Returning with a drive-in, AIFF debuts with Gaza Mon Amour

(Photos: Amman International Film Festival website)
AMMAN — A dust-red full moon turned to gold as it rose over a previously abandoned lot behind Abdali Boulevard.اضافة اعلان

The yellow reflective vests of ushers floated in the dark like deep sea fish, glowing in the headlights.

A coil of Lexus’s and Lincolns filed into the Amman International Film Festival drive-in theater to watch a film about Gaza. Fittingly, I could hear a drone buzzing over the area as a videographer was documenting the whole affair from above.

At one point, the projector in the drive-in’s third theater broke down and yellow reflective vests swarmed to meet the challenge of herding the convoy of festival goers from one side of the parking lot to the other. Apart from this, the debut went smoothly. 

Drive-in theaters have gone from the festival’s back-up plan to its staple. They do have a certain appeal. The sound of car tires rolling over parking lot gravel paired with buttery popcorn smells makes for a distinct experience for the senses. 

(Photos: Amman International Film Festival website)

The format has become an international go-to in the past year. Nada Doumani, the festival’s director, thinks the set-up is here to stay. I’m not as sure. But then again, it’s hard to get anything done in Amman without involving a car somehow.

Areeb Zuaiter, the festival’s head of programming added that, with the increased reliance on streaming services to make debuts, there was care taken to make room for both digital and physical distribution, “especially because we’ve been living the past year, or year and a half watching films remotely.”

“It’s been interesting enough to see how distributors have been dealing with this hybrid form, semi-hybrid form, that we’ve been creating for our festival this year.

The majority of our screenings are happening either in the cinema theater or in the drive-in and many of our films will be streaming in an online platform called Istikana,” she said.

“The preference has been so far for the films to screen physically for people. Distributors understand why we would need to stream digitally but then of course they’re putting their conditions and some sort of limitations.”
The regulations have varied between the different platforms as well.

Compromises have been made for a festival that still has one foot in pandemic regulations. “We found out recently that unvaccinated filmmakers cannot come in (to TAJ Cinemas) to present their Q and A’s. One of the options was to cancel the filmmakers from coming, but we said no. We will find ways to serve these filmmakers, to honor their effort.” 

Zuaiter lists the festival’s “Film Hub,” located in Abdali Boulevard, as a backup location for filmmakers barred from TAJ Cinemas. 

Gaza Mon Amour was the selection for the festival’s first evening screening.

The selection was not coincidental, according to Kuaiter, “With all the news that’s been happening in Gaza, especially at the beginning of this summer, it was important for us show a story coming out of Gaza.”

(Photos: Amman International Film Festival website)

In an answer previously given to Jordan News regarding the AIFF’s film selection, HRH Princess Rym Ali said, "It has been painful for all of us in Jordan to witness the brutalities committed across the border against the Palestinians, who are our closest neighbors in so many ways, and to see the bloodshed on TV.”

“That said,” she added. “The AIFF is a cultural festival, and it is not our role to make political statements, no matter how unfair or frustrating the situation is.”

Nonetheless, Gaza Mon Amour screened on the festival’s opening night. The reactions, at least speaking for myself, were largely positive.

Dima Tahboub, previous member of Parliament and Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, was parked right behind me, so I crawled out of the car as the credits rolled and asked her about her thoughts. Her takeaways were not as positive as my own.

She felt the film glossed over the more important aspects of that challenges Gazans face.

“It depends on how honest the presentation is, even if its dramatic, you can still be honest about how the lives of people, at least focus on the problems and the suffering, present it in a humane light, to present them as people, let’s say, striving for life. So, they still get married, they still fall in love. This side story of the clash between people loving and living their normal life was a little bit exaggerated,” said Tahboub.

Dania Zabalawi, who watched the film in the row ahead, came away with the opposite opinion. “I really enjoyed the movie, I felt that it revealed Gazan people as people not as a martyr.

For the first time, well not the first time, but almost I felt that I could see a Gazan person not being killed. They’re not being portrayed as victims being bombed.”

She added that she did feel that the film presented the issues of the area honestly, “but it wasn’t the center of all the events.

Everything else, all of the content that we’re watching on Gazan’s, all revolves around the war and the barricade. This was a story that was different.”
Tahboub said she has not reviewed the rest of the film slate for the festival, that she came specifically to the first night debut. She’s not sure if she’ll be coming back for more films this week. 

Zabalawi is certain she will.

The luxury sedans and SUVs filed out of the lot as the credits rolled, and many are returning later in the week. My neck was hurting as I was watching from the backseat. I either had to sit forward, wedging my head on the headrest in front of me, or slump down until I had chins. Drive-ins are a front seat experience — it’s a noteworthy shortcoming of the format. 

(Photos: Amman International Film Festival website)

I’ll be heading to TAJ Cinemas more as the week goes on, if you enjoy air conditioning at no expense to your car battery, I’d recommend the same.

Opinions about the location of a theater can vary as much as the opinions on the film itself. That’s the whole gist of this year’s festival, it seems, so do as you like.

The AIFF will carry on in car, online, and theater-based formats for the next week. Be sure to check out the events and schedule here. 

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