Second edition. Second time that Damascus has an international documentary film festival. The programme is enlarged, there is an industry section, sidebar retrospectives, it is all there. Impressive it is to be back.
Full house at the opening film, "China is still Far" by Malek Bensmaïl, shot in Algeria and dealing with the question of what it means to be Algerian. Let me give the floor to the director: " A school somewhere in the Aurés. Between the North and the South. Between an oasis and the steppe.I decided to set up my camera in a classroom of the last form of a primary school for a few months so that I could seize, through the look of the children as well as through that of their teachers and families, what has been passed on in an Algerian school, 50 years after the independence..."
It is beautifully shot, the children and their teachers are great, there are some very touching and funny moments between them, other sequences do not have the same focus and intensity, is felt to be a bit too long, but a very relevant choice for the opening of the festival.
One Man Village is one of those minimalistic films that subject-wise has been seen so many times: Man lives alone outside the cities, big house, animals – cows, chicken, horses, cats and dogs – he has retired from the noisy world full of pollution and he has a fine life. A bit excentric, yes, but clever and sweet to the filmmaker, his nephew, the Lebanese film director Simon El Habre, who masters a narrative full of warmth and surprises with the behind the camera nephew getting closer and closer to his uncle and his story.
And why are you not married, have you ever been in love, what happened to your parents... questions are asked, the uncle demonstrates his passion for the animals, gets into his old, rusty car to go downhill with the milk, and slowly we understand that the village is emptied because of what happened in the civil war in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990. The film has an extraordinary sound design and you are not bored for a moment. It was in Berlin, it goes to Nyon and Hotdocs, well-deserved. Tell your local festival to screen it.
Here in Damascus the audience enjoyed the film with big applause. What an uncle to have! Charismatic, energetic, with a smile in his eyes all the time, a happy man.