الميدان Al Midan (The Square, 2013)

Taking us back a few years to a time when it seemed the world could change for the better. I think the full accounting of the cause and effects of the Arab Spring are probably still quite far away, and this film was made in the ferment of the initial action, at least as it took place in Egypt. It’s a great piece of documentary work, urgent and compelling. Even almost 10 years on, it’s still not clear the direction things have taken, but it’s always useful to show that the people are not entirely without voice in such moments.


There are a lot of documentaries and films about protest (plenty indeed just about the Arab Spring, like the Tunisian film A Revolution in Four Seasons), but The Square — which comes quite soon after the initial events — really seems to capture something of what this means, both in practice, with the immediacy of reportage from sites of revolutionary insurrection and activist struggle, and also in thought. This latter is served by a number of individuals, who perhaps represent a wider cross-section, if not of the full range of society, but of its most reflective participants. Egypt is still working through the legacy of 2011, and the documentary acknowledges that at the end, but the couple of years we see here are pretty compelling.

The Square film posterCREDITS
Director Jehane Noujaim چيهان نچيم; Cinematographers Noujaim, Muhammad Hamdy محمد حمدي, Ahmed Hassan أحمد حسن and Cressida Trew; Length 108 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), London, Wednesday 7 December 2016.

Global Cinema 13: Bahrain – Dead Sands (2013)

Bahrain is a small country, though it is a densely-populated one. Sadly, it hasn’t had much of a film industry so there aren’t many films to focus on for my regular feature. That is why I’ve gone to YouTube to find a student production, which has the weaknesses of that kind of output, but also, I think, has an energy to it that I rather like. It doesn’t look great, but it gives a little sense of what perhaps Bahrain is like to live in.


Kingdom of Bahrain (البحرين al-Bahrayn)
population 1,569,400 | capital Manama (411k) المنامة | largest cities Manama, Muharraq (177k), Riffa (111k), Hamad Town (57k), A’ali (51k) | area 780 km2 | religion Islam | official language Arabic (العربية) | major ethnicity Arab (51%), Asian (46%) | currency Bahraini Dinar (د.ب/BD) [BHD] | internet .bh

An flat, arid island nation in the Persian Gulf comprising an archipelago of around 40 islands (and some artificial ones), centred on the largest one, Bahrain Island. The name derives from the Arabic for “two seas”, though the island was originally called Awal and until the Middle Ages “Bahrain” referred to larger area of Eastern Arabia (including Kuwait and southern Iraq); the name was also often anglicised as Bahrein until the mid-20th century. It was first settled as the trade centre Dilmun from the 3rd millennium BCE, and later ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians, Achaemenids and Parthians. It was called Tylos by the ancient Greeks, and came under Alexander’s rule for a while. Christianity took hold by the 5th century CE, but converted to Islam in the 7th century, and went through a series of regional dynasties. The Portuguese ruled for much of the 16th century, before the area was taken by the Safavids under Persian rule for a few centuries. The British came in during the 19th century, but revolts started to take place towards the end of that century, continuing sporadically over the ensuing decades. Post-World War II, competing claims by Iran and Britain led to independence on 15 August 1971, and a popular uprising towards the end of the century led to the Emir instituting elections, and the country formally became a Kingdom in 2002. There are some elections but the Prime Minister is appointed by the King, and much of the government is drawn from the Al Khalifa ruling family.

The cinema industry in the country is very small, with a handful of shorts and only about five feature films in its history. The first cinema was established in 1937, and there are around 40-50 screens now.


رمال ميتة Rimal Mayta (Dead Sands, 2013)

I mean, sure, on a certain level this isn’t a great film, but if it looks and feels a little amateurish that’s because it appears to be a student production. It’s also a film made in a country that has, as far as I can tell, no real cinema industry. So if it doesn’t quite hit the polished marks we’re used to, even in a zombie flick — with some fairly unconvincing performances, scene set-ups that almost taunt us with the obviousness of what’s about to happen, and muddy cinematography — that’s because it never had the ability to do so in the first place. Instead, I like to see it as a noble attempt to learn by doing, an undaunted group of student friends banding together to make a movie (the credits roll over the blooper reel) and seeming to have a fair amount of fun with the gore and the effects. It also gives me a sense of what it’s like in Bahrain, which I think is a particular selling point, because how many other films are going to give you that, albeit in some rather indistinguishable malls and movie theatres and dusty outdoor spaces. I admired its willingness to try and make a Bahraini zombie flick.

