„Photography is truth. And cinema is truth twenty-four times a second.”
– Jean-Luc Godard
Al Arabi Al Hor, also known as ArabiHor, translates to “The Free Arab” and originally started as a co-production project with ARTE, a Franco-German TV channel to produce short documentaries for the European audience to follow and attempt to understand and analyze the unfolding events of the Arab Spring. Given the impossibility to comprehend the revolutionary wave still in motion spreading through the Arab World in its complexity through a TV-program, the founders – as Arab people and supporters of the revolution movement – couldn’t agree to such approach as it would inevitably result in simplifying, generalizing and objectifying the events and the aims, thoughts and people behind them. The founders imagined the ArabiHor project to become a real medium of the revolutions rather than a ready-made showbiz product, a TV-experience for westerners that they could use as material for dialogue or understanding.
This contradiction seemed irreconcilable and the parties decided to split – but it sheds light on the self-evident difference between how we value local and distant happenings. It is, in fact, really difficult – and I would say almost impossible – to grasp the meaning of events that are happening so far from us, even if we are aware of their significance. The discourse about these will always remain on a different level than that in case of local issues in which we are involved or have personal experience with. No matter how deep we dig into or how much information we collect on these distant events, as long as we don’t feel their effect on our own skin, we can’t help our self-deception of being in a safe distance, observing natural disasters, wars, and revolutions from our convenient bell jar.
With the support of their new sponsor, the Embassy of Norway in Lebanon, ArabiHor became a virtual space dedicated to the people, the free Arab people to have their voice heard and tell their own story of the revolution. Originally they aimed for collecting and presenting short documentaries that offer a brief glimpse into people’s everyday life that has been changed by the revolutions, in a negative or positive way. The protagonists come from different generations, classes and countries, representing different – sometimes contradicting – opinions about the ongoing changes. As the project developed, it became an interactive multimedia platform for people from all over the Arab World to participate in the revolution progress and bring the idea of democracy into practice by uploading their works, be it a video, sound recording, picture or written material, documentary or fiction.
The Palestinian short film A boy, a wall and a donkey by Hany Abu Assad or the short episodes showing the everyday struggles of Beejo and his family in Egypt – for example, the wife’s effort to prepare a decent Ramadan meal despite the unaffordably high prices, or a family discussion about headscarf – carry the air of the revolution as much as the more outspoken Leave! – which is, in my opinion the most powerful and emotionally touching piece of Lara Abu Saifan’s Wafaa-series – where we see a young Yemeni girl re-watching herself on video as she paints the words “slayers, leave!” with her martyr brother’s blood on the wall.
Exactly this diversity of the presented points of view, opinions and approaches makes you eager to explore the ArabiHor project further, and also, as most films are part of a series centered around the same protagonists, your natural curiosity keeps pushing you to find out more. There is a great chance you will find yourself hooked to the project, spending hours on the website watching these films that offer a refreshingly new, insider’s perspective and don’t want to explain or comment, yet they might bring you closer to the reality of the revolution than those analytic reports with experts.
As part of the screening program Mapping Creative Internet Activism in the Arab World curated by Charlotte Bank at Impakt Festival 2012: No More Westerns four works of the project will be showed, besides which you’ll have the chance to meet Mohammed Siam, director, editor and researcher at ArabiHor.
See you there.