The Austin Chronicle

From Paris to Morocco With the Children of Abraham/Ibrahim

AFS and UT select the best of Middle Eastern cinema

By Shane Pfender, February 19, 2021, Screens

While planning the annual Christmas celebration, replete with strobe lights and an electrified four-storey Christmas tree, Musa Hadid tries to get clean water to a farm, puts out trash fires, and watches from a hilltop as Israeli soldiers open fire on his fellow Palestinians. All in a day's work for the mayor of Ramallah, as shown in David Osit's documentary, Mayor.

Austin Film Society is featuring the film as the first title in their 14th annual Children of Abraham/Ibrahim film series, focused on the works of filmmakers in the Middle East. The series was founded in 2007 by AFS Head of Programming Chale Nafus, and Karin Wilkins, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UT. Continuing the connection between the two institutions, current CMES director Karen Grumberg now programs the series. She collaborates with her students and fellow faculty members to curate the most engaging selection of new films from the region. However, rather than focusing on a single overarching theme, Grumberg said she aims to bring "something new to our understanding of the region."

This year's programming presented a challenge because of the uncertainties with the pandemic. Grumberg said, "We were not at all sure that we'd be able to hold the series. ... Everything was delayed." In previous years the series took place at the cinema in the fall, but this year it will take place virtually, with a new film each weekend starting Feb. 18. Though filmgoing has changed in 2021, the series will still include virtual introductions and discussions. As for the future of the series, Grumberg stated, "I have every intention of continuing, as long as AFS is willing."

14th Annual Children of Abraham/Ibrahim

Feb. 18: Mayor (2020)

Musa Hadid, mayor of Ramallah, navigates the ordinary pressures of city governance while fighting the monumental battle for international recognition and freedom as a Palestinian city in Gaza. David Osit, with his handheld camera and on-the-run filmmaking style, captures a rapidly unfolding, historic struggle. (Live discussion hosted by UT lecturer Claire Cooley, Feb. 23)

Feb. 25: Synonyms (2019)

Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2019. An Israeli soldier flees his home to live in Paris, teaches himself French, and desperately seeks to leave his past behind. Filmmaker Nadav Lapid offers his semi-autobiographical view of his attempted rebuke of his Israeli identity.

March 4: There is no Evil (2020)

Written and directed by Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, There is no Evil is presented in four chapters. Each section of the film meditates on capital punishment and its effect on those who are tasked with killing another man. Upon the release of the film, the Iranian government immediately called for the imprisonment of Rasoulof for the film's political messaging. (Live discussion with UT lecturer and Persian Program Director Babak Tabarraee, March. 9)

March 11: Tazzeka (2018)

Adding to the list of delightful films about food, Tazzeka tells the tale of boy who falls in love with the kitchen as he learns traditional Moroccan cooking from his grandmother. He moves to Paris, where he reckons with the remnants of his past and finds his place in a new country.

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