Films by Female Artists from the Middle East and North Africa: Between Past and Future

From May 26 until July 1, Media Education and Research Center “Meno avilys invites to screenings of contemporary female filmmakers from the Middle East and North Africa, accompanied by presentations and talks by filmmakers, curators, and researchers.

The events will take place in the film and media space “Planeta” (A. Goštauto St. 2, Vilnius) and in the space under the Liubartas bridge.

Events are free of charge. Book the seat:

This film program is a collection of moving images by contemporary women artists from the Middle East and North Africa, bringing together documentaries, experiments, science fiction and Arabfuturism. In the world marked by uprisings, militarized areas and borders, the traces of destruction and reconstruction left by the colonialists, the challenges of displacement, migration, ecology, and climate change have long become part of the artists’ narrative and imagination. In terms of a past marked by uprisings and civil wars, and with an apocalyptic premonition of the future, the program’s films tell alternative stories and creates new realities, opening space for new trajectories and critical thoughts about Middle East and North Africa.

The screenings will feature works by artists from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, and their diaspora.

05 26 19:30 “Planeta” | A FEELING GREATER THAN LOVE (dir. Mary Jirmanus Saba, Documentary, Lebanon, 2017, 99 min) | Introduction by curator, feminist, researcher of social and artistic movements Agnė Bagdžiūnaitė

In her directorial debut, Mary Jirmanus Saba deals with a forgotten revolution, saving from oblivion bloodily suppressed strikes at Lebanese tobacco and chocolate factories. These events from the 1970s, which held the promise of a popular revolution and, with it, of women’s emancipation were erased from collective memory by the country’s civil wars. Rich in archival footage from Lebanon’s militant cinema tradition, the film reconstructs the spirit of that revolt, asking of the past how we might transform the present.

About artist

Director & Producer Mary Jirmanus Saba is a filmmaker and geographer based in Beirut. From 2006-2008, she produced the weekly community broadcast television program, ‘Via Comunidad’ with collective Vientos del Sur in Ibarra, Ecuador. She holds a B.A. in Social Studies from Harvard College, and an M.A. in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a participant in Ashkal Alwan’s Home Workspace. “A Feeling Greater Than Love” is her first full-length, feature film.

06 02 19:30 “Planeta” | LARISSA SANSOUR RETROSPECTIVE| Lecture Pioneers, Divas, Visionaries – The Women of Arab cinema by Irit Neidhardt (45 min)

Nation Estate (dir. Larissa Sansour, Søren Lind, Sci-Fi, Palestine, Denmark, 2012, 9 min)

Nation Estate is a 9-minute sci-fi short offering a clinically dystopian, yet humorous approach to the deadlock in the Middle East. The film explores a vertical solution to Palestinian statehood: One colossal skyscraper housing the entire Palestinian population – now finally living the high life.

In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (dir. Larissa Sansour, Søren Lind, Sci-Fi, Palestine, United Kingdom, Denmark, Qatar, 2015, 29 min)

In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain resides in the cross-section between sci-fi, archaeology and politics. Combining live motion and CGI, the film explores the role of myth for history, fact and national identity. A narrative resistance group makes underground deposits of elaborate porcelain – suggested to belong to an entirely fictional civilization. Their aim is to influence history and support future claims to their vanishing lands.

In Vitro (dir. Larissa Sansour, Søren Lind, Sci-Fi, Palestine, Denmark, United Kingdom, 2019, 28 min)

In Vitro is set in the aftermath of an eco-disaster. An abandoned nuclear reactor under the biblical town of Bethlehem has been converted into an enormous orchard. Using heirloom seeds collected in the final days before the apocalypse, a group of scientists are preparing to replant the soil above. In the hospital wing of the underground compound, the orchard’s ailing founder, 70-year-old Dunia is lying on her deathbed, and 30-year-old Alia comes to visit her. Alia was born underground as part of a comprehensive cloning program and has never seen the town she’s destined to rebuild.

A Space Exodus (dir. Larissa Sansour, Sci-Fi, Palestine, Denmark, 2008, 5 min)

A Space Exodus quirkily sets up an adapted stretch of Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey in a Middle Eastern political context. The recognisable music scores of the 1968 science fiction film are changed to arabesque chords matching the surreal visuals of Sansour’s film. The film follows the artist herself onto a phantasmagoric journey through the universe echoing Stanley Kubrick’s thematic concerns for human evolution, progress and technology. However, in her film, Sansour posits the idea of a first Palestinian into space, and, referencing Armstrong’s moon landing, she interprets this theoretical gesture as „a small step for a Palestinian, a giant leap for mankind“.

About artists

Larissa Sansour is a Palestinian artist/director. Central to her work is the tug and pull between fiction and reality. In her recent works, she uses science fiction to address social and political issues. Working mainly with film, Sansour also produces installations, photos, and sculptures. Sansour’s work is shown in film festivals and museums worldwide. In 2019, she represents Denmark at the 58th Venice Biennial. She has shown her work at Tate Modern, MoMA, Centre Pompidou, and the Istanbul Biennial as well as the Berlinale, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and BFI London Film Festival. Recent solo exhibitions include Bluecoat in Liverpool, Dar El-Nimer in Beirut, and Nikolaj Kunsthal in Copenhagen. Sansour lives and works in London.

