Greetings from the Dubai International Film Festival! As promised, I have seen almost exclusively Arabic language films while here, (often sadly having to pass up some good-looking Bollywood fare) and I am pleased to say there are a few winners.
In the past, I have been known to go on and on about how there needs to be an Arab film revolution in which filmmakers embrace the humor and irony that is so prevalent in everyday Arab cultural life and chill out on all the heavy, earnest issue-driven content. How about some good old-fashioned entertainment in addition to the wide range of 'educating through film' films? Or even better, how about having both in the same film?
With the documentary V.H.S. - KAHLOUCHA my prayers have been answered. This Tunisian feature documentary, by Nejib Belkadhi, follows the filmmaking efforts of small town movie director/house painter, Mouncef Kahloucha. Using his neighbors as actors, cameraman, editors, stuntmen, he rallies nearly everyone to get involved in his original production, "Tarzan of the Arabs." I'm not quite sure what is better: watching him stage the elaborate fight scenes with the local body builder turned stunt man, his impersonations of Clint Eastwood, or seeing everyone in his community (both those in Tunisia and those living illegally in Italy) hysterically laughing as Kahloucha tackles a stuffed goat while wearing only a loin cloth.
Beyond the comedic element of this doc, the real genius comes from the fact that Belkadhi exposes many of the major social problems in this poor Tunisian district: poverty, alcoholism, crime, unemployment, emigration, but never makes us feel like we're eating our spinach.
This film was selected for the World Documentary Program at Sundance 2007 and I'm very curious to see how it plays for an audience there.