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Cinemayaat--the annual Arab Film Festival--opens a four-day local run

By Richard von Busack

WHILE the Arab, Jewish and Christian worlds are reaching for their revolvers, Cinemayaat is reaching for its culture. The 8-year-old Bay Area-wide Arab Film Festival begins Oct. 2 in San Francisco, moves to San Jose for four days at the Camera 12 (Oct. 5-8) and wraps up in Berkeley. The festival offers a series of events that might require a little commuting. Cinemayaat's local opening features the documentary Generation X-Saddam (Oct. 5 at 7pm at Camera 12). Shelley Saywell investigates Iraq's capital before and after the American invasion, exploring life under Saddam's regime, later turning up at Abu Ghraib and the mass graves where relatives seek their family members killed under the old regime. Generation X-Saddam can be seen in the valley, but during its San Francisco appearance (Oct. 3 at 5:15pm at the Roxie Theater), the screening includes a lecture by Sgt. Brian Beyer, 1st Batallion, 2nd Marines. Illustrating his points with unedited footage taken by a CNN reporter, Sgt. Beyer will discuss the difference between what's being shown on the airwaves and what's happening on the ground.

As a co-presentation with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Cinemayaat screens Route 181 at UC-Berkeley (Oct. 24), a well-regarded documentary about the U.N.-created line that partitioned Israel and Palestine. And on the evening of Oct. 4 at the Tarboosh Restaurant, 877 Jefferson St., Redwood City, the fest holds a meet-and-greet benefit dinner and panel discussion.

The four-day run of Cinemayaat at the Camera 12 includes: Viva Laldjerie (Oct. 5, 8:15pm), by Nadir Mokneche, a feature film about Algeria—once the most cosmopolitan Arab nations, now recovering from a five-year civil war between the government and fundamentalists. Here, a single mother and daughter try to live in a residential hotel, hiding out from the murderers who have spilled so much blood in that Mediterranean nation. Rachida (Oct. 8 at 8:30pm) also has a theme of a woman hiding out from Algerian terrorists, this time in a small but sinister village.

A favorite part of the Cinemayaat is the way it resuscitates Egyptian films, rare stuff in any archive; one memorable year it brought a pair of enchanting Egyptian musicals from the late 1940s. Everything Is Gonna Be Alright! (Oct. 7 at 5pm), by Tamer Ezzat, is about the lives of Arabs in New York City in the first year after 9/11. Adrift on the Nile (Oct. 6, 4:30pm) is a 1971 adaptation of a novel by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz—himself a target of fundamentalist anger. In this Cairo-based drama, blocked artists turn to decadence when the hopes of reform after the regime of King Farouk are squashed by the dictator Nasser's dreams of hegemony. Sleepless Nights (Oct. 6, 8:45pm) gives an example of more modern-day Egyptian escapism: a romantic comedy about a quartet of couples trying to keep their marriages together.

The usefulness of an Arab film festival now goes without saying, but let's spell it out. Hostility and misunderstanding between the Arab world and the Western world are at an all-time high. And buying into stereotypes always leaves a person poorer. Cinemayaat's efforts to present some of the richness of Middle Eastern culture is always welcome; it's a pity it's only limited to a few weeks a year.

Cinemayaat plays Oct. 5-8 in San Jose at Camera 12. For complete schedule information, call 415.564.1100 or check online at www.aff.org.

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From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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