Dubai doc lineup finds hope amid conflict

15 films compete for festival's Muhr Award

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DUBAI -- Stories from war-torn countries feature heavily in the lineup of 15 documentaries competing in the third annual Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema.

Using personal stories to illustrate the trials of war is a common approach among this year's contenders, which includes three titles from Iraq and films from Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine.

Maysoon Pachachi's "Open Shutters Iraq" uses an Iraqi women's project to create photo diaries of their lives to show the impact of war on the Iraqi people. The life of a young girl in a village, which doubles as a dump, is the subject of Iraqi director Engi Wassef's "Marina of the Zabbaleen." And Kasmim Abid's "Life After the Fall" puts an eccentric spin on the chaos that descended on Baghdad in 2003 through his focus on an exuberant local family.

"China Is Still Far" from Algerian director Malek Bensmail relies on stories from a small village to reflect the wider Algerian struggle of defining a future and deal with the legacies. Meanwhile, "Our Forbidden Places" is journalist Leila Kilani's documentary on her three-year investigation into the lives of families dealing with Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission for state-sponsored disappearances.

A group of journalists trying to start a newspaper provides a window into the destruction wrought by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 in Samir Abdallah's "After the War," while first-time Lebanese director Simon El Habre's "One Man Village" shows the marks of 15 years of Civil War on Lebanon through the story of his uncle -- the last man left standing in his village.

Hanna Musleh's "Memory Of the Cactus: A Story of Three Palestinian Villages" is the only Palestinian documentary competing in this section. The film is an account of three Palestinian villages razed in 1967 to make a park for Israelis.

"The Muhr Documentaries let viewers feel the pulse of the Arab world," DIFF's Arab program consultant Erfan Rashid said. "The films offer hard-hitting commentary on pressing issues. For topical cinema, these films cannot be beat."

The Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema offers prizes for feature films and shorts as well as documentaries.