United Arab Emirates / USA, 2012, 104'
The Sheik and I
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist,” writes Salman Rushdie. Commissioned by The Middle Eastern Biennial in the United Arab Emirates to make a film on the topic of ‘art as a subversive act’ and faced with several tangible thematic constrains, such as the one not to poke fun at the Prophet Mohammed or at the Sheik of Sharja, the Biennial’s sponsor, filmmaker Caveh Zahedi decides to test what “subversive” means in a society that places limits on artistic expression. Narrated by Zahedi, the film follows his doomed attempts to engage with what his curators deemed off-limits, by traveling to Sharjah with his wife and toddler in tow and casting himself as a provocateur set to shoot paranoid phantasies based on American stereotypes about the Arab Countries. The result is a controversial film which has already sparked debate at the top levels of the international festival network, leading to a lengthy exchange of public messages triggered by Zahedi’s statement that he was ‘blacklisted’ by a major international film festival (Toronto IFF). Premiered at the prestigious SXSW Festival to mixed reactions, The Sheik and I continues to divide audiences around the world. Depending on where you stand, you may find it either an occasionally funny, occasionally uncomfortable ‘meta–mockumentary’ cum institutional critique, dealing in miscommunication and testing the political and social boundaries of acceptability, or a reckless, exploitative, blasphemous (add your own) product of a self-inflated ego insensitive to cultural difference. Maybe we should go the Indiewire way, who titled their review: "Immoral or Essential? Try Both."
15 March, 22:00, Cinema Corso
17 March, 20:00, Studioul Horia Bernea
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Warsaw Internationa Film Festival, Poland, 2012
Bergen International Film Festival, Norway, 2012