Syrian film festival features American films

Festival spokeswoman: "Of course [Israeli participation] would not be possible."

syrian film festiv298 88 (photo credit:
syrian film festiv298 88
(photo credit:
The US may be placing embargoes on Syrian products, but the Syrians certainly are not reciprocating. At a time when the US is threatening the Syrian government, the 14th Damascus Film Festival has filled its screens with Hollywood films. Out of over 400 films, almost 100 are American or US coproductions. However, while films from Brazil to Japan are participating in the event, with judges from all over the world, no Israeli film is participating, said Ghaghda Mardin, spokeswoman for the festival. "Of course [Israeli participation] would not be possible," Mardin told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from the festival press office at the Shams Hotel in Damascus. "I am not the address for such questions." Syrian President Bashar Assad is the festival's patron and this year's festival honors Syrian film director Mustafa Akkad, who, along with his daughter Rima, was killed in the terror bombings in Amman two weeks ago. Akkad was famous for his thriller series Halloween and his controversial epic The Message, in which Anthony Quinn played an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. The fact that nearly one fourth of the films at the festival are US films is all the more surprising because the Syrian film festival, which is run by the Syrian National Film Organization, did not screen any US films until the 12th film festival in 2001. That year the Syrian festival screened around 20 US films, both major studio and independent films. Syria is a country ruled by a Ba'athist pan-Arab ideology, which opposes globalization and attempts to preserve its Arab identity despite the increasing spread of American clothes, fast-food chains, pop music, and films around the world. In an article on in 2001, Mark Andrew Schapiro, cultural affairs officer at the American Cultural Center in Damascus, said that the US had long wanted to participate and the recent participation was mainly because of the interest expressed by Syrian Film Organization director-general Muhammad al-Ahmad. Schapiro also said that he was "extremely optimistic about the future" of cultural cooperation between the US and Syria. The screening of so many US films may signal a Syrian desire to positively engage the US. The US films are being screened at the festival's behest and one US film is also entered in the long feature film competition. The popular indie film Sideways, by director Alexander Payne, is running against 12 other films, including six Syrian films. The festival opened last Sunday in the Syrian capital and closes Sunday when the competition winners will be announced. Results will be posted on the Web site