Dead Sands film posterCREDITS
Director Ameera Al-Qaed أميرة القائد; Writer Ahmed Zayani أحمد الزياني; Cinematographers Al-Qaed and Zayani; Starring Şenay Dincsoy, Miraya Varma, Ahmed Zayani أحمد الزياني; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at home (Amazon streaming), London, Saturday 1 August 2020.

The Stuart Hall Project (2013)

In a sense this film is about one person, Stuart Hall, a prominent cultural theorist who sadly died the year after this was made, but in talking about his work and life, it touches on the history of the United Kingdom, its colonialism and its own struggles in relationship to that colonial past, that continue to echo today, that continue to in fact resound very loudly at this very specific moment.


Despite being born in the UK, I wasn’t educated here and therefore was never really introduced to the work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall, having found out about him near the end of his life when this film was made (he died in 2014). However, the archival clips orchestrated here by John Akomfrah, with a backing of musical clips from Miles Davis records, impresses upon me that he really was one of that dying breed of accessible public intellectuals, so thin on the ground in contemporary discourse and surely never more sorely needed. He speaks of his West Indian roots, of coming to Britain to study at Oxford, and of the persistent racism and colonialist attitudes he encountered. In dealing with periods of his life, and of the history of late-20th century Britain, the film also elucidates the social changes that Hall dealt with in his work, the ways that dreams of the past may have died and that other newer ideals came to replace them, but with a throughline relating to the immigrant and postcolonial experience. The film is as much about the construction of identity itself as it is about telling a story of Hall, but it sort of manages to do all of these things, and though I can’t claim to be a great intellectual, it was persuasive and likeable, and idiosyncratic in its ways as something of a multimedia art project (which Akomfrah has done several of, including about Hall), but also a compelling documentary.

The Stuart Hall Project film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer John Akomfrah; Cinematographer Dewald Aukema; Length 96 minutes.
Seen at home (BFI Player on Amazon streaming), London, Wednesday 10 June 2020.

夢と狂気の王国 Yume to Kyoki no Okoku (The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, 2013)

Since seeing my first Studio Ghibli film in 2015, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, I’ve spent the last five years trying to catch up on some of their key works. That project remains ongoing, though the appearance of many of them on Netflix doesn’t hurt, but this documentary gives an insight into their working methods. It’s comforting to see these figures at work, knowing the care and effort they put into each film, which unlike a lot of contemporary animation in the cinemas, aren’t just blatant attempts to make money by any means necessary.


I’m fairly recently new to Studio Ghibli’s films, having spent much of my teens and 20s resisting going to see any (which in retrospect was obviously a very foolish decision), but watching these key figures in the world of animation at work — along with their studio of animators (and producer Toshio Suzuki) — is a fascinating insight. The gentle, beautiful, sometimes dark films of Miyazaki and Takahata are not born out of chaos and noise, but a similar kind of peaceful dedication to craft. Miya-san (as he’s called) wears an apron for much of when he’s working, while Paku-san (that’s Takahata) barely ever shows up at all, though he’s much discussed, not least his infuriating inability to complete projects to any kind of schedule. There’s a gentle humour at work, but also just a sense of a really grounded and open central figure in that of Miyazaki, as he works through the last year of making his film The Wind Rises. It may have been billed at the time as his last one, but even his retirement letter wished for 10 more years of work, and one can but hope to continue to hear from him (indeed, he has a film currently in production).

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness film posterCREDITS
Director/Cinematographer Mami Sunada 砂田麻美; Starring Hayao Miyazaki 宮崎駿, Toshio Suzuki 鈴木敏夫, Isao Takahata 高畑勲; Length 118 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Saturday 13 April 2019.

Films by Khalik Allah

Khalik Allah has built up a distinct style over a number of short films and now a couple of feature films — lyrical imagery of people at the bottom of the power structure, previously the down and out denizens of NYC street corners (of his early shorts and first feature), as well as the inhabitants of Jamaica in his most recent feature Black Mother and an earlier short. His filmmaking seems to have predated his photography, but having taken up the latter form, it has become integral to his vision as a filmmaker, it appears. Sound and image, in particular, are usually rendered separately in his films, often working together but sometimes juxtaposed to make points that photography itself cannot always do so successfully. His art feels particularly masculine, though even in the gritty urban portraits there’s a softness to his approach, an empathy so often lacking in such environments. He has also notably contributed to Beyoncé’s film Lemonade as a cinematographer. A number of his short films are available on YouTube, which is where I watched many of them and hence I’m fitting this post into my seen-on-YouTube themed week.

