With a host of screenings London’s film festival season, let’s face it, has seen a big and famous domination by BFI Film Festival ,whilst the Middle Eastern and North African MENA Film Festival (LMFF) has had much less exposure. Considering the theme behind LMFF’s is how children growing up in an environment of conflict and despair provide a beacon of hope for the region, the line up of films are revolutionary in their own way and represent pivotal moments in the Arab world that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
In recent years, as talented directors are emerging from the region, Arabic films have been making star appearances in UK box offices, with the likes of Nadine Labaki, Elia Suleiman and Hany Abu-Assad showing a glimpse of the Arab world and winning International awards. As the media eyes turned towards the political upheavals of these countries over the past year, it is an interesting time to look closer at the stories coming out on screen from this part of the world.
With a UK premiere of the Algerian/Moroccan production How big is your love, at the Tricycle Cinema, MENA film festival opened its curtains last Friday to an eight day run of events – screening over 28 films which explore the special relationships between families, lovers and the nation.
Staying delicately close to this theme, How big is your love directed by Fatma Zohra Zamoum who was born in Algeria, is a heart-warming exploration of childhood and love in contemporary Algiers. When eight year old Adel’s parents break up, he is sent to stay with his grandparents for longer than he expected.
Echoed with most of the characters is the freedom to make choices – the parents choosing to get a divorce, and a teenage family friend choosing to keep her relationship a secret. This works in strong contrast to Adel’s lack of choices. His loss of freedom and innocence seem heightened by his actions of peeling. In one scene, he peels away the layers of an onion when helping his grandmother cook and asks “Grandma why am I crying?” and in another scene he peels off the wallpaper in his bedroom as though he is looking for an escape.
Personal touches like the family cooking and the women singing projected a lovely sense of togetherness in the Arab community, which was beautifully depicted by camera shots following the characters up close - reflecting the sincerity of the story. From the beginning shots, the director introduces animals as a key theme in the film. The child’s playful nature with the animals at the zoo resonates his innocence and curiosity of the world. As the plot progresses the director subtly slips in and out of scenes of caged birds and free birds to bring to life the child’s feelings of lost freedom, which is hinted at when he asks his granddad’s sparrow: “Do you want to go home?” before opening the cage and setting it free.
Speaking at the premiere of ‘How big is your love,’ Fatma Zohra Zamoum said how it was a refreshing experience having a child as the main actor: “Adults are very corrupted. Bringing child experiences and child problems to the screen is something very interesting for me because it is the only level you can find innocence and answer real questions.”
To know more about the film and the story behind it, read our Q&A with film director Fatma Zohra Zamoum from the opening night of the MENA film festival.
In association with Nour Festival, tonight’s screening of Majid, a coming of age story about a ten year old Moroccan orphan, plus a Q&A with the director at Leighton House Museum, will officially close London’s MENA Film Festival 2012. Tickets are £7 and can still be purchased here. Doors open at 6:30pm.
By Michelle Clark
Photo taken by Michelle Clark