Arab filmmakers rattle Toronto fest cage

Suleiman, Tamadon fix spotlight on Middle Eastern regimes

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TORONTO -- After the furor at the Toronto International Film Festival over its Israeli film spotlight, now it's the turn of Arab filmmakers to rattle the festival's cage.

Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, in Toronto to screen "The Time That Remains," urged the artist-led protest over TIFF's Tel Aviv sidebar to shift their attention and action to oppressive Middle Eastern regimes.

"There are juntas, they brainwash and are co-producers of the loss of Palestine," Suleiman said.

Iranian filmmaker Mehran Tamadon will do his best to shift that spotlight Thursday evening when his feature documentary "Bassidji," a portrait of the Iranian government's feared militiamen, bows at the AMC Theatre on Yonge Street.

Tamandon finished his feature documentary before the Iranian regime's crack troops brutally ended a reform movement in June after alleged vote rigging and fraud during a presidential election.

Because of that crackdown, Tamandon knows Toronto audiences will see his film in a new light as politicians in Tehran and Washington once again appear on a collision course.

My film is not about taking sides," Paris-based Tamadon cautioned. He aimed instead to show the Iranian government enforcers, whom he interviewed face-to-face, as articulate as they are brutal.

"What should scare us is to think these people (Bassidji) don't think and just act. The real danger is their manipulation of language to defend the indefensible," Tamadon said.

Also timed for TIFF, and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the United Nations in New York on Sept. 24, is an outdoor multimedia concert headlined by Toronto rock band Blurred Vision to support Iran's reform movement.

"Iran has become a big prison for 70 million people and this is our chance to show what's going on," said Toronto-based Soheil, who along with brother Sepher withholds his family name to protect relatives back in Iran.

The EMI Music act welcomed the shift away from the controversial Tel Aviv spotlight in Toronto by artists and activists.

"If filmmakers want to help the (Arab) region, they should help all sides," Sepher said.

He added the media focus in Toronto on the festival's Tel Aviv spotlight ignores realities elsewhere in the region.

"We all support Israel. But what does that mean? Do you support both Palestine and Israel as both are led by governments and institutions that feed off of the violence," Sepher argued.

The Toronto International Film Festival continues to Saturday, when juried prizes and the audience award winners will be announced.