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Review: Cines del Sur 2009

Cinema gives us the opportunity to be together, sharing ideas and experiences. I’m an Indian recieving a prize in Spain for an Israeli-Australian production,” joked Shivaji Chandrabhushan when he accepted the Audience Award for the film $9.99 on behalf of its director. “Cinema has no language, it is universal”.

By:  Cecilia Bogaard
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Artist: George Ovashvili, Benham Behzadi, Souleymane Cissé, Tatia Rosenthal, Lee Yoon-ki, Óscar Martínez, Robert Sneider…
Genre: Cinema
Date: 13/06/2009 - 20/06/2009
Location: Granada

George Ovashvili, Benham Behzadi, Zhao Ye, Souleymane Cissé, Tatia Rosenthal, Marat Sarulu, Semih Kaplanoglu, Lee Yoon-ki, Jackie Reem Salloum, Prasanna Vithanage, Óscar Martínez, Robert Sneider… you may not have heard of them, but these are just some of the directors from Africa, Asia and South America creating incredible films you won’t find in your local cinema and who were present at this years Cines del Sur Festival.

When the opportunity arises to watch cinema in some of the most beautiful nooks and crannies of Granada, at a festival that allows you to meet the creators and has remembered that festivals should be about film and not about ego, you really don’t need to think twice. I didn’t. The festival has managed to resurrect the idea of cinema as a social event that is part of the city. Sitting at a free projection of the Indonesian film The Rainbow Troops against the walls of the Cathedral of Granada in the Plaza de las Pasiegas I was struck by how many people were sitting there with me. The plaza, which seats 400, was jam-packed. Those disappointed spectators without a seat didn’t give up. They lined the balconies and circumference of the plaza, several standing for the chance to see cinema out in the open air. And it was worth it. While Jay Weissbery from dubbed The Rainbow Troops a “formulaic crowd-pleaser”, I found the film to be a charming tale of the school life of a group of kids on the Sumatran island of Belitong. I think critics often get lost in their own rhetoric and forget the beauty of simple, clean entertainment with a message. “Live to give as much as you can, not to take as much as you can,” states the idealistic teacher Muslimah.

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Being present at the 2009 Cines del Sur Festival was a privilege and everyone who was there could feel it. This is not just another film festival. This is for many filmmakers a glimmer of hope “like a flame in the darkness of a cave” (Slingshot Hip Hop). From this idyllic setting, it was easy to forget the troubles of the world around us, but the films themselves and their creators brought us back to reality. “Let’s enjoy every second of this beautiful moment because life is short,” noted poignantly Behnam Behzadi, director of the Iranian film Before the Burial. His words were spoken with pride in his native Farsi and reverberated around the Patio de los Aljibes. The story of a bus driver whose medical career was cut short when he was expelled from University because of his political opinions, it won both the Alhambra de Plata and the Netpac Award for best Asian film this year. “If it were not for cinema, Iran would be invisible. This film sheds light on many things that have been silenced,” stressed Menene Gras from the Casa Asia on handing over the award.

My personal highlight was watching The Other Bank, debut feature from Georgian director George Ovashvili and winner of the Alhambra de Oro, at the Teatro Isabel la Católica. The story of young boy Tedo, displaced from Abkhazia due to the inter-ethnic Georgian Civil War, one gets the impression that life is near worthless. At the end of the film we sat in silent contemplation. The ambiguous final scene, when Tedo meets a band of soldiers in the forest and ends up dancing in a trancelike state, was so powerful it left us shell-shocked. While the film is gritty, it isn’t overly graphic, often affecting the viewer more by what is left unseen. Powerful and unsentimental storytelling at its best.

“I took at 12 hour journey to see you and say thank you. For me the most important thing is not the prize, but you. With this film we wanted to send out a message; for there to be no more wars,” expressed the humble Ovashvili when presenting his film to the audience. The film left its mark on María José García: “I loved it. Through his journey it shows us the various viewpoints of the different ethnic groups. Amongst the enemy there are more flexible personalities”. By her side, her friend Aurora stressed, “It’s a sad movie, but it’s what there is. With this protest, the film achieves what the director hoped for”.

It’s a shame that the larger papers seemed to stick to attention grabbing headlines, paying little heed to the 90 fantastic films being premiered in Granada. Instead they focused their energy on the apparition of Egyptian Omar Sharif who was awarded the Alhambra de Honor for his cinematographic career that includes classics such as Dr. Zhivago, filmed in Andalusia. “It is a great honour to receive this prize because it comes from the South, and I am a man of the South… Some of the best films of my career were made right here”.

