Throughout history, films have always been a tool for instilling inspiration and driving social change. Whether in overarching themes or the woven principles and messages, they have been a powerful medium for raising awareness on important issues and drawing on the hearts of the audience with regard to pressing matters in the world.
As the world rapidly moves on against the backdrop of ongoing wars, climate change, and forced displacement, the filmmaking industry has been shifting its focus to highlight these topics in both discrete and obvious ways.
The Cairo International Film Festival’s (CIFF) 44th edition, held in November, saw an abundance of different films from around the world. From short films and documentaries, to internationally acclaimed stories, they highlighted important – often forgotten – topics, including womanhood, climate change, and forced displacement.
Yet, the power of human resilience in the face of a world consumed with the idea of forced forgetting and erasure of the past remains a dynamic overarching theme in CIFF’s 44th edition.
From Egyptian director Ahmed Abdalla’s film ‘19B’ to Ukraine’s ‘Klondike’, and Palestine’s film Alam (Flag), here are some of the ways in which these films presented more than what appears.
The Ukranian film ‘Klondike’ offers more than the depiction of the reality of war, and seeps into how even in the most traumatic of times, life goes on. Directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Maryna Er Gorbach, Klondike follows the story of a Ukrainian family living on the border of Russia and Ukraine, whose home, and life, fall apart in 2014 after a Malaysia Airlines passenger flight was shot down over Donbass (located in the eastern region of Ukraine), killing nearly 300 people.
Within a few minutes after the film’s gut-wrenching opening, a mortar misfire that ends in the wreckage of Irka (played by Oksana Cherkashyna) and Tolik’ss (played by Sergey Shadrin) home . In one of the most brilliant scenes in the film, a heavily pregnant Irka takes a damp cloth to try and wipe away the dust and debris inside her house – a bid to fix what is gone.
In Er Gorbach’s film, there are reminders of the lingering effects of war – in both the smallest and grandest ways. She tackles what it is like living near the Russian border, and how it has left the inhabitants numb to the surroundings.
Irka, a woman who is close to her delivery date, still finds a way to take care of her home, to go about pickling vegetables and completing daily tasks. She is unbent, in a country that knows of nothing but chaos and collapse.
What is most enthralling about ‘Klondike’ is how it portrays a side to war not known to many. There is chaos, destruction, and demolition, but there are also family ties, relationships, and a history on the brim of being forgotten.
In any other case, at the nearest chance, a woman similar to Irka may have abandoned her home. In a place she is not welcome, she still chooses to stay, even though she has the option of forced forgetting. Her choices speak volumes to a much larger issue, which is standing one’s ground instead of succumbing to a new world order.
Irka chooses to nurture, to go on even when the unfathomable happens, because there is power in human resilience. ‘Klondlike’ shines light on women, it showcases their strength, and what they are willing to do to protect their children.
In Palestine, a group of high school students have to study a curriculum that centers Israel’s version of history. In attempts to combat forced forgetting and eradication of history, a group of five students plan to replace the Israeli flag that flies over their school with the Palestinian Alam (flag).
Directed by Palestiinian filmmaker Firas Khoury, Alam is not a typical coming-of-age story, rather, it is a film that grapples with preserving heritage and history. Alam’s characters are real and honest, juxtaposing fear and bravery, and how they both can exist at the same time.
The characters in the film are a small representation of an Arab generation at risk of remembering a different history. As their elders who have fought relentlessly for their stolen birthright, the teenagers ponder the burden of forced forgetting. The decisions they make now, they fear, will have consequences on the future of their home country. The consequences of their decisions can bear displacement, prison, or the worst of all, death.
Khoury does an impeccable job, because he veers away from romanticizing a story like Alam. His characters are familiar to Arabs who have been the subjects of war they had no say in, but in spite of their circumstances, they persevere.
In Alam, it is as real as it gets: not everyone survives, and those who do, live fearful of what is to come.
Egyptian film ‘19B’ takes a different approach than the other aforementioned films. The film does not take place in a war-torn country, however, Egyptian director Ahmed Abdalla sheds light on the war between the past and the present.
‘19B’ follows an old man (played by Sayed Ragab) who is a caretaker of a worn-down villa in an affluent Cairo neighborhood. Throughout the film, the old man fights with Nasr (played by Ahmed Khaled Saleh), who threatens and coerces the old man into taking part of his villa for his own personal use.
The villa has little to no upkeep, yet Ragab finds safety and peace in it. In its simplicity, much like its caretaker, the villa is coated in history. Yet, for the outsiders, the villa offers a space for other usages.
A powerless man is put to test against intruders who eventually dream of kicking him out, yet he still won’t succumb to their wishes.
There are attempts at forced forgetting, where the old man is threatened into giving up a part of him that he wants to retain, even though the new world order is forcing him to do otherwise.