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ICA Off-Site: Cinema on the Steps: Contemporary Middle Eastern Film

22/08/2013 21:23 BST | Updated 22/08/2013 21:23 BST

We've been working on the "Cinema On the Steps" project for some time now, and one thing that has become apparent to me, are the number of connections that can be made across the Middle East through artworks and artists, which circumvent the social and political presence we are used to in the media, yet have such global currency. Collaborating with a number of curators, who have selected films for each of the three nights on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of August, right outside the ICA at the foot of the Duke of York Steps, we are screening works that are both rooted in their geographic heritage, but also current for their universal resonance with common issues in both art and society.

Working closely with curators Abdellah Karroum, Director of Mathaf, Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah Al-Turki, key figures on the Middle Eastern art scene alongside artist Ahmed Mater, who contributes to our final evening, we are presenting an amazing selection of films, free to view in a unique outdoor cinema.

To kick off the three day event, we are screening Babylon (2012) an amazing film shot on the main border crossing between Tunisia and Libya in the spring of 2011. Filmmakers Ala Eddine Slim, Ismaël and Youssef Chebbi have created a video essay that captures the displacement caused during the Arab Spring and the modern day Babylon that is constructed to house the thousands seeking refuge in Tunisia from neighbouring countries. Abdellah Karroum's selection is both timely and curiously well suited to our outdoor location. With the film capturing the shifting demographic implications of the Arab Spring, our thoughts return to the current political situation and demographic displacement in Egypt and elsewhere - something that makes the films slow paced and poetic narrative all the more relevant.

Our second evening of films is selected by Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah Al-Turki and includes works by Manal Al Dowayan, Ziad Antar and Rania Stephan. This fantastic programme straddles both serious and light-hearted themes, from Manal Al Dowayan's recently completed compilation of vintage clips of belly dancing films The Legends (2013) to the three short works we are including by Ziad Antar. Not that these works aren't serious - Antar's Safe Sound (2006) captures the audible sounds of Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 2006 to haunting effect. The evening will round off with Rania Stephan's The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni, an elegy to a rich era of film production in Egypt through the work of revered star, Soad Hosni, who from the early 1960s into the 90s, embodied the modern Arab woman in all her complexity and paradoxes.

Our final evening of films is brought together by artist Ahmed Mater who has selected our main feature, The Mummy/The Night of Counting the Years (Al Momia)(1969) and contributes one of his own films Leaves Fall in All Seasons (2013) to the programme. Leaves Fall in All Seasons is a work almost entirely made up of mobile phone footage shot by immigrant workers on building sites in and around Makkah, Saudi Arabia, between 2008 and 2013. Unusually Mater is also a medical doctor and his Islamic traditional upbringing frames the issues of contemporary landscape that he investigates in his video photography and online social activism work. His practice is also contextualised in a short interview with Abdullah Al-Turki, which will also be screened. Following Mater's film we will all sit back to enjoy the Egyptian classic The Mummy/The Night of Counting the Years (Al Momia), which was recently restored by filmmaker Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation. Set in 1881, and based on a true story, the film follows two brothers from an Egyptian clan, and their involvement in the looting of a recently discovered tomb, subsequently selling the artefacts on the black market. The film is unique for its stylised edits and unusual camera angles capturing the unique archaeological locations and artefacts of ancient Egypt and this newly restored print will give the often overlooked feature the screening it deserves.

Cinema on the Steps is part of Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture and the ICA's ongoing off-site programme

Further Information: http://www.ica.org.uk/?lid=38641