Tense, tender view of Mideast conflict at Toronto film fest

TORONTO, Nadege Puljak- Films about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which frequently cast a harsh spotlight on life in the Middle East, reflect a poignant and even hopeful tone at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Past years at the festival, the most prestigious in the Americas, have often featured hopelessly grim depictions of the long-standing conflict.

Tense, tender view of Mideast conflict at Toronto film fest
Among the movies departing from that view this year is the documentary "State 194." The film by director Dan Setton gained unprecedented intimate access to the highest echelons of Palestinian leadership on a quest for UN recognition of an independent state.
The filmmaker followed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his colleagues over two years as they worked to change course, after decades of bloody conflict and failed diplomacy.
Ironically, Fayyad's tactics are similar to those Israel employed in the late 1940s to achieve nationhood, which came at the expense of displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Although the Palestinians' statehood dream remains unfulfilled, the movie is filled with hope and touching moments, such as the meeting of two fathers -- an Israeli and a Palestinian -- grieving for their sons who died in the conflict.
The two men form a close friendship after a chance meeting through an association that promotes peace, and speak jointly at universities touting a message of harmonious coexistence to their two peoples.
Israeli director Michael Mayer's "Out in the Dark" ("Alata" in Hebrew) hits a similar note.
It is a love story between a Palestinian graduate student named Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) and an Israeli lawyer, Roy (Michael Aloni).
Torn between his homeland, which would renounce him for his homosexuality, and Israel, which repudiates him for his nationality, Nimr finds a safe haven in his relationship with Roy.
When his student visa is revoked, the pair work feverishly to keep Nimr from being deported from Israel.
Adding further tension to their relationship is Nimr's conservative family and his brother's political activism, which turns increasingly violent.
Imbued with political overtones, the deeply-felt love story asks whether it is possible to keep one's personal life separate from the struggles of one's people.
In a third film, Eran Riklis' buddy movie "Zaytoun" ("Olive" in Arabic), a downed Israeli fighter pilot strikes a bargain with a gun-wielding boy in a Lebanese refugee camp.
The youth, Fahed (Abdallah El Akal), agrees to assist the captured soldier, Yoni (Stephen Dorff), escape, if in exchange Yoni helps him flee across the border to the Galilee to replant a small potted olive tree.
The sapling, which had been snatched when his family fled their ancestral lands, remained the boy's only inheritance from his father.
All three films, which show both tense and tender aspects of life in the Middle East, contrast sharply with the low-budget US-produced movie at the center of a global firestorm.
In the film "Innocence of Muslims," which has been roundly condemned by political and religious leaders around the world, actors with strong American accents portray Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent.
The movie, to the shock and outrage of the Islamic world, blasphemes the Prophet Mohammed by showing him sleeping with women, talking about killing children and referring to a donkey as "the first Muslim animal."
On Tuesday, a mob attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, killing the US ambassador to Libya and three other US officials. In the Egyptian capital, Cairo, protesters stormed the US embassy and tore down the American flag, replacing it with a black Islamic flag.
Demonstrators Thursday also briefly stormed the US embassy compound in Yemen.

Friday, September 14th 2012
Nadege Puljak

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