Since the beginning of 2011, the Arab world has witnessed cataclysmic events unprecedented in over half a century. Entrenched leaders have been toppled by uprisings; street demonstrations and political dialogue continue unabated; and as the momentum for transformation spreads across the region, no clear path is yet in sight. In these exceptional times, images have taken over, capturing the spotlight ahead of words, sentences, and before clear ideas are formed. Images have outpaced events, as the line separating the image-maker from the viewer is blurred, with instant live images flooding the media and spreading on the Internet, television, and in cinema. These images are produced by both amateurs and professionals, driven by their desire to reveal, to take a stand, or to capture a historic moment. The belief in the necessity of circulating and publishing an image, indeed the belief in the power of the image itself, is playing a decisive role in fueling the movement for change in the Arab world.
Against the backdrop of this period of turmoil, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) launched Crossroads: a film program aimed at supporting emerging Arab filmmakers who are exploring the nuances and frontiers of these new possibilities. Crossroads is concerned with projects that are inspired by this period of transformation, and that deal with critical topics dear to filmmakers, who are discovering fertile grounds for innovation, creativity and experimentation, amidst the upheaval engulfing the region.
Crossroads provides an appropriate framework for emerging directors looking to execute projects that probe new modes of visual expression, outside the agenda set by TV stations and production houses. The vision for Crossroads springs from this period of transformation, which is creating decisive moments in contemporary Arab history. A new rhetoric is emerging. The first reflection of such a transformation is evident in cinema, an artistic genre that is acknowledged to have the strongest link with reality and its impact. What do Arab filmmakers want to say today, here and now? Which stories will transcend the barriers of fear and censorship? Where will the old walls begin to crumble? How will filmmakers deal with these new “freedoms” and with the idea of the “possible,” which has become the unexpected common ground for Arab societies today?
Based on these and other questions, Crossroads was launched in September 2011 as a regional initiative with international ambitions that aims to go beyond the simple narrative of the moment and engage with an experiential process, capturing the individual filmmaker’s reflections on hope, concerns, doubts and contradictions. Crossroads includes cinema projects of all genres and offers advisory support as well as financial support to its grantees while building on an Arab regional network of independent filmmaking institutions.
The Crossroads grantees have already been selected and the call has closed as of April 2012. Since then, Crossroads has been following up on the grantees’ project development and working with a group of experts who act as consultants/advisors through the various stages of the 12 selected projects. An atmosphere of creative discussion is a necessary part of deepening the development of the projects artistically and contextually via one-on-one discussion meetings, personalized consultancy and group workshops when required. The first Crossroads workshop was held in Beirut in June 2012 while the second workshop was held in Cairo in September 2012. Crossroads collaborate with active film institutions and festivals locally and internationally to augment the impact and visibility of Crossroads projects and partners regionally with cinema associations and training institutions to offer its grantees support in the areas of advising, production, promotion, distribution etc. AFAC will follow up on the development of Crossroads grantees up through August 2013.
The first crossroads workshop was held in Beirut in June 2012 and gathered grantees Ahmad Ghossein (Lebanon), Bahia Bencheikh Elfegoune (Algeria), Fadi Yeni Turk (Lebanon), Karima Zoubir (Morocco) and Mohamed Rashad (Egypt) to meet with advisors Ghassan Salhab (Lebanon), Dora Bouchoucha (Tunisia) and Ali Essafi (Morocco). Programs were partly hosted by Crossroads’ local partner, Beirut DC, and representatives of regional partners Semat (Egypt) and ATAC (Tunisia) were also in attendance.
The second Crossroads workshop was held in Cairo between September 18 and 20. Eight projects took part in the workshop (6 documentary projects, 1 feature-length fiction, and 1 experimental) and shared a common ground: they were all in latest stages of development getting ready for production. Grantees Bahia Bencheikh ElFegoun (Algeria), Fadi Yeniturk (Lebanon), Mohammad Hassan Shawky (Egypt), Mohommad Rachad (Egypt), Rifqi Assaf & Rula Nasser (Jordan), Sarah Ishaq (Yemen), Hazem el-Hamwi (Syria), Philippe Rizk & Jasmina Metwaly (Egypt), met with the program’s advisors (Lebanese filmmaker Ghassan Salhab, Moroccan documentary maker Ali Essafi and Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha, American cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, and Danish documentary consultant and critic Tue Steen Muller) over the three-day workshop, presented their projects and benefitted from a variety of discussions, panels and case studies.