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Dubai Festival Diary 3: 'New Arab Films' Panel, 'Wadjda,' 'Detroit Unleaded,' 'Chaos Disorder'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood December 14, 2012 at 11:25AM

There are only two screening slots scheduled for today, both in the evening, so in the afternoon I attend one of the industry panels that are part of the buzzing Film Market. This one is entitled “New Arab Films: A Story of Success,” although after listening to a broad spectrum of views, it seems that the panel could also have been entitled: “As William Goldman famously said, Nobody knows anything.”
'Detroit Unleaded'
'Detroit Unleaded'

It seems that a number of them – not just Lebanese now living in Dubai, but Lebanese who have lived in Detroit, or have relatives living there now -- have managed to find their way to this screening, as they attest during testimony during the enthusiastic q-and-a afterwards. They laud the director, Rola Nashef, who spent nine years in her quest to make it, and her three main actors: EJ Assi, a Detroit native in his feature film debut as the guy with ambitions beyond operating his family’s gritty gas station/convenience store; Nada Shouyahib, fresh out of college in her first-ever role as the middle-class daughter also eager to escape working in her brother’s cellphone business; and Mike Bateyeh, playing EJ’s cousin and co-worker, the veteran of the group, another Detroit native who’s knocked around LA as a standup comic and actor with a couple dozen credits, including an arc on “Breaking Bad.”    

It’s not a flawless movie, but it has interesting and unexpected rhythms both in its dialogue and situations, and believable chemistry between the romantic leads. I’m not surprised when Nashef says her next film script, also set in the Lebanese-American community, revolves around a group of girlfriends: two of the best scenes in “Detroit American” involve the tight-knit group of Nada’s gal pals.

Segue from a interesting but conventional Hollywood-type film, however independently produced, to the world premiere of “Chaos, Disorder,” the debut feature film from a young Egyptian woman, Nadine Khan, who graduated from film school in Cairo, has worked as an AD and made short films. An isolated community, living among garbage is dependent on quixotic outside forces for food, water, and electricity, while a love triangle brews among the disaffected youth. You don’t have to be particularly sophisticated to see a political parable. It’s hard not to think of Samuel Beckett when you see people on top of garbage, and because of the enclosed setting and brisk 76-minute running time, I think that “Chaos, Disorder” could also be a satisfying play.

A guy asks me where the shuttle bus is, and he turns out to be a Tunisian film professor who has also just seen “Chaos, Disorder,” which he didn’t like – specifically because it was both a parable and theatrical. I tell him that I also found it theatrical, but that Samuel Beckett is very good company for it to be compared with.

What, I ask, have you seen that you liked?  “Moondog,” he says.  When I get back to my hotel room, I email Peter Scarlet : “How was Moondog?”  “I ankled it after an hour,” he replies, in Varietyese. Knowing that not everybody watches everything all the way through, I ask: “I’m assuming you wouldn’t recommend it?”  “Perhaps to curiosity-seekers with a strong masochistic streak…”  

That’s what makes horse races.

This article is related to: Dubai International Film Festival, Festivals

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.