Gulf Film Festival: Report 3

Well, of course, you’ve heard of it; you’re reading this online, so you’re probably one of the hundreds of millions of worldwide users who spend at least part of their day checking their account. Maybe Facebook is a diversion from your work, or maybe your work blocks the site, lest you be diverted. Or maybe it is your work; Mr. Zuckerberg’s net worth is estimated at US$13.5-billion, so there is a lot of money to be made from marketing.

For filmmaker Roqiye Tavakoli, however, Facebook is something else entirely. For instance I met her while she was checking Facebook in the filmmakers’ lounge at the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai. She asked if I had a film in the “official international competition.” I told her I was a filmmaker and asked her where she was from. “Iran,” she replied. “Are you on the Facebook?” “Uh, yeah, sure.” She typed my name in the search field, and, after a few misspelled attempts…my profile did not come up. This is, I’m guessing, because my security settings were set too high. She was puzzled. I opened up my profile on my computer, typed her name on and voila, we were “friends.”

The next thing I knew, she had “liked” a photo of me, clicked on my “married to” link and told me: “Your wife. So beautiful.” This kind of social intrusion is the reason you set your security so high, right?

The next day I saw her again in the lounge, again on Facebook. That evening, too. Even later that night, as well. “Is this what 24-year-olds do all day?” my inner curmudgeon thought.

There was something very sweet about Tavakoli, however. Maybe it was the braces on her teeth or her expressive brown eyes, but she always seemed chipper, even if all she did was sit at the computer. She “friended” many of the delegates who sat down next to her terminal, curious about their lives and projects. Since we were “friends,” I asked her about her time at the festival. It turns out she was one of the 40 filmmakers who attended the week-long masterclass by the renowned Abbas Kiarostomi. Their assignment during the week was to make a short film about loneliness, which Kiarostami critiqued. I asked Tavakoili what her fellow Iranian said about her work. “He gave me a ‘bravo.’ ”

I watched her 9-minute film, And Nothing Else, the next day. It couldn’t be any more different than its filmmaker. It was somber, while she is bubbly. It dealt with abuse and abortion and family pressures to remain with her husband. We only talked of the festival and her addiction to Facebook.

“We can’t get the Facebook back home,” she told me near the end of our short time together. “When I come here, it is my opportunity to connect with all the people I meet.” The awards ceremony for the Gulf Film Festival was televised on Sama Dubai, a local channel. I watched from my home in Abu Dhabi. Tavakoli won third prize in the “official international competition,” taking home a glass statue of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic tower on the Arabian Gulf and 15,000 dirhams (AUD$3,800) for her next project. When her name was called, Tavakoli bounded up to the stage in a tan shirt down to mid-thigh, blue jeans and a black hijab. She flashed a giant grin, braces and all, when she accepted her trophy.

I felt a surge of pride for my friend, so I went to my computer and posted my congratulations on Facebook.

Gulf Scorecard: Baghdad Film School premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in December and played at the GFF. “I prefer this one,” the Dutch director Shuchen Tan said. “It is more filmmaker friendly, not so much about the celebrities.”…The subjects of Tan’s documentary, the Iraqis who comprised the first class of students at the Baghdad Film School since its founders closed it because of security concerns in 2007, are currently on tour with their films as part of the Baghdad Documentary Film Festival. Screenings take place in Basra on April 29th and 30th and in Erbil on May 6th and 7th…One of the films made during the course, Charcoal and Ashes, was awarded first prize in the student competition for documentaries. Director Hussein Mohsen examined the environmental effects of the coal industry in Iraq…Hamama, the fascinating portrait of an Emirati faith healer, won first prize in the documentary competition…Leaving Baghdad tells the story of Saddam Husssein’s personal cameraman, who dreams of one day leaving Iraq. The director Koutaiba Al-Janabi took home first prize in the feature category.

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Maybe you’ve heard of this thing called Facebook. You can share information about yourself — photos, what you’re doing, what movies/music/books you like — with family and friends. Somebody even made a movie about its founder, some guy named Zuckerberg.