OMAR: Facts Are Stranger Than Fiction

Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad succeeds again at telling an important story.

Mark Twain said that “truth is stranger than fiction” because “fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t” which makes the film Omar, the fictional account of three childhoods friends, even more devastating as this fiction is the plausible reality of those living today in occupied Palestine.

Palestinian Director Hany Abu-Assad’s film is a thriller and a love story. The movie twists and turns as quickly as the main character Omar runs through the narrow passageways of the Nablus medina to escape Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service. Amjad, one of the childhood friends, asks the others “Do you know how they catch monkeys in Africa?” By getting them addicted to sugar cubes. Amjad describes how they pour the sweetness into a hole just large enough for the monkey to stick his hand into but small enough he cannot pull out when the hunters descend. Trapped the monkey still clings to the cubes.

The sweetness of Omar’s love for his best friend Tarek’s sister is what keeps bringing him back to the hole eventually trapping him into the Mossad’s madness that turns friend against friend and lover against lover. There is no exit the characters can take for this story to end positively.

Poster for Israeli Apartheid Week with occupation wall and minaret in background

Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 and how you can help support the people of Palestine.

Last weekend as part of the Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 a group of poets gathered at Ryerson University in Toronto for Performances of Indigenous Resistance: Palestine to Turtle Island. What was witnessed in the recited words was the truth of oppression – that no matter its location the impact is echoed.

Writer Yasmine Haj:

“I do not want to appropriate resistance and neither do you. But stories, poetry, music, art, farming, dancing, singing, and laughter are beautiful because they baffle us with unanswered questions. Because they fumble with the idea of stability and fragility. Because they allow us to reconnect with each other and imagine a collective space of meeting. They help us see Haifa connected to Cairo and Beirut and help us see Turtle Island in its colourful past, deconstructing the grey buildings that occupy its present.”

Many must feel like the monkey trapped with his hand in the hole but perhaps a love story for land that unites a global movement for social justice may be the inspired sweetness to collectively dream a way out.

For more on Israeli Apartheid Week visit their website www.apartheidweek.org, Facebook Page and follow on twitter @ApartheidWeek & #ApartheidWeek.

Other groups and organizations working towards resolution for a free Palestine:

Independent Jewish Voices Canada

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid

Beit Zatoun

Bottle of olive oil in foreground with CN Tower and skyscrapers in background Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

You can purchase Zatoun Olive Oil (truly the best olive oil in my opinion!!!) produced by a collective in Palestine at Beit Zatoun’s Toronto location in Mirvish Village – 612 Markham St. (1 minute from Bathurst subway stop on Bloor line, Markham St. exit)

“Proceeds are used to directly benefit Palestinian farmers and children living in occupied Palestine and to create awareness for peace in Palestine…Zatoun helps to create a context based in ordinary everyday life to view and discuss the situation in Palestine-Israel.”

In Ottawa Omar will be screening at the Bytowne Cinema Ottawa this week during the following times:

Mon, Mar 17, 4:45pm
Mon, Mar 17, 6:55pm
Tue, Mar 18, 9:10pm
Wed, Mar 19, 7:00pm
Thu, Mar 20, 4:45pm

Visit Bytowne Cinema’s website for full details.

FYI – Boycott Sabra Hummus. More information on Huff Po article talking about Sabra’s CEO Ronen Zohar.

“The protesters make noise, but they make noise to themselves,” he said. “It doesn’t have any influence on our business.”

Let’s make him eat his own hummus words!

 

IDENTITY CRISIS: When Two (or more) Worlds Collide with Akram Khan & Basma Alsharif

When Worlds Collide How Do You Return Back to Home?

Last Friday I experienced Akram Khan’s DESH at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Akram is one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary dancers / choreographers and like so many people in the 21st Century he is attempting to perform a balancing act between two (or more) worlds. There is the England of his own biography peppered with the history of the Bangladesh his parents left when they came from Dhaka to Wimbledon where Akram was born.

Once caught mimicking Michael Jackson dance moves, Akram (who also credits being inspired by the moves of Bruce Lee, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin) was immediately put into Kathak classes – his parents attempt to keep him rhythmically attuned to the sub-continent rather than the beat of American pop culture.

Eventually though the mash-up masala that London was produced this phenomenon of a performer who brilliantly synthesizes Occident and Orient into the most moving experiences for his audiences. Akram has also worked with other Brits who have built their careers around the psychological space created by cultural hybridity – writer Hanif Kureishi (Sammie & Rosie Get Laid, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia), internationally renowned artist Sir Anish Kapoor, and musician-composer-producer Nitin Sawhney who has worked with musical ‘fusion-aries’ like Natacha Atlas, Cheb Mami, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and most recently produced the score for Canadian director Deepha Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – a poignant narrative on the agony and the ecstasy of hovering between many states of being.

“Contemporary dance can have more ambiguity which means it can also have many more stories”

DESH (which means homeland in Bangla) starts in a pre-Partition place then moves forward and backward through memories around the birth of modern day Bangladesh and the genesis of the dancer’s career in Great Britain.

When asked after his NAC performance if DESH is based on the biography of his and his father’s lives Akram replies “it was personal, but not so much to be about me but to be universal.” Akram and his team went to Bangladesh to gather stories they could link to his own and from that experience arose DESH. He went on to say that in contemporary dance there is more ambiguity in the delivery so the interpretation is able to hit closer to home for more people regardless of whether the audience has a historical connection to the story.

The miracle of multiplicity.

A day after viewing DESH I found myself at DOPPELGANGING: A Master Class held at Galerie SAW Gallery and facilitated by Kuwati-born Palestianian-American media artist Basma Alsharif. Basma’s Master Class was based on her struggles as an artist and human being to come to terms with her own shifting identity(s). She relates that when in America she would put on her American identity like a cloak. On the family’s yearly visits back to Palestine she would switch her psychological attire. She would flip flop back and forth with desire for the place she wasn’t physically in “living two lives separated from each other but existing at the same time.” She says she began to “perform” her identities “either defending an identity or denying it” and always trying to find a way to solidify all of herself(s).


The Story of Milk and Honey  قصة حليب و عسل

“I decided to explore the psychology of endless travel, isolation and escapism…I discovered a letter without an envelope or address”

The question she put to us –  is there a way to take this bifurcation of our beings and turn it into a position of strength?

I would argue that many already have.

At a time when we have a multiplicity of narratives these voices did not descend into dissonance, rather they have become a well articulated melody that many hear.

The ability of artists to translate the universality of experience is what helps us remember how to listen to each others words and respect our shared humanity.

We all understand a desire for home, for sovereignty of state, for peace of mind.

Cultural provocateurs, like Akram and Basma, offer us a road map to recover the treasure of deep empathy and a way back to “home”.