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Films on Yazidi plight, Arab displacement honored in Dubai

Film director Mohammad Bakri (center) receives a price from Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (left) and from the director of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), Masoud Amralla Al Ali (right), during the closing ceremony of the Dubai International Film Festival in Dubai on Decemb. —AFP photos

Films about Yazidi suffering at the hands of the Islamic State group, Syrian laborers cut off from home and Palestinians estranged from family earned top awards Wednesday at the Dubai film festival. As industry stars crowded the red carpet for this year’s glitzy showcase event the troubles roiling the surrounding Middle East region were brought sharply into focus on the big screen. Dhyaa Joda’s short film “Sabyea” won the special jury prize for its unflinching portrayal of the persecution of the Yazidi religious minority by IS jihadists.

In 2014, the Sunni extremists overran Yazidi villages in northern Iraq, slaughtering thousands of men, taking women and girls as sex slaves and sending boys to military training camps. The United Nations has called the massacres of Yazidis-dubbed heretics by the IS jihadists for their non-Muslim faith-a genocide.

In “Sabyea” (a Koranic term for concubine), a Yazidi woman waits with her young daughter in a deserted village for her husband to return. Among the woman’s meagre possessions are a rifle and a radio, which gives horrific daily dispatches on the IS advance, as well as a mirror she uses to burn her daughter’s face to make her uglier to potential captors. A young Yazidi man stumbles up their mountain one day with news of mass killings, only to die of his wounds the next morning. The messenger confirms the woman’s deepest fears, and she will eventually sacrifice herself but save her daughter. The film drew applause from the festival’s Arab audience, which included conservative Muslim women in face coverings with only their eyes showing.

Modern suffering in the Middle East was also portrayed in “Taste of Cement”, a documentary by Syrian director Ziad Khalthoum, which took the prize for best non-fiction production. The work focuses on the lives of seasonal Syrian construction workers in Lebanon who were cut off from their homeland by the outbreak of the war in 2011. In Lebanon, a country of four million where half a million Palestinian refugees already live in purgatory, the Syrians find themselves increasingly unwelcome.

Forbidden to leave the building site after dusk, the men gather at night around a communal television, watching anxiously for news from home. The issue of displacement and a loss of roots in a region wracked by conflict was a recurrent theme at the festival. Annemarie Jacir’s “Wajib”-the Palestinian entry for the 2018 foreign language film Oscar-scooped the top prize for the best feature film and best actor gongs for father-and-son duo Mohammad and Saleh Bakri.
It is the tale of a Palestinian man who returns home to Nazareth from Rome to help his father hand-deliver wedding invitations for his sister’s big day. The pair, who live two very different lives, are compelled to reconcile as they go about their task.

The cross-generational Palestinian tale was feted as Arab and Muslim leaders on Wednesday urged the world to recognize occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. US President Donald Trump last week sparked international condemnation by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, further throwing into doubt the right for Palestinian refugees to ever return home.-AFP

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