Continue reading “Films by Khalik Allah”

War Is a Tender Thing (2013)

A Filipino film set in the southern, more contested, part of the country, around the second-largest island of Mindanao. This is a personal documentary that looks at the conflicts from one woman’s point of view, and that of her family, and deals with interfaith marriage.


A personal essay film about the filmmaker’s family in Mindanao (an area also known as the Southern Philippines), this uses family history as a way to represent and interrogate ideas about the past, not least a long-running conflict ostensibly between Christian and Islamic populations in the area. Mindanao isn’t much represented in mainstream cinema, so it’s good to see some attention paid to the area and its people and histories. Certainly, the filmmaker’s family are sceptical about this idea of religious conflict, given that many members of their family have intermarried, and that becomes a theme that moves through the film, of understanding political turbulence through personal connections, and the film eschews any editorial contextualising of the conflict, aside from occasional snippets of television news. Technically, there are some messy edges to the filmmaking (a lot of shaky handheld shots), but it captures a lot of beauty of the region, and there’s an abiding mystery at the film’s heart.

War Is a Tender Thing film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Adjani Guerrero Arumpac; Cinematographers Arumpac and Victor Delotavo Tagaro; Length 74 minutes.
Seen at Genesis, London, Monday 15 April 2019.

Films by Kevin Jerome Everson

Kevin Jerome Everson has been working for fewer than two decades but has already amassed a prodigious body of work, including a huge number of short films. A number of his features and a few short films were presented online as part of a retrospective on Mubi in 2018, which introduced this filmmaker to my attention. Clearly he has his themes and his interests, but with so many films it’s difficult to give more than a hint at his distinctive style.

Continue reading “Films by Kevin Jerome Everson”

عمر Omar (2013)

I’ve already covered the Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir in a separate feature, but another critically-acclaimed filmmaker from the region (albeit one who has grown up and been educated in the Netherlands) has been Hany Abu-Assad, whose 2005 film Paradise Now put him on the map. He has most recently moved rather surprisingly into the big-budget Hollywood realm with the Idris Elba/Kate Winslet drama The Mountain Between Us (2017)


I didn’t expect to very much more than merely admire this film, given its Academy Awards nomination and fairly dour subject matter — it’s about a group of Palestinian friends whose lives and relationships are pulled apart in fighting against the Israeli occupation. But as so often I was wrong, because it’s not just a well-crafted film (that much is evident from the very start, with precise framing and careful editing) but also a tense thriller, well-mounted and with plenty of twists and turns, not unlike the narrow streets we see our titular protagonist (Adam Bakri) running through. The cinematography in particular is unshowily excellent: dominated by frontal faces in clean, uncluttered frames.

Film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Hany Abu-Assad هاني أبو أسعد; Cinematographer Ehab Assal إيهاب عسل; Starring Adam Bakri آدم بكري, Leem Lubany ليم لوباني; Length 96 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Wednesday 15 March 2017.

Women Filmmakers: Lina Rodriguez

I’m going to kick off my (hopefully regular) Wednesday series on women filmmakers with the one to whom I’ve most recently been introduced, courtesy of the streaming platform Mubi, whose canny programming has brought my attention to a number of directors I’d never previously encountered. Latin American cinema, in particular right now, seems to be booming with talented women directors, and in that regard one may look to the career of Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, who came to prominence at the turn of the millennium with La Ciénaga (2001), and about whom I shall undoubtedly write in coming months. She is hardly the first woman to direct films in the Latin American world, but she is among the most rigorous and visually precise of all active filmmakers in the region, and one of the foremost (and most championed) auteurs in the world, I would say. In her wake there has been no shortage of excellent films by women working in the cinemas of Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Peru, amongst others.

Continue reading “Women Filmmakers: Lina Rodriguez”

B for Boy (2013)

Shot in that sort of vérité style that relies (perhaps too much) on handheld camera, this is a fascinating insight into familial dynamics in Nigeria. Amaka (Uche Nwadili) is nearing her 40th birthday, pregnant with her second child, and meanwhile her mother-in-law is desperate to know if it’s a boy so her late husband’s family name can be continued. She even has a contingency second wife lined up for her son, which, needless to say, creates a bit of tension within the household. What’s particularly on point here is that we don’t see any of the male characters exerting this pressure: such is the noxious ingrained nature of patriarchal expectation, it has all been internalised by the women to the extent that they at times literally gang up on Amaka. She has some difficult decisions to make, and even a plot development that leads her to wearing a fake pregnant belly doesn’t seem absurd by the time we’ve got to that point.

B for Boy posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Chika Anadu; Cinematographer Monika Lenczewska; Starring Uche Nwadili; Length 114 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), London, Monday 6 March 2017.