Middle East Now: more than just films

Cinema, documentaries, art, music, food, meetings and cultural projects, Middle East Now Festival (MENF) returns to Florence from the 28th of September to the 3rd of October 2021 for it’s twelfth edition. The theme of this edition is (Re)-Aligning Perspectives, highlighting the need for readjustment after the immense impact of a global crisis that has affected everyone’s life. The MENF has to do with cinema, art and contemporary culture as tools for understanding the reality of the cultural, social and political issues of the Middle East.

For more info and the full program visit: https://middleastnow.it/

Good World Citizen talked to Sara Sayad Nik, 20 years old, an economics student who also works in organizing the Festival.

Q: Why did you chose to be a part of Festival’s organization? Tell us about your experience.

A: I started as a volunteer in the MENF in 2019. It was proposed to me by one my professors as a school project. It seemed like a good opportunity for me to get to know my Iranian roots, so I accepted. That first participation introduced me to a world that I was not aware of. Before that, my background made me very insecure. Of course I was proud of my Iranian heritage, but I saw it as a disadvantage, especially because I had been bullied a lot.

However, by participating in the Festival I realized that having two cultures is an advantage and that it is valuable feature. At the Festival I was not only accepted, but also appreciated. By speaking another language I could provide a useful contribution.

After this first edition as a volunteer, in September 2020 I was contacted by the staff and logistics manager of the Festival, who asked me to take over her post. Of course I accepted at once, and I became the new staff manager of the 11th edition of MENF. This year I joined another colleague in working together on the programming of the festival.

Q: How is this festival different from other film festivals?

A: This film festival is different because it has as the basic goal of conveying the message that the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are countries that produce culture and are not only the theater of war, conflict and humanitarian crises. The MENF gives voice to countries that would otherwise not be heard here in Italy.

Another difference with other festivals is that the MENF is not ethnocentric, it proposes different visions of different cultures. It is good to see all aspects of various cultures that are represented without prejudice.

Q: Political and social events certainly influence film production in the Middle East. In your opinion, how important is it for these events to be known in Italy?

A: It is important to bring such realities to Italy in order to demonstrate that despite everything, despite the difficulties, people in the MENA region are resilient and try to carry on with their lives. I have a positive attitude but not everyone does. Some films presented at the MENF are very raw and have difficult scenes that, I myself, find hard to watch. But I think that the senses here is not to display people suffering but instead to show how much they endure and how much they can do in spite of everything. This kind of event is essential in Italy because it is also bringing a new perspective and way of thinking, and in doing so it can destroy stereotypes and preconceptions.

Q: Who are the festival’s spectators? Do you think the Festival can represent an occasion for intercultural exchange between the various cultures of the MENA region and that of Italy? How?

A: The MENF spectators are very diverse. There are many loyal spectators who return every year and are fans of Middle Eastern history and culture who come every day to all the event. There are also language students and students of political science who find in the festival another perspective than that found books. There are also the cinema enthusiasts but also people who don’t know anything about the Middle East but they simply saw the poster and were curious.

The festival represents a very important moment of intercultural dialogue because it uses the cinema, therefore visual images, sounds, emotions to inform and raise awareness about certain aspects of a certain culture. This allows the festival to reach a wide audience of people. I think there is nothing more instantaneous, in conveying certain emotions, than a scene in which you hear a mother cry for her son.