The Goethe Institut & Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IfI) at the American University of Beirut are organizing an international conference on youth, sexuality and self-expression in the Arab World on April 6-7, 2011. The conference is taking place at College Hall, Auditorium B1 and the Film screenings are in Bathish Auditorium 2.
This screening program is an attempt to collect and present a series of films about sexuality, whether expressions of sexuality in vernacular, or concomitant practices. The films are largely from Lebanon and will feature 3 films from each of the two acclaimed filmmakers whose films are featured in the program, both Danielle Arbid and Akram Zaatari. On the first night, April 6, both The Fifth Pound by Ahmad Khaled from Egypt and Shameless Transmission of Desired Transformation per Day by Mahmoud Hojeij from Lebanon tackle instances of sexual encounters in public spaces, yet in an aesthetically different manner. In The Fifth Pound, a couple finds relative anonymity on an empty bus in Cairo, while in Shameless Transmission, Hojeij’s female characters are overexposed and the revelation of their intimate narratives, many of which are based on real testimonies, lie in stark contrast to the blank faces screened. Roy Samaha’s film Untitled for Several Reasons cannot be easily categorized since it is a very special treatment of the image and flux. Visions flicker by so fast from various film and media sources that one can only discern two eroticized stills in movement, almost as another form of anonymity or censorship. Danielle Arbid’s feature film In the Battlefields explores the sexual journeys and coming of age of two young women, amid a backdrop of war and lawlessness. Here the sense of time is much slower and hushed, with particular attention to light, wisps of hair, and whispered secrets.
The second day, April 7, will be devoted to women and men’s narratives (Amanda Abou Abdallah’s Empty Talk, Danielle Arbid’s This Smell of Sex), the art of seduction and eroticism (Ninar Esber’s A Mon Seul Desir, Nisreen Khodr & Ghassan Salhab’s Of Seduction), as well as stories that reveal a disturbing narrative of hyper-masculinity (Akram Zaatari’s Crazy of You). Amanda Abou Abdallah creates various exaggeratedly humorous prototypes of women in Empty Talk who tell their story, describing their lives and their relationship with their bodies. Arbid’s This Smell of Sex is also of a frank and candid nature, but in such explicit language that is foregrounded with very few images, and yet it pushes the boundaries of sexual expression; the only inhibitions present in the scarcity of visuals. Both Nesrine Khodr and Ghassan Salhab’s Of Seduction and Ninar Esber’s A Mon Seul Desir are simultaneously seductive pieces persuading the viewer with sensuality and about seduction, yet filmed in a divergent manner. Of Seduction includes accounts by real characters, with a few abstract intermissions, while A Mon Seul Desir avoids language and sound by depicting hauntingly evocative postures and intimate acts so subtle that they can be interpreted as performance vignettes. And the final screening session includes a very particular look at intricately woven love stories and homosexuality. Infatuation and desire among two young men is palpable in both Akram Zaatari’s Red Chewing Gum and Mazen Khaled’s My Queer Samsara, each of which are filmed with a certain gaze and attention to darkness and light, respectively. How I Love You investigates real accounts of sexual relationships among men in an environment that is not very tolerant and Cadillac Blues is a fictional piece about a man who lives a double life in a violent society. The final film is a very special one, Un Homme Perdu, which was only screened once in Lebanon because of sexual content, and it traces the travels of two men, one a French photographer, and the second, a Lebanese unknown who are searching for something and running away, respectively, often finding momentary refuge in women’s bodies.