It was a slow start for films from the Mena region when the Toronto International Film Festival announced its initial slate of movies for this year's event last month. As the Thursday, September 5 opening night draws closer, and more films are added to the line-up, however, we are beginning to see a wider selection of films from the Middle East emerging in the programme. Here are the regional films that have now been confirmed for screening in Toronto next month.
'1982' by Oualid Mouaness
US-based Oualid Mouaness grew up between Lebanon and Liberia. As a producer, he has worked on music videos for stars including David Bowie, Pink and Drake, and has directed seven previous short films. 1982, his first feature which will world premiere at the festival, takes place during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon at a private school on the outskirts of Beirut and stars Oscar-nominated director Nadine Labaki. Here, 11-year-old Wissam tries to tell a classmate about his crush on her.
'Ibrahim: A Fate to Define' by Lina Al Abed
In this provocative and personal documentary, Jordanian director Al Abed searches for traces of her missing father: a seemingly ordinary Palestinian family man who was actually a secret member of a militant splinter faction and vanished when she was just a child, leaving behind his wife with five children.
'Certified Mail' by Hisham Saqr
Egyptian director Saqr has previously worked extensively as an editor, including on the 2010 award-winner Microphone. His debut feature follows a single mother struggling with parenthood, an imprisoned husband, and her own mental health.
'It Must Be Heaven' by Elia Suleiman
The Palestinian director's satirical film was awarded the Jury Special Mention award at the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film, which stars Suleiman, follows him as he goes from Paris to New York alongside co-star Ali Suliman (Homeland, Lone Survivor) in a semi-autobiographical tale of a Palestinian man seeking a new homeland, only to find similarities with his homeland wherever he goes. Suleiman's film also picked up the Fipresci Critics' Award.
'My English Cousin' by Karim Sayad
Of Sheep and Men director Sayad brings his second feature documentary to Tiff this year. The film follows Sayad's cousin, Fahed, who left Algeria for England in 2001 and, now, is contemplating returning to his home country.
'Noura’s Dream', Hinde Boujemaa
Tunisian director Boujemaa brings Noura's Dream to the festival's global cinema-focused Discovery section, where she is one of the 54 per cent of female directors represented this year. With her abusive husband in jail and a coveted divorce pending, hardworking Noura can almost grasp a happy, new life with lover Lassaad – but when the best-laid plans are upended, Noura must tap her unshakable will to fulfil her dream.
'Paris Stalingrad' by Hind Meddeb
Documentarian and former France 24 journalist, Meddeb, takes her camera through the streets of the French capital’s Stalingrad district and meets the refugees struggling to make a home for themselves there, it is an eye-opening exploration of the perils and perseverance that shape the migrant experience.
'The Cave' by Feras Fayyad
Feras Fayyad's last film, the Oscar-nominated Last Men in Aleppo, picked up more than 30 awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. His latest, which will open Tiff's documentary section this year, sees him return to his native, war-torn Syrian home to follow a dedicated team of female doctors tirelessly treating casualties in an underground hospital, while battling systemic sexism.
The Cave has already been picked up by NatGeo in the US for a theatrical and TV release, and is already being hotly tipped for an Oscar nod.
'143 Sahara Street' by Hassen Ferhani
The film, which is screening at the Locarno Film Festival this week, marks a fiction feature debut for Algerian director Ferhani, who is previously best known for documentaries. It tells the story of Malika who lives alone in the middle of the desert and where she runs a small restaurant serving two dishes, omelette or tomato omelette, to those who pass through like fleeting apparitions. Malika has gathered countless stories along the way, and they are now as much a part of her as she is of them.
'Adam' by Maryam Touzani
Moroccan director Maryam Touzani's Adam played in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival this year. The film tells the story of a friendship between an unwed pregnant hairdresser and a widowed mother. In a previous interview with The National, the first time feature director said that the story of the film is based on a true family incident where Touzani's mother took in a pregnant woman who stayed with Touzani's family until she gave birth. "The whole experience moved me very deeply," she said.
'This is Not a Movie' by Yung Chang
Not technically a film from the region, but definitely one of interest to viewers here, Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang chronicles the ground-breaking reporting of legendary foreign correspondent and author Robert Fisk, who spent much of his career reporting from the Middle East. The prolific Chang is also currently in development with his debut fiction feature, Eggplant.