How do you get Londoners excited about Middle Eastern short films?
Try holding the screening in a Spitalfields art exhibition, calling it “secret” and then attracting as much attention as possible on the night by drumming in the queue. And, once your crowd is inside, bombard them with light, music, food and digital technology.
Both the organisers of Future Shorts and the Edge of Arabia curators of the #Cometogether exhibition that formed the backdrop are supremely in touch with the times. Edge of Arabia’s exhibition programme includes a map of the MENA region by Twitter users (Saudi has the most, Comoros the least). The importance of social media was confirmed by Future Shorts’ projection of a Twitter feed, to which attendees were encouraged to contribute.
Beyond knowing how to draw in hipsters, however, the offerings diverged. Edge of Arabia, which began as a collaboration between a British artist and two Saudi artists in 2003 at the height of the “War on Terror”, has consistently been a force for promoting talented Middle Eastern artists in the UK. Although because of the need to showcase so many artists, it is difficult to settle on a single theme, works tend to be big, have an unconventional approach to mediums and hint at politics. Nothing embodies this more than Muzamil Choudhury’s The Situation Room, a rendition of one of last year’s most famous images in carpet samples.
Whether this work has a view-by-date remains to be seen. By contrast, Mounir Fatmi’s The Pieta recreates a seminal moment in Christian tradition using plastic cables, but the novelty is outstripped by the artist’s command of line and use of negative. And visitors should not miss Manal al Dowayan’s riff on emigration, If I forget you, don’t forget me, in which a series of black and white close-ups of family photos tell tales of losing children across borders or friends over time.
Thanks to the use of projected images, Future Shorts could have fitted seamlessly into the
exhibition and some aspects of it did. Films hopped across the Middle East from a Saudi graffiti artist to a couple chatting in a Cairo café to Israelis and Palestinians squaring up over a border crossing. Tolya, a film about an eccentric economic migrant to Israel who tries to bridge the distance with his lonely wife in Belarus, finished to a roar of applause. Two and Two, set in a 1984-ish classroom, was particularly poignant given the continued grip of dictators in some areas of the Middle East.
Other aspects of Future Shorts, however, felt pretentious or just silly. The MC who introduced the screening rapped tediously about “Mother Earth”, but this was still preferable to the final film – M.I.A.’s video for Bad Girls – accompanied by the organisers dancing in Arabic robes. And while all of the films had Middle Eastern themes, it would have been encouraging if they had all actually been directed and conceived by filmmakers from the region – as well as Bad Girls, the Chemical Brother’s admittedly brilliant music video Do It Again counted as one of the films screened.
Still. A fun night was had by all, judging by the packed seats and clusters around art galleries as well as the falafel stand. Edge of Arabia has given East London a powerful introduction to the art of another East. And if pop-up cinema did not quite do the MENA film scene justice this time, there will surely be another opportunity.
Future Shorts is the world’s biggest pop-up film festival and runs from 1 October – 31 December. To host a screening, click here
.#Cometogether runs from 7-28 October 2012. Entrance is free.