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The Best Films, Surprises and Cinematic Moments from the Arab World in 2012

Jan 10, 2013

This year offered audiences an extremely diverse segment of films, with many Arab filmmakers receiving accolades at festivals around the world. With 2013 ahead of us, DFI’s editorial team takes a look back on the films of the previous year, highlighting the success of some renowned titles while also unearthing some eclectic films that you may not have heard of. DFI’s list of the best Arab films of 2012 will survey great examples of filmmaking from the region and further afield. We have collected a unique mix of documentary and feature films that beautifully capture storytelling in the Arab world—and at times expose audiences to forgotten history and narratives, which have never been explored.

A World Not Ours by Mahdi Fleifel (Palestine. UAE)
World premiere was held at Toronto International Film Festival in TIFF Docs Section
Feature Documentary
Rarely is the world privy to the lives of the inhabitants of Palestinian camps in Lebanon, who are waiting to return to their rightful homes. Mahdi Fleifel’s film allows viewers to enter this space, discovering the beauty and pain contained within. ‘A World Not Ours’ is an exceptional film that becomes almost satirical at moments while exploring the harsh living situation within these camps.

Attack (The) by Ziad Doueiri (Lebanon, France)
World premiere was held at Telluride Film Festival
Feature Narrative
Based on the work of acclaimed writer Yasmina Khadra ‘L’attentat’, the thriller is the first of its kind in the region as it tackles the double lives and identities of Arabs living in Israel. Torn between their Palestinian roots and working daily with Israelis, the film exposes the story of a man trying to understand why his wife became a martyr for her people.

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Baad El-Mawkea (After the Battle) by Yousry Nasrallah (Egypt, UAE)
World premiere was held at Cannes Film Festival in the Official Competition Section
Feature Narrative
One of the most prolific and independent Egyptian filmmakers, Yousry Nasrallah, returns with an edgy love story between a victim and her executioner during the recent Tahrir Revolution. A love triangle begins and exposes the class system that is still thriving in Egypt. Nasrallah shot the film with no script, with the narrative being based on countless improvisations to ensure the story unfolded organically. ‘Baad El-Mawkea’ is also the first film to portray the revolution through a fictional narrative. Despite becoming somewhat preachy towards the middle of the film, Nasrallah’s work manages to keep viewers entertained through his depiction of a love story framed by an influential piece of Egyptian history.

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After the Battle - Trailer

Chevaux de Dieu (Les) (Horses of God, Ya khayl Allah) by Nabil Ayoush (Morocco, France) World premiere was held at Cannes Film Festival in Un Certain Regard section and winner of Best Narrative Filmmaker at DTFF 2012
Feature Narrative
Based on the bestseller ‘The Stars of Sidi-Moumen’ by Mahi Binebine , which captures the horrific bombings that shook Casablanca in 2003, Nabil Ayouch’s film gives us a tour-de-force by recreating the setting that will tear apart a family pushed by religious extremism. Ayouch, worked with non-actors who become a captivating element of the film and received an emotional standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Horses of God - Trailer

Die Welt by Karim Alexander Pitstra (Netherlands, Qatar)
World premiere was held at Doha Tribeca Film Festival in the Official Competition

One of the best surprises of 2012, ‘Die Welt’ is a semi-autobiographical film that follows the journey of a young man in search of a better future despite the recent Jasmin Revolution, which hasn’t changed anything in the protagonist, Abdallah’s routine. For his debut feature, Pitstra was able to create a universe defined by its own rules, delivering a thriving atmosphere where death is omnipresent.

Fidai by Damien Ounouri (Algeria, Qatar)
World premiere was held at Toronto International Film Festival and Special Mention at the DTFF 2012
Feature Documentary
‘Fidai’ is a poignant debut of a young filmmaker who recreates the cruel times of his uncle El-Hadi, who was a member of Algeria’s National Liberation Front. Weaving together history and the process of remembering, Ounouri captures his uncle’s trip into the past by creating an intimate and at times— a harsh documentary that haunts the spectator.

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Fidai - Trailer

In The Shadow of a Man (Zoll Rajol) by Hanan Abdalla (Egypt)
World premiere was held at Berlin International Film Festival in Panorama and winner Best Documentary Filmmaker at DTFF 2012
Feature Documentary
Some films can transform individuals into super humans, and filmmaker Hanan Abdallah succeeds to do so in her provocative yet sensitive portrayal of unique and empowered women during the Egyptian revolution. Hanan Abdallah manages to simultaneously capture social and political changes occurring in the Arab World by using the perspectives of those living in this evolving landscape with an authentic approach.

