Amman International Film Festival reveals winners of Black Iris Awards

Algerian period drama The Last Queen and Iraqi film Hanging Gardens were among those recognised

Lebanese actress Marilyn Naaman was awarded for her lead role in Mother Valley. AFP Photo
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Films from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt were among the top winners of this year’s Amman International Film Festival.

The Black Iris Awards ceremony was held on Tuesday at the Royal Film Commission in Amman. The event marked the conclusion of the fourth run of the festival. This year, the festival screened 56 films from 19 countries, including feature narratives, documentaries and short works. The films all marked their Jordanian premiere, with some making their worldwide or regional debut.

Hafreiat by Spanish filmmaker Alex Sarda was the winner of the Black Iris Audience Award for best foreign film. The documentary revolves around a Spanish archeological mission in northern Jordan where local workers excavate the land, working long hours for minute wages. At the centre of the story is Abo Dya, a Palestinian-Jordanian, working tirelessly to provide for his family, hoping to better their lives despite the criminal record that undermines his ambitions.

The Palestinian film Lyd, directed by Rami Younis and Sarah Ema Friedland, was named winner of two awards, including the Jury Award for best Arab feature documentary and the Fipresci Award, held in conjunction with the International Federation of Film Critics.

The film puts a spotlight on Lyd. A city with a 5,000-year history, Lyd was once a Palestinian capital and in the early 20th century was a thriving metropolis. Lyd highlights this rich history while also highlighting the bloodier aspects of its past, namely the massacres and expulsion of Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1948, after which the state of Israel was created and the city became known as Lod.

The documentary interviews survivors of the Nakba, Palestinians living in Lyd, as well as those in exile. The film juxtaposes the real-life footage with animation that treads into sci-fi territory, imagining what Lyd could have been like if not for the bloody events of the Nakba.

The Jury Award for Arab short film was given to two films – Hamza: A Ghost Chasing Me by Palestinian director Ward Kayyal and Trinou by Tunisian filmmaker Nejib Kthiri. The Black Iris for best Arab short, meanwhile, was granted to My Girlfriend by Egyptian filmmaker Kawthar Younis.

The Special Mention prize for first-time documentary editor was awarded to Zakaria Jaber, director and editor of Anxious in Beirut. The documentary explores the trauma endured by denizens of the Lebanese capital in a film that aims to find a semblance of coherence within the tumultuous effects that have gripped Beirut.

Fragments from Heaven by Moroccan filmmaker Adnane Baraka was named winner of the Black Iris Award for best Arab feature documentary. The film follows a group of Amazigh nomads in Morocco as they search for bits of a Martian meteorite that landed in the desert in 2013, hoping it would better their lives.

The Special Mention prize for first-time lead actor/actress was awarded to two talents. Lebanese actress Marilyn Naaman was awarded for her lead role in Mother Valley. The film, set in the Lebanese mountains in the mid-20th century, follows a young wife as she faces the pressures of patriarchal society.

Egyptian actress Rana Khattab was also awarded for her role in the film Rat Hole. The feature, directed by Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed El Samman, follows a telemarketer working for a non-profit organisation trying to convince people to donate to various causes. The film pulls the curtain on the darker side of the Egyptian non-governmental organisations that scam people on the pretence of charity donations.

The Special Mention prize for first-time scriptwriter was awarded to Algerian filmmaker Adila Bendimerad, the director of the period drama The Last Queen. Bendimerad wrote the script for the acclaimed film with Algerian director Damien Ounouri.

The Iraqi film Hanging Gardens won the Jury Award for Arab feature narrative. Directed by Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji, the film revolves around a 12-year-old boy who scavenges a landfill for sellable metal and plastic. He comes across a human-size doll, presumably brought and left behind by US soldiers. The boy names the doll Salwa and decides to keep and care for it; bathing it and trying to keep it from prying eyes. Soon, however, his secret is revealed, and he is in the crossfire of those who want to take Salwa for themselves, those who seek to commercialise from it, as well as those who want to obliterate it.

Finally, the Black Iris prize for best Arab feature was awarded to Ashkal. Directed by Youssef Chebbi, the crime thriller is set in Tunis and follows two police officers as they try to unravel the mystery behind a series of self-immolation cases.

Updated: August 24, 2023, 4:28 AM