August 1, 2008

East Meets West at Film Festival

By Victor Skinner, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Aug. 1--TRAVERSE CITY -- The title pretty much says it all.

"Movies from People who want to Kill Us."

The new, tongue-in-cheek category at this year's Traverse City Film Festival may poke fun at the American perspective on Arab culture and its people, but five movies under the title are expected to give attendees something more to reflect on.

"It is quite easy for someone who gets only certain information to think certain ways," said Daniel Evans, producer of "War, Love, God & Madness," a documentary on filmmaking in a chaotic Iraq after the topple of Saddam Hussein.

"When you hear two people died, it's a statistic. But if you see a man, a pregnant woman or a child who was killed ... you can really empathize with that," Evans said.

The award-winning movies, both documentaries and feature films, explore life in Middle Eastern and Muslim countries through a variety of angles, from a 6-year-old girl's struggle to attend school in Iran to an intimate interview over dinner with President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

Several of the screenings include an opportunity for audience members to discuss the films with movie makers after they're shown.

In "Captain Abu Raed," an airport janitor in Jordan finds a discarded captain's hat and, after being mistaken as a pilot, shares tales of worldly travel with kids in an impoverished neighborhood, even though the experiences are contrived from books and his brief encounters with travelers.

The film exposes the "humanity of people in the Middle East" with universal themes of hope, sacrifice, love and friendship, director Amin Matalqa said.

"You get used to seeing it in the news as this simplified, ignorant image that Arabs are terrorists. We wanted to do something to show what people are like" in the Middle East, said Matalqa, a Jordanian immigrant. "There hasn't been many great films from the Middle East, but now you are seeing more. I think eventually we will have a ... more a multidimensional understanding of east and west."

Fenton resident Nicolyn Steinhoff described this year's new movie category and Thursday's panel discussion on filmmakers in the Middle East as a "breath of fresh air.

"You learn something different from what you hear all the time in the news. It is an opportunity to meet with people with (other) points of view," Steinhoff said. "I think it is necessary even if you don't agree with that point of view. You need to see it from different perspectives because it gives you a more rounded view of how the world works."

Some believe it could do more than that.

"I think the masses of people have the power of any country," Evans said. "And I think if they have more understanding ... it will help make the world a better place."


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