May 26, 2004 – The 3rd annual Forum Film Festival opens on June 2 with "Osama," the Golden Globe-winning first feature film produced in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban.
The three-movie series will continue with showings on the following two Wednesdays — on June 9 of the animated feature "The Triplets of Belleville" and on June 16 of "James' Journey to Jerusalem."
All three pictures are rated PG-13. There will be one showing of each, at Market Square East Cinema beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are being sold in advance at Dockside Bookshop, Home Again, Interiors, Modern Music in Nisky Center, Parrot Fish Music and the Reichhold Center for the Arts box office. If tickets do not sell out in advance, they will be available at the theater prior to the screenings.
For more information, call the Reichhold box office at 693-1559.
"Osama," which runs 82 minutes and was shot in 2002, was written and directed by Siddiq Barmak. It is "a harrowing account of life under the oppressive regime that fell after Sept. 11" that was shot "in extremely trying conditions," a review on the British Tiscali Web site states. It won numerous awards at film festivals last year, culminating with the 2004 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
"As anything as outlandish as film-making was banned under the Taliban, it is director Siddiq Barmak's first official outing, although having gained a film degree from the University of Moscow in the late 80s, it is clear that this is no amateur talent," the reviewer writes.
"Western audiences used to Hollywood's commercial fare may initially find Barmak's film rather naïve in both the manner it is shot and the style of acting. It is often hand-held and jumpy and the actors are all non-professional.
"Nevertheless there is a star in the making, thanks to the girl playing the lead role, Marina Golbahari. At the beginning of the film she plays a 12-year-old girl who lives with her mother after the death of her father and brother. But when the Taliban close down the hospital her mother works in, the two are left destitute. Until her mother has an idea: to cut the daughter's hair, dress her as a boy and name her Osama."
Osama gets a little job to bring in some income, but (s)he now has a new problem: The Taliban are forever looking for young boys to send to a religious training school for fighters, and off (s)he is sent. Aware that she will not be able to fool her peers for long, she plots an escape, but in doing so only raises an alarm that has catastrophic consequences.
"Many of the scenes in the film are played out without words, and some of the final harrowing sequences will bring a lump to the throat," the Tiscali reviewer writes. "The filming is simple, but the end message is powerful, upsetting and eye-opening."
Mike Clark of USA Today calls the motion picture "a smooth mix of humanism and keen film-making instincts." He writes that "Though consumed by Osama's plight … the movie verges on a matter-of-fact approach to other horrors — no doubt reflecting what the people must have felt, under constant threats. A Western journalist is executed for taking pictures; a woman is sentenced to be stoned for 'advocating profanity.' Meanwhile, the youngsters seem to welcome the Taliban instruction, mostly because they like the turban look."
"Osama" was the fledgling Afghanistani film industry's entry in this year's Academy Awards competition for Best Foreign Film, and Clark finds it surprising that it failed to get a nomination. "Its social consciousness and deft storytelling is a mix that usually hits academy voters where they live," he writes.
In addition to winning the 2004 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, "Osama" received the Youth Award, a Golden Camera Special Mention and the AFCAE Award at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Channel4.com, another British Web site, offers this analysis: "As the first feature film to come out of the region, post 'War on Terror,' Barmak's deliberately simple film is a downbeat, thought-provoking piece. While clearly indicting the regime's treatment of women, Barmak takes pains to interrogate the religious and social roots underlying the Taliban's misogyny. In a country that was left destitute after years of war and international neglect, women were turned into the last commodity to be bartered, beaten and sold like cattle.
"Far from celebrating the American liberation, 'Osama' implicitly suggests that the wounds of contemporary Afghanistan will need more than bombs, bullets or even cinema in order to be healed. It's something that makes the film's opening quotation from Nelson Mandela — 'I cannot forget but I can forgive' — seem more than a little optimistic."
And coming up next …
"The Triplets of Belleville" received two 2004 Oscar nominations, for Best Animated Feature Film and for Best Song ("Belleville Rendez-vous") and took awards at the AFI, Boston, Chicago International, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. Roger Ebert gave the 80-minute French production from French writer-director Sylvain Chomet a "two thumbs up" while pronouncing it "creepy, eccentric, eerie, flaky, freaky, funky, grotesque, inscrutable, kinky, kooky, magical, oddball, spooky, uncanny, and unearthly."
The story is about Champion, a lonely boy adopted by his grandmother, Mme. Souza. As Champion loves riding his bicycle, she puts him through rigorous training that prepares him oneday to enter the Tour de France. During the event he is kidnapped by two mysterious French Mafia men and Mme. Souza and her faithful dog, Bruno, set out to rescue him. Their quest takes them across the ocean to a huge megalopolis called Belleville, where they meet the renowned Triplets of Belleville, three eccentric female music-hall stars from the 1930s who decide to join the rescue effort.
"James' Journey to Jerusalem" received the 2003 Cannes Film Festival Directors Award.
A droll mix of social commentary and modern fable from Israeli first-time feature film maker Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, it follows the adventures of young James, a devout wide-eyed Christian attempting a pilgrimage from his African village to the Holy Land. "The film explores the economic, moral and spiritual hypocrisies of Western society through an evocative portrait of modern Israel's cultural and generational divisions," according to a release.
More details on both of these films will be provided in the weeks prior to their screening at the Forum Film Festival.
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