Arab Film Festival Australia 2009

The Arab Film Festival Australia 2009 was held at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta - a short walk from our studio. We attended the opening night and spent the whole weekend in the cinema watching feature films, documentaries and shorts.

The festival programme provided a
creative and critical space for representing diverse Arabic-speaking cultures. The festival was a celebration of modern and contemporary Arab cinema and the majority of the films were screened as 'Australian Premiers' offering Australian audiences alternative representations of Arab subjects and narratives.

The festival is managed by Information Cultural Exchange (ICE) an organisation based in Parramatta. 'Greater Western Sydney is home to the largest migrant, refugee and urban Indigenous populations in the country and is Australia’s most culturally diverse region.’ The festival ‘confirms the strong connections between Parramatta’s bold emergence as an up-and-coming city of culture, and the very strong presence of Arab-Australian communities who have made this vibrant city their home, and contribute greatly to its rich cultural life.’

Captain Abu Raed | watch trailer

Captain Abu Raed | Jordan 2007 | 95 min | Dir: Amin Matalqa

This film was selected to open the Arab Film Festival 2009. The lead role was played by Nadim Sawalha who is a Jordanian-born British actor. It is a story about dreams and sacrifice set within the landscape of Jordan. Abu Raed works as a janitor in an airport where he encounters international languages and travellers. The film explores class and social divide through the eyes of a self-educated man who has lost his family. He is a lonely but generous character who begins to tell stories to the children living in his neighbourhood who are curious about the outside world. This enables the children to dream and transforms their harsh realities. This is the first Jordanian feature film to be made in 50 years and the film won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2008.

watch P.H.A.T.W.A video

The Narcicyst | Phatwa | Music Video Premiere | Directed by Hala Alsalman | Canada / Iraq

The political hip hop artist 'The Narcicy
st' (aka Yassin Alsalman) originates from Basra, was born and raised in Dubai and now lives in Montreal, Canada. In this music video, his lyrics respond to the present climate of suspicion and fear generated at airports around the world since the events of 9/11. He references political events such as the invasion of Iraq and current situations such as detainees at Guantanamo. He is also a journalist and peace activist speaking out against the injustices in the world.

Life after the Fall | watch trailer

Life after the Fall | Iraq 2008 | 100 min | Dir: Kasim Abid

The director returns to Baghdad to follow three generations of his family over the course of four years. This is an intimate and personal account documenting the struggles the family face in the changing political climate since the fall of the regime in 2003. The film chronicles the family's optimism after Sadam's downfall and the hopes for the nation to be rebuilt, however this mood changes to a more somber realisation as chaos ensues.

The screening of this film was preceded by an introduction by
Taffy Hany, a classically trained musician, who played the violin and sang an Iraqi folk song for the audience. Originally from the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq, he moved to Australia in the 1970's and settled here.

Recently, Taffy Hany and his son, Don Hany, were introduced as characters in the SBS television
drama 'East West 101'. The real-life father/son relationship is portrayed on screen. In this detective drama, Taffy plays the Iraqi father of Zane Malik, a detective in the Sydney Police Force. Each episode follows a storyline based on the multi-cultural communities living in the city. The series responds to the tensions surrounding race and identity in post 9/11 Sydney.

Huriyya and her Sisters | Australia 2009 | 8 min

This short animation was created by young Muslim women and girls living in western Sydney. Representatives of the group were present on stage as the film was introduced. The group created four characters to represent and explore their experiences of the world - one is a superhero and wants to stop bombs falling on children.

This film was made by young females participating in workshops held in local community centres where they developed visuals, sound and story lines. During the 18-month collaboration, the girls were provided with the opportunity to engage, participate and communicate using a medium which would allow their own stories to be heard. The Australian Human Rights Commission supported this project and the making of this film.

Ein Shams / Eye of the Sun | watch trailer

Egypt | 2008 | 90 min | Dir: Ibrahim El Batout

The film begins with a narrator introducing us to a group of people who's lives are about to cross paths. The story takes place in the forgotten town of Ein Shams on the out skirts of Cairo. A taxi driver reminisces over the 'faded glory of the ancient past'. A doctor investigates the after-effects of depleted Uranium on people and the environment following the Gulf War in 1991. As we follow the story, a family drama emerges through both comic and tragic events. El Batout combines documentary footage with created scenes shot on digital format and later transferred to 35 mm film. It's low budget, grainy sequences add to the nostalgic mood of the film. The poetic nature of the film creates an opportunity to question social conditions and structures to which the people in this district have become accustomed.