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In the Shadow of a Man - Trailer

Lebanese Rocket Society (The) by Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon, Qatar)
World premiere was held at Toronto International Film Festival and winner of Best Documentary at DTFF 2012
Feature Documentary
The documentary is an investigation of an influential achievement that had been erased from Lebanon’s history. The film follows a group of students in Beirut who decide to design, construct and launch a rocket into space, pushing the boundaries of engineering and ingenuity in the Arab world. This is Hadjithomas and Joreige’s first ‘expectant’ film and it manages to entertain audiences while returning ‘The Lebanese Rocket Society’ to its rightful place in history and popular consciousness.

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The Lebanese Rocket Society - Trailer

My Brother The Devil by Sally El-Hussaini (Egypt, UK)
World Premiere was held at Sundance Film Festival in the Official Competition
Feature Narrative
A drama set in the UK about a Muslim family dealing with the delicate issues of violence and sexuality. It is the story of two brothers that lose their innocence by facing the harshness of growing up in such a tough world. Brilliantly interpreted, the film is the breakthrough work of new director, Sally El-Hussaini.

Repentant (The) by Merzak Allouache (Algeria, France)
World premiere was held at Cannes Film Festival at the Director’s Fortnight and winner of Best Feature Narrative at DTFF 2012
Feature Narrative
‘The Repentant’ was made with the prize money Merzak Allouache won at DTFF 2011 with the screening of his film ‘Normal’. Allouache returned with a vengeance creating a masterpiece. Dealing with the sensitive issue of forgiveness, the film opens the wounds of three characters lost in pain and soon become pawns of a larger and more dangerous game.

Wadjda by Haifa Al Mansour (KSA, UAE, Germany)
World premiere was held at Venice International Film Festival in the Orizzonti section
Feature Narrative
Haifa Al Mansour is the first woman filmmaker from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and created her first feature by shooting in camouflage in her own country, adding to the authenticity of her narrative. ‘Wadjda’ is a historic addition to filmmaking in the nation as it is the first feature film from Saudi to open at the Venice International Film Festival. Haifa Al-Mansour delivers a powerful narrative conveyed through minimalistic directing, which is reminiscent of the Neo-realism era.

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Winter Of Discontent - Trailer

When I Saw You (Lamma Shoftak) by Annemarie Jacir (Jordan, Palestine, UAE)
World premiere was held at Toronto International Film Festival in the Contemporary World Cinema section
Feature Narrative
For her sophomore film, Annemarie Jacir succeeds in putting together a poetic and a heartfelt story of a little man who wants to go back home against all odds; a home that was taken from him and his ancestors. The viewer also discovers the way of life practiced by the Fedayeens (Freedom Fighters) who have played a significant role in protecting the Palestinian identity.

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The Attack - Trailer

Winter of Discontent (Al Sheta Elli Fat) by Ibrahim El-Batout (Egypt)
World premiere was held at Venice International Film Festival in the Orizzonti section
Feature Narrative
‘Winter of Discontent’ is the most mature film from independent director Ibrahim El-Batout, the impetus of which was fuelled by the Tahrir revolution. It is the only film that exposes what happened through the perspective of outsiders trying to avoid this historic event, however ended up changing its path and revealing a new actor, Salah El-Hanafy.

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When I Saw You - Trailer

Yema by Djamila Sehrawi (Algeria, UAE, France)
World premiere was held at Venice International Film Festival in Orizzonti section
Feature Narrative
Djamila Sehrawi can best describe the focus and intensity of her narrative with her own words:
‘Yema’ is a Greek tragedy set in an Algeria that is at war with itself; the story of a woman, Ouardia, who wants to live despite others, who has to live despite herself. Her sons Tarik and Ali love the same woman, the same mother, the same country. And that love will trigger endless misfortune.’ The film is a contemporary tale with Shakespearian larger than life characterization.

Zabana by Said Ould Khelifa (Algeria)
World premiere was held at Toronto International Film Festival in the Contemporary World Cinema section
Feature Narrative
Barely 30-years-old, Ahmed Zabana’s martyrdom sparked the Algerian war that started six months after his execution on the way to freedom. The film is a meticulous portrait of a forgotten hero in Algerian history treated with a conventional mise-en-scene that exposes this larger than life hero.

In 2013, film enthusiasts will be exposed to a host of compelling new works from the Arab world, which continue to add to the cannon of regional and international cinema. Keep watching DFI’s website in 2013 for the latest films and narratives created in the Arab world.

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