This article is also available in: Italiano
We are proud and honored to bring you our interview with Roberto Ruta and Lisa Chiari, the founders of Middle East Now, a festival that for 10 years has brought Middle Eastern cinema and culture to Italy. A unique event that this year will see exceptional guest stars including chef Anissa Helou, Saeed Aman of BowLand and Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi.
K: Where did the idea of making a festival on Middle Eastern cinema and culture in Florence come from? Did you have difficulties in the beginning?
RL: Middle East Now was born from an idea that came to us in 2009, after several trips to the Middle East and after seeing beautiful films at international film festivals, which told incredible and humanly very engaging stories made by directors from the Middle East We said to ourselves: why don’t we put together a festival project that tries to tell a different Middle East? That through images and cinematographic stories you try to change your perspective and to go beyond the usual prejudices and stereotypes that characterize these countries, that the media news very often paint one-way, seen by the media news only as war contexts , of religious fundamentalisms and oppression.
We shared this idea with a series of Florentine institutions and partners, including the Stensen Foundation, who could have helped us, and with an initial personal investment we created Film Middle East Now. At the time it was called this: 15 films, an exhibition and some debates. A totally non-profit reality that has gradually grown, increasingly supported by a group of passionate people, including experts from the Middle East who have accompanied us on this journey.
K: What is the guest or projection that has most involved you in these 10 years and why?
There have been several. Definitely “Five Broken Cameras”, the 2011 documentary co-directed by Palestinian director Emad Burnat and Israeli director Guy Davidi, who was also an Oscar nominee, and which we believe represents a milestone in documentary film from the Middle East. For the first time, a Palestinian and an Israeli teamed up to document stories of resistance through the camera, or rather the 5 cameras broken by the Israeli army during the making of the film. Then the retrospective dedicated to Hani Abu Assad, a giant of Arab cinema, who involved and passionate us with his films and with his desire to tell original stories.
And again Mashrou ’Leila, the Lebanese indie band that we brought to Italy for the first time in 2014, and which has conquered the hearts and dragged the bodies of younger audiences and beyond. Without forgetting the first ever screening of the first edition of our festival, in February 2010, just Asghar Farhad with his film “About Elly”: it was a great emotion, overflowing cinema and a few hundred people left out. Farhad himself said that it had been one of the most beautiful projections of his life.
K: In the tenth edition of the festival you will give Iran ample space, what is the choice due to?
Iran has always played an important role in our festival, because it is a country with an imposing culture and also with a very lively contemporary world. In the year of the homage to Farhad we decided to present a further study on the faces of contemporary Iranian cinema, at the peak of a period of artistic rebirth, still committed to juggling the limitations, censorships and taboos of a country characterized by a thousand contradictions
We have planned films by young directors to their first work, authors already established with their first international successes. a varied and complex cross-section emerges, just as the country is.
K: The two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi will be present at the festival, how do you feel about hosting what is in all respects one of the greatest directors of the contemporary Middle East?
We are honored by it. After ten years, and for him two Oscar awards, having him with us again in Florence is almost a dream come true. We have high expectations for the Master Class that will make him the protagonist, to better understand the secrets of his greatness as a director and as a human being from his own voice.
K: Another Iranian guest star will be Saeed Aman, a musician who became famous thanks to his participation in Xfactor with BowLand. What effect does your talent recognized at national level make you see, especially after the long collaboration with the festival?
We are very happy for Saeed, he has always had a unique musical and aesthetic twist, and the path he has just started with the Bowlands is a first result of a serious and musically sought-after work that he has been carrying out for years.
K: We have always appreciated your ability to involve all Middle East culture, including cooking, the real key to uniting people. Also this year the festival is no exception, bringing the famous Syrian-Lebanese chef Anissa Helou to Italy, author of “Feast”, a book that tells about the cuisine of the whole Islamic world. Tell us about this collaboration, what does the kitchen represent for you? Is there an “Islamic world” cuisine? What is characterized in addition to the absence of alcohol and pork?
The kitchen is a tool of great sharing, a cultural factor of strong integration, and certainly could not miss in a festival like ours that has these values at its base. At each edition we try to bring to Florence a protagonist of the culinary scene from the Middle East who is able to give us an original and engaging perspective on food in this part of the world. Anissa Helou is undoubtedly one of the top experts in this field.
And what emerges from his book is how important food is in all Muslim-majority countries: this is how guests are honored, serving their delicacies and it is around food that families and friends gather together. Muslim cuisine is a multi-faceted cuisine of flavors, spices, and shared lunches and dinners help to taste it even better.
K: The tenth edition represents an incredible milestone, have you already thought about the next peak to conquer?
Each new edition is a challenge for us to always do better, to present what is new and creative emerges from the cultural scene of the contemporary Middle East. Of course we have ideas, ambitious projects and protagonists in the drawer that we would like to bring to Florence in the future … but at the moment we prefer to focus on this tenth edition, which in itself was a titanic feat to put together, for the quantity of films, events , guests.
We are truly honored to have hosted on our website the creators of such a solid and interesting initiative over the years, a true embassy of Middle East culture in Italy. As proof of this, we confirm our participation in the festival from 5 to 6 April, if you have the opportunity do not miss it. The festival starts today and will end on Sunday 7th, we leave you the links here: site, Facebook and Instagram.