festival’s activities extend its impact throughout the city and is considered an important central event.

The festival experience is rich and demonstrates the benefit of bridging the gap between audiences and film festivals that are usually elitist. Morocco is one of the countries witnessing a unique cinematic phenomenon in the Arab world and perhaps globally, which is that it has more film festivals annually than the number of cinemas. More than 90 film festivals are organized every year throughout Moroccan cities and towns, meaning that there is a film festival every 4 days. Which prompted Mehdi Bensaïd, the Moroccan Minister of Culture and Communication, to call recently to reduce this number, considering that it was extended to you at the expense of quality and quality. He suggested merging several small festivals so that there would be 12 annual festivals distributed evenly over the different states of the country.

The official Moroccan proposal is countered by another opinion from filmmakers and audiences who see these festivals as compensation for the absence of cinemas and opening the eyes of the Moroccan public to different and diverse horizons of the seventh art. The end result is that the idea of ​​the film festival has crossed the threshold of the elite in Morocco to engage with the wide audience in different ways, a unique phenomenon in the Arab world that deserves contemplation and study.

The question that may arise in the minds of many is, what is the benefit of the idea of ​​a film festival for ordinary viewers amid the flood of film platforms that present the delights of attractive and diverse cinematic productions?

The festival as a communication tool

Apart from the Moroccan case, the main feature of the nature of film festivals in the Arab world is mainly elitist, or rather governmental. It is not possible for individuals or organizations to carry out such activity independently although it is theoretically possible. That is why the gap exists between film festivals throughout the Arab world and the public. Even within the educated elites, the idea of ​​attending or interacting with the film festival is limited to certain classes of artists and actors and is not an expression of the general popular cultural situation prevailing in a country.

The importance of the film festival does not stem from the fact that it is not only a means of winning awards, but rather it is similar to the Okaz market for a film. Sometimes there are cinematic matches between films, and seminars and workshops are held on the sidelines, as well as an opportunity to conclude agreements between directors, producers and actors. It is also an opportunity to introduce the audience to a style of cinema that is different from the commercial one, as it opens a window to watch films with one link that is the theme of the festival, and also to meet the audience with those in charge of the film sometimes and discuss them. It is like a season of art and beauty in which creators and viewers come together under one roof.

The media has spread in the Arab world to a large extent, whether read, audio or visual, unlike Internet sites. This did not keep pace with the spread of the concept of the film festival. For some, the festival may be associated with the idea of ​​fashion shows and star and actor reviews, although it is a marginal aspect of propaganda for the idea of ​​the film festival. This prevented the Arab public from entering into any initiatives to experience the establishment of a film festival under any umbrella.

This Arab situation is different from many countries in the world. In Britain, for example, the British Film Institute estimates that the United Kingdom has more than 50 film festivals annually, with each week a film festival held in a region. A number more than the number of Morocco festivals 5 times. Moreover, the British Film Institute provides a free guide for anyone who wants to establish a local or international film festival step by step, from the idea until the festival comes to light, through marketing plans, financing, venues and management of the work team, to encourage the public to take the lead in this initiative and ensure the vitality and dynamism of the film scene in the country .

The question that may arise in the minds of many is, what is the benefit of the idea of ​​a film festival for ordinary viewers amid the flood of film platforms that present the delights of attractive and diverse cinematic productions? The answer lies in a simple example about tea and coffee that can be prepared easily and easily at home, but people are still addicted to going to coffee shops. The idea is simply not in the drink but in the surroundings and social interaction. It is not only a door of entertainment, but an important and necessary cultural window.

In addition, the café customer often goes there with those he knows in advance, while the film festival is a space and a space for professional and personal acquaintance, dialogue and discussion. It is an enriching professional experience for professionals and an important tasting experience for non-professionals. Therefore, the Arab world needs to enhance the film festival experience at the local level, away from the idea of ​​international film festivals for each country, which take an official national character rather than a local cultural act that presents the audience with a new cultural and creative space.