INsite Magazine

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

RISK Cinema Shows Audiences the “Reel” Middle East

Even after all the exhibits closed Tuesday night, the Harn Museum of Art was still abuzz with visitors. A small but varied group was there for the RISK Cinema showing of two documentaries focused on the Middle East, We Will Live to See These Things and X-Mission.

Housed in the Eloise R. and William H. Chandler Auditorium, RISK Cinema has been regularly showing off-beat, independent films during fall and spring semesters since 1990. For half the price of a regular movie ticket, spectators were treated this week to two short documentaries about the politics of the Middle East. Students were charged only $3 for admission, while the general public paid $4 per ticket. Admission for Harn members was free.

As a UF professor of Film and Media Studies and one of the original founders of RISK Cinema, Scott Nygren made a short speech preceding the screenings to introduce the night’s films, adding cultural notes and pointing out details that the audience might otherwise overlook. For Nygren, different genres converge in these films in an effort to force the audience to rethink Middle East politics. Films about such intractable problems, he says, are almost like science fiction: They lead us to imagine different futures.

The first film, We Will Live To See These Things, or Five Pictures of What May Come to Pass, is a five-part portrait of Damascus, Syria, directed by Julia Meltzer and David Thorne. Shot on location in 2006 and 2007, this documentary won the “Best New International Video” award at the 2007 Images Festival in Toronto and the “Dialogue Award” at the 2008 European Media Arts Festival. Each segment of the film concentrated on a particular cultural aspect of the city. Various perspectives are portrayed, as the film profiles an Islamic school for girls, an equestrian competition, a self-professed “dissident” journalist and an architect. The focus though is on the average person, as the film captures scenes of everyday life and sets them against messages of hope, in spite of pressures from Syria’s authoritarian regime and Western states.

The second film, Ursula Biemann’s X-Mission, presented a youthful and insightful look into the state of Palestinian refugee camps. Using an urban aesthetic and referencing online YouTube clips as well as other online sources, Biemann presents a modern look at Palestinian refugees. Biemann adopts the perspective that refugees, as people caught between the definition and security of nation-states, often find their interests to be underrepresented in international bodies like the UN. In a post September 11th environment, the Palestinian camps often host the war against terrorism, causing the Palestinians to be again displaced. They are portrayed as a people without a homeland and without a choice in their own future. But Biemann does not merely depict the Palestinian as a victim, she, like the directors of We Will Live To See These Things, holds hope that in the future these people will be given their choice, their voice in world politics.

--Allison Griner

Upcoming RISK Cinema films

Tuesday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m., $3-$4
Roger Beebe, “Films for One to Eight Projectors”

Tuesday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m., Free
UF Film and Media Studies Student Film Screening

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