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Learn About Middle Eastern People through Film

January 11, 2007 — The Middle East and the people who live there are unfamiliar and hard to understand for the average American. In an attempt to bring a better understanding to this ever more important part of the world, the University of Utah Middle East Center and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, in collaboration with the Salt Lake City Film Center are sponsoring a series of films from the region. The Middle East through its Films-2007 will be shown at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, every other Wednesday, 6:00-9:00 p.m. beginning January 31.

This series of films will be shown and their social context discussed by Professor Laurence Loeb, U of U Department of Anthropology. Professor Loeb says this is a great opportunity to see the Middle East through the eyes of its filmmakers. “There is probably no better or immediate way for non-specialists to appreciate the complex nuances of Middle Eastern people, their lives and foibles, than through the fiction-films they make about themselves.” The film series is free and open to the public. These films are not rated and may contain mature subject matter.

Films and synopsis:

Ushpizin-Wednesday, January 31
As the festive Jewish holiday of Succoth approaches, big-hearted Moshe Bellanga, a devoutly religious man, and his wife, Malli, find themselves childless, broke, and unable to purchase the necessary religious objects to appropriately observe the holiday. When they receive an anonymous gift of $1,000 from a local charity, they interpret it as a blessing and use it to purchase the holy items and build the Succah (holiday dwelling) for their rituals. Meanwhile, just as the holiday begins, a dark secret from Moshe’s past is revealed as two of his former associates escape from prison and come to Moshe’s home-as they know it is considered a blessing to host guests during the holiday of Succoth and will not be turned away. The two outlaws begin to take advantage of Moshe’s hospitality-drinking, smoking and playing loud music in his home, and they begin to question his new-found faith and allude to his violent past. After fabricating a story to rid themselves of their unruly houseguests, Moshe and Malli eventually come to see the treatment of their less-than-holy Ushpizin as a test of love and faith.

Under the Moonlight-Wednesday, February 14
This is another gem from the world of Iranian cinema from director Seyyed Reza Mir-Karimi. A student deeply devoted to his religious studies, Seyyed Hassan hopes to become a cleric after taking the necessary exams. However, a run-in with a thief, a small boy, who steals Seyyed’s religious attire, leads him into a whole new world that challenges the teachings he has absorbed over the years. He follows the thief into a poverty-stricken world that is in direct contrast to what he was exposed to in class. Suddenly feeling at odds with the religion he has been devoted to for years, Seyyed finds himself faced with a tough decision about whether to continue. A hugely affecting film, Under the Moonlight opens up an important discourse on matters that affect Iranian citizens on a daily basis, but are too frequently swept under the carpet in an attempt to shy away from the failings of a society that all too often clouds its true problems with religious dogma that no longer has relevance to many of its citizens.

The Closed Doors-Wednesday, February 28
The Closed Doors touches on several taboos in contemporary Egyptian society, examining their social and political implications. Set during the Gulf War, it tells the story of Mohamad, a highly impressionable young man who embraces fundamentalist ideas as a way of dealing with the confusion of adolescence and sexual awakening. This powerful first feature by one of Egypt’s most promising young directors tackles complex themes like oppression, jealousy, virtue, the love ideal and violence in an uncompromising way. This film was directed by Youssef Chahine’s longtime assistant, Atef Hetata.

The Syrian Bride-Wednesday, March 14
The Syrian Bride is a 2004 film directed by Eran Riklis. The story deals with a Druze wedding and the troubles the politically unresolved situation creates for the personal lives of the people in and from the village. The plot looks at the Middle East conflict through the story of a family divided by political borders, and explores how their lives are fractured by the region’s harsh political realities. The film has garnered critical acclaim and has won or been nominated internationally for several notable awards.

A New Day in Old Sana’a-Wednesday, March 28
This beautiful film tells the story of a groom who realizes that the woman he fell in love with was not the wealthy bride-to-be, but rather a low-class orphan gypsy. He must now make the choice between marriage and tradition or love and the unknown. The story is set in the breathtaking ancient part of Sana’a in Yemen, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the first feature film to come out of the country. Winner of Best Arab Film and nominated for the Best Director First Feature at the Cairo International Film Festival 2005.