The archival present: Regional Competition Overview

English Daily #1
For the fourth year in a row, the films selected for GAIFF’s Regional Competition retell the past and present of West Asia, which has become the center of continuous wars, political conflicts and anxieties in the last century. Memories of things lost and their bitter aftertaste are the main commonality in the program, packed with diverse personal and national stories, but with a similar core.

The short Khabur by the Persian photographer Nafis Fathollahzadeh will open the program on Monday evening (8-7), and in the span of just thirty minutes, it artistically explores the social, political and cultural background of the region: wars, genocide, displacement, stolen cultural heritage — all themes presented in the ten competition films.

Bringing up the past and examining the present through it is one of the preferred creative methods of the program's directors. Farahnaz Sharifi's My Stolen Planet is a collage depicting the colorful socio-cultural life of Iran's pre-revolutionary period, Maka Gogaladze's Ever Since I Knew Myself is about Soviet educational methods and their influence on people and on the example of Georgia, it reflects the experience of many people from the region, Yervand Vardanyan's Orbita documents the largest optics plant in Soviet Armenia, now transformed into a backgammon factory, thus contrasting the inspiring myths of the past with the decadence of today. In some films, the narrative is weaved on the basis of archival materials. For example, in Khabur old photographs are at the core, while in My Stolen Planet we see 8mm home films that the director acquired from strangers. The footage used in Kamal Aljafari's A Fidai Film, originally kept at the Beirut Center for Palestine Studies, was seized by the Israeli army during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In two films of the program, the "resurrection of things passed" takes place through the literal return of the main characters to their past, to the place of their birth. In We Are Inside, director Farah Kassem returns to Tripoli, Lebanon and tries to reconnect with her father by joining his poetry group. On the other side of the world, the character in Matthew Rankin's Universal Language returns to Winnipeg, which, although located in Canada, has many Iranian residents around which the film revolves.

Displacement and migration is another major theme of West Asian cinema, strongly present in this year's program. Screened at the Cannes Directors' Fortnight To a Land Unknown follows two Palestinian refugees in Athens trying to reach Germany, while the protagonist in Faraz Fesharaki’s What Did You Dream Last Night, Parajanov? actually lives in Germany, and the film consists almost entirely of Skype conversations between himself and his friends and family members.

Finally, some other films of the Regional Competition are more concerned with the here and the now. Emily Mkrtichian's There Was, There Was Not tells the story of four women living in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and intimately follows the characters right up to the 2020 war and its dire aftermath. Unlike many films made on the same topic, here the director tries to take a critical look at the role and position of women in Artsakh and ignite a new dialogue. From a stylistic point of view, Felix Kalmenson's Gamodi is also quite distinct. Depicting representatives of Tbilisi's marginal communities, the film puts a special emphasis on the post-Soviet architectural heritage and its impending loss.

Sona Karapoghosyan