Middle East Now was founded ten years ago to tell the contemporary Middle East beyond the stereotypes and bad news of wars, bombings, attacks and religious fundamentalism. The festival – whose tenth edition was held in Florence from 2 to 7 April 2019 – has confirmed its role as an institution in the Florentine and international cultural scene, involving every year a large audience to discover the latest trends in cinema and creativity coming from the Middle Eastern countries.
The jury of experts composed of Andrea Salvatore Mi, Omar Rashid and Susan Sabatini awarded the “Middle East Now 10th edition Award 2019” – launched on the occasion of this edition, with a monetary reward of 1,500 euros to the best film – to KABUL, CITY IN THE WIND by Aboozar Amini.
“A film made of earth and dust, snow and wind that sweeps away Kabul, a city that holds the lives of its protagonists hostage. The war, never shown, is always present and is reflected in the sweetness and intensity of the looks of children who have grown up too quickly. The camera moves discreetly and consciously, telling the story of two children and a family man, in the misery of a daily life made of sacrifices and small joys, like a bike ride or a game of Shanghai. The director succeeded in the triple challenge of combining great care in photography and sound effects – the wind envelops everything, even the viewer – with an original and courageous filmic writing that is perfectly calibrated. The work, presented as Work in Progress in the last edition of the festival, is perfectly consistent with the path of the festival itself. The contemporary Middle East is represented here through the lives of people, part of a puzzle that Middle East Now has built over the years, using many stories that go through cinema, food, books and music”.
Special mention for the closing film of the festival, TEHRAN, CITY OF LOVE by the director Ali Jaberansari, presented after the award ceremony. “A delirious comedy that outlines a glimpse on the Iranian metropolis in which love relationships are complicated projects to pursue between workplaces, smartphone applications and various stunts. A project that fascinates the viewer with effective cinematic ideas, a great formal elegance and a rhythm that marries a perfectly designed plot. A film that rewards the festival and its audience, telling a reality geographically distant but that manages to involve everyone, as well as in these ten years have been able to do many other films of great success presented at Middle East Now”.
The winner of the “Middle East Now Audience Award” for the film most voted by the audience is the animation film FLAVOURS OF IRAQ, in which the French designer Leonard Cohen – also author of the image symbol of this tenth edition of the festival – through the narration of minor events inspired by the five senses, tells the personal story of the Iraqi-French reporter Feurat Alani, his family and a destroyed country, Iraq, where, despite everything, there is room for love, beauty, humor and especially for humanity.
For the “Middle East Now Staff Award 2019”, an award launched at this edition as well, the staff of the festival chose the short film WATERFOLKS by Azadeh Bizargiti – for the depth of the message and the transparency with which the director deals with the story of two fisherwomen in the Hangam island in the Persian Gulf – to which goes a cash prize of 500 euros.
“The strength of this film lies in its communicative effectiveness: in a simple and direct way overcomes stereotypes and emotions. It is a denouncing story that reveals the strength of spirit, determination and dignity of the women who fish in Hangam in the Persian Gulf. Women who work to support their families, risking their lives every day. The director transports us to this corner of the world, making us observers of a daily life that slowly reveals itself”.
The fifth edition of the “Best OFF” award, given by the cultural association OFF Cinema to the best short authorial film, goes again to WATERFOLKS of Azadeh Bizargiti.
“The film tells with elegance, honesty, poetry, and without any sensationalisma a story of daily toil, survival and community life. With a narrative style that doesn’t need words or explanations, the director allows us to immerse ourselves in the immense beauty of the Persian Sea, and she does so by documenting a reality that is both intimate and shared, contemporary and timeless”.
OFF Cinema awarded with a Special Mention also Fatemeh Marzban’s I STAY, the story of a man who decides to live on an abandoned island in the Caspian Sea.
“For having told with a documentary slant a story that reflects, avoiding didacticism, beauty and contradictions of a forgotten reality, forced, despite himself, to an inexorable withering. For having done so by placing humanity at the centre of the work and the profound reasons for a choice that is as much against the current as it is natural, demonstrating in the choice of subject a Pasolinian inspiration, a genuine reflection on the role of man and the strength of cultural traditions in small strips of the world, highlighting it through direct and natural photography”.