Meanwhile, I had a hard time choosing what to do from amongst the ample programme. Jostling for my attention were fiction films, animations and documentaries, alongside complementary activities such as the En_escena workshops (women in correspondence, acting, animation film or even storytelling in photography), exhibitions (Transparent Image, Abandoned Spaces and In Place of Cinema) or even open conversations. Cines del Sur paid tribute to the work of Souleymane Cissé, Malian film director, awarding him the Alhambra de Oro and including a retrospective of his work. A prominent African filmmaker, he once said: “African filmmakers’ first task is to show that people here are human beings and to help people discover the African values that can be of service to others. The following generation will branch out into other aspects of film. Our duty is to make people understand that white people have lied through their images” (Souleymane Cissé).

The documentary Kontinuasom, from Granada based director Óscar Martínez, was premiered as part of a presentation of a new section to be added next year: Andalusians and the South. A docu-fiction film, following the footsteps of Buena Vista Social Club, Kontinuasom presented viewers with the universe of Cape Verde music through the story of young dancer Beti. When presenting the film, José Sánchez Montes, director of Cines del Sur, explained his reasons for choosing this film about the once Portuguese colony “It is a beautifully made film to explain a complex reality”.

And it didn’t stop there. My only criticism of the festival would be that there was just too much. To see and do everything on the programme was impossible. I tried. But jumping from Korea to Mali, Palestine and Georgia proved a little taxing as I rushed from one film to the next. Documentaries such as Slingshot Hip Hop, which won the RTVA Mediterranean Prize for best film produced along the Mediterranean coast, will hopefully be shown around the region in the coming year. The prize of 6.000€ is to help towards buying the rights to emit the film in Andalusia. “If it’s not political then its not hip-hop,” explains Tamer Nafar (DAM) as the film takes a tour of the homes and lives of young Palestinian hip-hop artists in Gaza and the West Bank. Showing how they attempt resistance through music rather than violence, it introduces the viewer to a new world of music and their political struggle:

And now while my agony is so immense
You call me the terrorist?!
Who’s the terrorist?
I’m the terrorist?!
How am I the terrorist?
When you’ve taken my land?!
Who’s the terrorist?
You’re the terrorist
You’ve taken everything I own
While I’m living in my homeland
” (DAM - Da Arab Mcs -

On a totally different note, $9,99 from the Israeli Tatia Rosenthal won the Audience Award. Based on the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, the film took nine years to make. An ironic story of the everyday life of neighbours in an apartment block, this stop-motion animated feature is full of one-liners and a dash of hope. Lenny, the endearing repossessor describes his work: “We’re just like Robin Hood, only in reverse”, while retiree Albert Queller portrays his guardian angel as “a liar with wings”.

“It’s not important to have cinema of the north or south, east or west. Cinema needs to be unbiased to human beings wherever they are,” highlighted Montaser Marai, director of Al Jazeera Documentary Channel, on giving the Al Jazeera recognition award to the Cines del Sur Festival at the closing ceremony in the Alhambra. But, for all the rhetoric, does Cines del Sur really help filmmakers of the so-called South? I met Shivaji Chandrabhushan, winner of both the award for Best Director and Audience Award in 2008 for Frozen. “I’m here thanks to the award and now working on my next project, an indo-Spanish production. 30.000 € is a great deal of money for an independent filmmaker in India”. Little Zizou, a comedy set in Bombay that tackles issues of religious bigotry in India, was projected in the Plaza de las Pasiegas. After the film, director Sooni Taraporevala commented; “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to show Little Zizou here projected against the Cathedral. I’m not sure if I shall make any more films, but my son tells me that if I do, I have to bring them all to Granada!”



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El 1 July 2009 a las 6:37 AM, Guille dijo...

Cecilia, ¡que interesante el artículo! qué pena no habernos visto. Nosotros fuimos a ver 9.99 y Disgrace, magníficas las dos. Y estoy de acuerdo contigo, demasiado programa o demasiados pocos días. ¡Besos!

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El 1 July 2009 a las 9:40 AM, Lorenzo dijo...

Muchas gracias, me quedé con las ganas de asistir, pero este artículo me ha puesto al día de lo que puedo ver por otras vías en las próximas semanas.

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