Søren Lind is a Danish author, director and scriptwriter. With a background in philosophy, Lind wrote books on mind and understanding before turning to film and fiction. He has published novels, short story collections, and several children’s books. Lind screens and exhibits his films at museums, galleries, and film festivals worldwide. Recent venues and festivals include the 58th Venice Bienniale, MoMA, Barbican, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Berlinale, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

About the lecture and ther speaker

Irit Neidhardt is a distributor for films by Arab directors and author of various texts dealing with cinema and the Arab World.

Since the first film with an entirely Arab and African cast and crew, Zohra  – written, edited and performed by Haydée Samama Chikly Tamzali -, was released exactly 100 years ago in Tunis, women have been playing a crucial role in Arab filmmaking. They have been among the very first producers, introduced the star system, went with their cameras to the frontlines of the too many wars, founded cinemas, design sound, give voice to various parts to their societies, recount history and envision future. This talk gives an overview on Arab film history following its female workers.

06 09 19:30 “Planeta” | WHOS IS AFRAID OF IDIOLOGY? PART I AND II (dir. Marwa Arsanios, Documentary, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Syria, 2017-2019, 51 min)

Part I

Shot in the mountains of Kurdistan in the early 2017, primarily focuses on the Autonomous Women’s Movement in Rojava and its structures of self-governance and knowledge production. This is a guerrilla-led movement that views gender liberation as a coexisting and equal struggle to that of resolving the conflicts of war, feudalism, religious tensions and economic struggle. But despite its core emphasis on ecology and feminism, the autonomous women’s movement is not a liberal project. It is an ideology that has emerged from and is practiced through war. The movement’s most recent participation includes the Syrian Revolution which began in 2011 and remains ongoing.

Part II

Looks at different ecofeminist groups including the Autonomous Women’s Movement in Rojava and the way they attempt to take care of the land and themselves. Taking this as an example of an alliance between a community of women, nature and animals, Arsanios focuses on different aspects that such alternative economy and world re-building proposes. The film also problematizes the role “naturally” assigned to women, potentially falling back into care work.

About artist

Marwa Arsanios’s recent projects have revolved around questions of ecology, feminism, social organisation, nation-building, war and economic struggle. She is a founding member of the artist organisation and project space 98weeks Research Project. Marwa is currently a teacher at the Dutch Art Institute. She obtained her MFA from University of the Arts, London (2007); and was a researcher in the Fine Art department at the Jan Van Eyck Academie (2011-2012). She is currently a PhD candidate at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunst in Vienna.

07 01 19:30 Space under the Liubartas bridge | SHORT FILM PROGRAM | Introduction by filmmaker and curator Ginou Choueiri (ArteEast)

Party on the CAPS (dir. Meriem Bennani, Sci-Fi, Morocco, 2018, 26 min)

In a world where teleportation has replaced planes, a wacky crocodile named Fiona tells of life on the CAPS: an island-turned-refugee-camp for illegal immigrants caught mid-teleportation. Themes of displacement, biotechnology and privacy are evoked through the augmented reality of a raucous birthday party in the Moroccan quarter of the CAPS. Mixing the languages of reality TV, advertising, documentary and high-end commercial aesthetics, Bennani explores the potential of storytelling through magical realism and humour.

About artist

Meriem BENNANI (1988, Morocco) is a multimedia artist based in New York. She received her education at Cooper Union in Manhattan and École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. She blends reality TV, advertising, documentary, phone footage and commercial aesthetics to create short films, multi-channel installations, drawings and animations. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organised at MOMA, Art Dubai as well as The Kitchen in New York.

Before I Forget (dir. Mariam Mekiwi, Sci-Fi, Egypt, Germany, 2018, 27 min)

A science-fiction story set in an indistinct coastal region, between land and sea, above and below water. El Captain disappears, one of his disciples takes a journey in the ocean to cut off the internet cable, the water level is rising, an amphibian woman appears at the shore looking for her mother, and the memories of two women in a ward intertwine. Scientist Dr. Sharaf is trying to congregate all of them – the members of the secret society of amphibians – in an attempt to save the world.

About artist

Mariam Mekiwi is a film editor and filmmaker from Alexandria and currently based in Berlin, where she is an associate fellow of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of the Arts in Berlin UdK with her feature film project EL Markebba EL OMM – mothership. She completed her MFA at the University of the Arts in Hamburg HfBk in 2017. Her film Before I forget premiered at the Berlinale in 2018 and was nominated to the FIRST STEPS AWARDS in the same year. Her work circulated in various film festivals and art venues like the Sharjah film platform, Oberhausen film festival, Contemporary Image Collective Cairo CIC, Haifa Independent film festival, Hamburger Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe among others.

What Things May Come (dir. Marianne Fahmy, Sci-Fi, Egypt, 2019, 13 min)

After the great flood of the delta, a future oceanographer tells the story of the people’s relocation to the confidential camps in the saharan desert. As the prophecy by Proteus God of the sea speaks of the cosmic change, science will cope with.

About Artist

Marianne lives and works in Alexandria, Egypt. She earned her BA in Painting before studying at Mass Alexandria independent art program in 2016.  Marianne works with installation and film. Her focus is on narratives of people, architecture and language, where she finds possibility for creative additions, that transform prescribed conventional narratives into a boundless by time artwork.  In conversation with scientists and urban planners, she adds believability to the fabricated narratives she creates, where she combines science, historical events and myth to imagine a future society to come.