Two Arab films pocket big wins at the Toronto International Film Festival

Two Arab films pocket big wins at the Toronto International Film Festival

Festival after the other, regional filmmakers are letting the world know they're talented and hungry for wins.

Mariam Nabbout

There always seems to be an ocean of differences present between Arab TV series and Arab films, as seriousness and workload tend to have a tighter grip on features that directors know might have a bright future at international festivals. This, indeed, is quite accurate since Arab movies regularly make waves globally and garner critical acclaim on the international front while series from the region receive more criticism than anything. The biggest step to reach, as an Arab TV show, would probably be getting a slot on Netflix MENA.

Regional filmmakers are working hard and it's paying off. Earlier this week, two Arab films took home awards at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which wrapped up this year's edition on Sunday. One of them is Lebanese filmmaker Oualid Mouaness' Nadine Labaki-starrer 1982, which won the festival's Netpac Award after premiering there this month.

The jury who granted the prize to the film was selected from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema and included Chairperson Beckie Stocchetti, Kanako Hayashi, and Albert Shin.

In a statement published on TIFF's website, the jury members explained that the feature was selected "for its adventurous, imaginative style and subtle, confident filmmaking, bravely juxtaposing and framing the universal innocence and charm of youth within harrowing historical context."

1982 follows the story of an 11-year-old boy who tries to tell a classmate he loves her but gets caught up in airstrikes that hit Beirut at the start of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In the film, Labaki plays the role of an anguished schoolteacher named Yasmeen, who's struggling amid the 1982 siege of Beirut.

The feature's story is based on Mouaness' childhood memories and what he experienced during this invasion.

The second Arab film to win is by a Syrian documentarian

Directed by Academy Award-nominee Feras Fayyad, The Cave won the festival's Grolsch People's Choice Documentary Award.

In his latest film, the documentarian – who's best known for his feature documentary Last Men in Aleppo – returned to his native Syria and followed "a team of female doctors who treat casualties in an underground hospital while fighting systematic sexism."

The film, which also had its world premiere at TIFF, was shot between 2016 and 2018. It's already getting major Oscar buzz in the U.S., where it has also been picked up by National Geographic for both a theatrical and TV release.

Several Arab films screened at TIFF this year, and 4 were submitted to the Oscars

A number of regional films were screened at this year's edition of the festival and many of them competed for awards.

Other than 1982 and The Cave, the Tunisian feature Noura Dreams also opened at the event. Directed by Hind Boujemaa, the film follows the story of a woman who finds the love of her life while her husband is locked up in jail. Just days before she is granted a divorce, her husband is released, jeopardizing her dream to be with her lover and forcing the couple to flee.

Egyptian film Certified Mail is another work of art that premiered at TIFF this year. Directed by Hisham Saqr, the feature tells the story of a suicidal woman who struggles with depression after her husband is sent to jail.

Elia Suleiman's Palestinian feature It Must Be Heaven was also screened at the festival. The film was previously shown at the Cannes Film Festival and has been submitted to next year's Academy Awards.

Poisonous Roses by Egyptian director Ahmed Fawzi Saleh, Dear Son by Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia, and Adam by Moroccan director Maryam Touzani were also submitted to the Oscars race.

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