Black(s)town Exhibition at Blacktown Arts Centre

Blacktown Arts Centre is situated on the land of the Darug people - the traditional owners of the land - and is currently home to the largest urban Aboriginal population in Australia. It is a short drive 13 km west of Parramatta. The current exhibition is Black(s)town : 'Inspired and informed by the stories of the original Blacks' Town settlement, this project acknowledges and celebrates Aboriginal heritage and contemporary practices within Blacktown, while exploring issues central to the identity of the region.'

The exhibition was attended by the Mayor of Blacktown who opened the show by saying: 'I would like to acknowledge the Darug people who are the traditional custodians of the land. I would also like to pay respect to the Elders, both past and present, of the Darug nation and extend that respect to other Aboriginals present’. This was the first time that we had heard this statement which would precede other openings which we would attend.

Art Gallery of New South Wales

We visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales which is situated in the Royal Botanic Gardens and opens late until 9pm on a Wednesday. It is currently hosting ‘Double Take: Anne Landa Award for Video and New Media Arts 2009’. The work of British artist Phil Collins was included alongside Cao Fei from the People’s Republic of China and TV Moore from Australia. This year the work focused on ‘what it means to transform the self into another persona’.

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Art Auction Fundraiser for FBi Radio

After an afternoon spent wandering around The Rocks in Sydney, we headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). That evening there was to be an Art Auction Fundraiser for FBi Radio 94.5 FM. The function room was packed with people trying to circulate around the art works on display. You had to register to bid. The evening began with the host announcing: “This is an incredible group of artists who’ve donated works – some of Sydney’s - and the country’s - brightest stars. Everything here is a sound investment…all up-and-coming…Sydney Biennale…Venice Biennale…” Some of the works went for more than 2,000 Dollars Australian. Over 40 artists were represented and over 50 works were auctioned.

Firstdraft - 'Every Artist Remembered' by Agatha Gothe-Snape

We arrived at Firstdraft Gallery to find the front space full of people perched on stools and listening to the end of an artist’s talk. Hanging around in the main space, we saw the work of Agatha Gothe-Snape, who later that evening would be talking about her work. She explained how she had undertaken a number of durational performances in the gallery by inviting well-known artists to play a memory game with her. The scenario: Agatha plus invited guest artist - one session with one artist - would begin a ‘conversation’ by saying an artist’s name and the ‘conversation’ would continue as names would flow and abruptly stop, until a significant list of names was produced. It was these hand-written lists that were pinned to the walls of Firstdraft Gallery.

There Goes The Neighbourhood - Redfern and the Politics of Urban Space

This exhibition was curated by Zanny Begg & Keg de Souza and was shown at Performance Space, Sydney, May - June 2009. In 2006 the curators both lived in Redfern and were interested in working together on an artistic study of the area. As a collaboration they were keen to document and archive their local environment. Redfern was already experiencing urban changes and gentrification. However, they were soon displaced from this inner city 'ghetto' to cheaper suburbs of Sydney. This exhibition includes works and projects from art collectives and artists exploring gentrification, social issues and community activism from different cities around the world.

SquatSpace - Redfern/Waterloo Tour of Beauty

SquatSpace began organising tours of Redfern - by walking, cycling and mini bus - providing first hand experiences of the area and led by local residents or people with intimate knowledge of the landmarks and local politics of the area. During the exhibition SquatSpace organised a tour on May 31st 2009.

Michael Rakowitz - White Man Got No Dreaming

In 2008 Rakowitz presented a multimedia installation built with community involvement at the 16th Biennale of Sydney. Rakowitz writes: 'For over a decade now, I have maintained a socially engaged practice that has intersected with other fields and processes such as architecture, international trade, cooking and archeology.' In 'Here Goes The Neighbourhood' he presents printed copies of a series of drawings depicting life on The Block. The artist worked closely with residents from The Block - an area of Redfern which has been handed back to the Indigenous people of the land.

Evil Brothers - Ghost Train

Ned & Tom Sevil work with abandoned and forgotten spaces. They are involved with community activism and are interested in the role of collaboration between artists and the community to bring about social change. For this exhibition, the duo created a cardboard structure which the viewer would navigate through using modified spray cans as torches. The light would illuminate the cut-out street scenes of a neighbourhood.

Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro - Cordial Home Project 2003

Their collaborative work is sculptural and installation based. They use abandoned and discarded objects and spaces to construct monumental assemblages. In Cordial Home Project they dismantle a suburban house, transport and rearrange the building materials with precision in a gallery space. In 'There Goes The Neighbourhood' photographs document this process and help to create a narrative surrounding displacement.

International Artist Residency Sydney 2009

Over the next few months we will document our activities whilst based in Western Sydney on an Artist Residency Programme, hosted by Parramatta Artist Studios & Artquest.