Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Blog

By Emily Cooke
Summer Intern, 2014

From May 14th to the 25th , Cannes, France is immersed in a sea of artistic passion and enlivened by the imaginative work of both aspiring and accomplished filmmakers from all over the world. This year, the iconic film festival recognizes a number of films about the Arab world, each distinctive and commendable in their own right. In the past, notable films from the region that were screened included the critically acclaimed Wadjda from Saudi Arabia and Omar from Palestine. So far, the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival has furthered the legacy of filmmaking about the region and remains committed to its founding purpose – to focus attention upon films that promote the development of cinema internationally.

Arab American actress Salma Hayek introduced selections of "Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet," an animated film inspired by Gibran’s world-renowned book, “The Prophet”. Hayek’s cinematic efforts were unveiled in a special screening that took place apart from the festival’s film competition, a move that allows audiences to appreciate the more personal works debuting in Cannes. 

Personal is, in fact, the word that best captures the essence of Hayek’s work in "Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet," a film she endearingly described as a love letter to her Lebanese roots. Hayek championed the timelessness of Gibran’s book and expressed her hopes for the film, that audiences might experience the same unique quality of universality in Gibran’s writing that she still finds so captivating. Clips from the film were well-received when they were recently debuted to attendees at this year's Gibran Gala, where Participant Media, who is producing the film, received the Award for Corporate Citizenship.

"Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet" is not, however, the only film about the region making waves at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Similar to Hayek’s film, the work of Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, “Challat of Tunis”, will be screened outside the festival’s official selection. However, it was the documentary Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, filmed by Wiam Simav Beairxan and directed by Ossama Mohammad, that elicited high praise even before the film’s official screening was set to begin.

Beairxan, a young Kurdish woman residing in Homs, Syria worked closely with an exiled Mohammad in Paris to find cues as to what to film as the conflict in Syria escalated around her. What culminated was a moving documentary depicting the atrocities of war and the complexities of the Syrian crisis. In the 92 minute documentary, Beairxan and Mohammad fearlessly captured the horrific sights and heart wrenching sounds of a country marred by three years of bloody turmoil. Commanding the power of a video camera, Beairxan and Mohammad depicted the harsh on-the-ground realities in Syria and were commended for their efforts at this year’s Festival.

The work of Egyptian director Omar el-Zohairy also ranks among the celebrated films at Cannes. El-Zohairy’s film, The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Kilometer 375, was nominated for an impressive total of three awards in the student films category. Even if this young filmmaker falls short of securing these honors, he has already made history—el-Zohairy’s contribution marks the first Egyptian film to be selected as part of the student films category at the festival, marking yet another milestone event for Arab films at Cannes this year.

The presence of both Lebanon and UAE at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival is also worthy of note. Cannes houses a Lebanese pavilion at the film market for the tenth straight year, while the UAE, for their part, organized a pavilion of their own that brings together prominent media and entertainment organizations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The 2014 Cannes Film Festival embodies a promising step forward in the development and dissemination of films on the Arab world, but this year’s success does not preclude the necessity of improvement within the realm of cinema from the region. While a number of Arab films were released in special screenings, only two were recognized as official Cannes selections, and Arab films were entirely absent from the festival’s official competition. 

Nevertheless, the cinematic contributions of Arab American Salma Hayek, Syrians Wiam Simav Beairxan and Ossama Mohammad, and Egyptian Omar el-Zohairy exemplify more than the individual creativity of their producers. Together, these filmmakers positively shape the 2014 Cannes Film Festival into a forum that fosters greater international appreciation of Arab nations, and culture, and recognizes the talents of the Arab community.