The Blue Caftan, Hanging Gardens and Ashkal were among the big winners of the seventh Critics Awards for Arab Films. The annual ceremony has been held on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival since 2015. It is organised by Mad Solutions in partnership with the IEFTA and the Arab Cinema Center.
Hanging Gardens won the award for best film. Directed by Iraqi filmmaker Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji, it tells the story of a 12-year-old boy in Baghdad who, while scavenging a landfill for metal and plastic he can sell with his brother, comes across a human-sized doll, presumably left behind by US soldiers.
The boy, Asaad, who names the doll Salwa, decides to keep it and care for it. He bathes the doll and tries to keep it from prying eyes – from both children his own age and fundamentalist groups.
Adam Bessa won the best actor prize for his performance in Harka. The French-Tunisian actor portrays a street vendor, who is driven into bitter isolation and hopelessness as he is sidelined by the Tunisian system. Bessa has been a film festival favourite for his performance, having earned prizes at Cannes Film Festival and the Red Sea Film Festival last year.
The best actress prize was awarded to Lubna Azabal for her performance in The Blue Caftan. The film was Morocco’s entry in the 2023 Oscars shortlist for the International Feature Film award. It tells the story of a couple who run a caftan store in the medina of Sale. Their lives are upended with the arrival of their handsome new apprentice.
The film was directed by Maryam Touzani who, along with her co-writer Nabil Ayouch, was awarded the best screenplay prize at the Critics Awards for Arab Films. The film’s cinematographer Virginie Surdej was also awarded the best cinematography prize for her role in the film.
Tunisian filmmaker Youssef Chebbi received the best director prize for Ashkal. The film follows an investigation around the death of a caretaker, whose burnt remains are found in the middle of a construction site in the gardens of Carthage – an area where new buildings are juxtaposed with abandoned sites and wastelands. Valentin Feron also received the best editing prize for his work in Ashkal.
Foragers by Palestinian filmmaker Jumana Manna won the award for best documentary. The film revolves around the practice of foraging for wild edible plants in Palestine and the effect that Israeli nature laws have had on the age-old custom.
The film, which moves between fiction, documentary and archival footage, was named the special mention winner of the Harrell Award for Best Documentary Feature at last year's Camden International Film Festival. Manna also won the Green Dox award at Dokufest International Documentary and Short Film Festival in August.
French-Tunisian composer Amine Bouhafa was awarded the prize for best music at the Critics Awards for Arab Films for his work on Under the Fig Tree. Directed by Erige Sehiri, the film follows a group of men and women who develop relationships with each other while working the summer harvest.
This year, the international jury panel, which encompassed 193 film critics from 72 countries, evaluated the nominated films using the Festival Scope digital platform – a partner of the Arab Cinema Centre.
The Centre has also launched an English-language Arab Cinema Guide, available on its website. The resource is a comprehensive cinematic guide that provides tools presented collectively for the first time, offering information on Arab cinema to filmmakers inside and outside the Arab world. It also aims to facilitate filmmakers' access to international markets and help film industry representatives easily identify Arab film productions.