"Slackistan," Big Upstairs Films, 2010

Abu Dhabi Film Festival: Slackistan Reviewed

You dont have to go as far as Abu Dhabi to wonder about what Juan Williams was saying when he spoke on Fox about his fear at seeing people in Islamic dress on airplanes. Had he seen too many movies?

At the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Muslims were dressed in everything from head-to-toe black robes that covered everything to tight dresses with necklines that would have been risqué in Las Vegas.

I am talking about the women, here, of course, although the dress of the men was just as varied.  Observing the Williams brouhaha from a distant Muslim country (and watching NPRs ham-handed stab at appearing to be decisive in dismissing an opinion journalist for expressing an opinion), I didnt get homesick.

Closing Night festivities by Farhad Berahman

photo of Closing Night festivities by Farhad Berahman. copyright Abu Dhabi Film Festival

I could recommend that Williams and all those who heard their feelings echoed in his comments might look at the ADFF website for films that reflect some of the realities of the Islamic world.

They could start with Slackistan. If you suspect that Hammad Khans debut feature takes its inspiration from Slacker, Richard Linklaters classic no-budget look at the lay-about life of Austin TX, youre right – except this Slacker tale is set in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital that were told is “the city that always sleeps” – and thats the first in a script of zinger lines. Theres not even a movie theater in the entire city, and our privileged aimless characters cant find Mean Streets in their video stores, where everything else that was ever filmed is pirated and available for sale. But why bother. For them, the streets arent all that mean, just boring.
Slackistan has a wry voice-over and some familiar plot turns as a rich kid gets indebted to young gangsters and young kids who speak perfect American mal-English fumble their way through relationships. The Taliban seem far away, although there are ample references to the countrys corrupt leaders, which might keep the film from showing in theaters there, or on television. Who cares? It will be pirated anyway.

Slackistan is a promising debut for Hammad Khan, who lives and works in London. Khan, who was in Abu Dhabi, stresses that there are plenty of others like him in a growing indie scene in Pakistan.

Youll be seeing Slackistan at US festivals once the word gets around. Its being represented for sale in the US by Matt Denter of Cinetic Media – a founder of South By Southwest in Austin. What goes around comes around.  Warning for Mr. Williams – the dress code for the films gala opening (when it opens) could be “Islamic garb”.
There are plenty of jokes shared among the longtime friends whose stories are told in the documentary Children of the Stones-Children of the Wall, but this poignant look at friends who have outgrown their active antagonism toward Israel is sad.

The German filmmaker Robert Krieg gives us his take on the Michael Apted franchise (7 Up, etc.) as he reconnects with 6 Arab boys from Bethlehem who defined themselves by throwing stones and whatever else was around at Israeli soldiers in the first Intifada. Theyre older now. They have children whose lives are defined by the wall that surrounds the West Bank and by the seemingly unstoppable increase in the construction of Israeli settlements all around them.  The wall is the most obvious reminder for those watching that these men are not permitted to work in Israel, so theyre dependent on the Palestinian economy, if you can call it that. One sells souvenirs to tourists, chasing them in ten different languages. Another works slaughtering chickens and cutting them all night.

Life looks miserable, but the friends have each other and their families, and theres a genuine warmth that Kriegs documentary conveys.

Theres an attachment to their land, too, yet not much hope  — the men approach forty with the feeling that nothing is likely to change as the Israeli settlements hem them in. They talk of leaving, if they could. Its near-impossible for any of them to get visas to travel anywhere. Theres no way out, literally.

This season has had a number of documentaries about Palestine and Palestinians. Precious Life at the Toronto International Film Festival witnessed an Israeli hospital save the life of a child from Gaza with serious birth defects, but his mother still expresses antipathy toward Israel to the Israeli writer/director of the film, Shlomi Eldar, who arranged for the boy to be treated. Tears of Gaza, also at TIFF, filmed the effects of bombings in 2008-9 on the lives of children who survived them. We also see plenty of dead bodies of children being lifted out of the ruins. Its hard to watch.

Children of the Stones – Children of the Wall focuses on everyday life among adults who had been behind the barricades – jokes, frustrations, family, work.  The West Bank looks a lot like a prison. Robert Krieg shows us how people who once rebelled adapt.

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