Middle East spices up MIFF

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Author: Cynthia Karena
Date: Summer 2004
From: Metro Magazine(Issue 141)
Publisher: Australian Teachers of Media
Document Type: Interview
Length: 1,396 words

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THIS YEAR'S MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL IS ENTHUSIASTICALLY EMBRACING MIDDLE EASTERN FILMS. CYNTHIA KARENA TALK TO JAMES HEWISON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE FESTIVAL.

Banish thoughts of a dry festival purely for cinephiles--this year's Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is going to be relevant to what's currently going on in the world. MIFF has responded to world events with its 'Homelands: The Middle East in Focus' program. The MIFF brochure declares:

The pivotal focus of this year's Festival takes a close look at the cinema and cultures of the Middle East. We will trace not only the 'fault fines' in the Middle East, but attempt to get to know this region and its myriad of cultures better through cinema. Revealing and immediate, the films seek to uncover and explore some of the complexities of the region.

There have been many articles on the invasion of Iraq, and on the Middle East in general, by journalists, academics and politicians. Issues that sometimes appear so overwhelmingly complicated or so dry when in print form can really come alive on film. This is especially true when they are made by people with inquiring minds who actually live in the region or have some close connection.

WHY THE MIDDLE EAST?

James Hewison, MIFF's Executive Director, explains why this year's MIFF is focusing on the Middle East:

The motivation came from a number of different places. MIFF has long been a champion of the cinema of Iran. When we screened Abbas Kiarostami's films last year, we were amazed at the enthusiasm of audiences--they were quite taken with his films.

There is a preponderance of films coming out of the Middle East. I found many films [we saw] very direct and very confronting. We had a desire to know about cinema in the region, however the further we saw films, the more we realized how little we knew.

I am a fan of Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman. He is articulate about both the filmmaking process and the complexities of the region. This year we will be showcasing his films, including the 2002 Cannes Jury prizewinner Divine...

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