Paradise Unplugged 

Arab Film Festival grapples with incendiary and topical themes.

Winner of the 2007 Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought — an honor granted to artists who are making a difference on a humanitarian level — Nouri Bouzid's Making Of isn't the first post-9/11-era film to take a suicide bomber as its moral compass. Yet it discusses the personal and seductive dimensions of fundamentalism with a degree of candor that's absent even from such acclaimed films as Hany Abu-Assad's Paradise Now. At several points in Making Of, the action of the movie stops so that the director and the starring actor, Lofti Abdelli (playing a Tunisian break dancer who falls prey to an extremist sect) can cross-examine their own film, and decide whether or not it's creating a stereotype about Islam and selling it to the Western World.

Making Of is the lead film at this year's Arab Film Festival, which also includes multiple documentaries, animated features like the 2004 Tunisian film Carthage Castaways, the romantic comedy Like the Others — about a man who uses Asian massage to overcome his pathological shyness around women — and many other works that grapple with incendiary and topical themes. Jilani Saadi's Tender Is the Wolf, which screens Saturday, October 27 at the California Theater in Berkeley, centers on four derelicts who rape a young woman. By exploring the complex motivations of each character, this film frames the rape not only as an extension of their psychology, but of their circumstances. Saadi thus eschews the stark contrasts of good and evil that dictate most Hollywood plotlines, presenting a world in which the line between heroes and villains is perilously thin. The festival runs October 18-28 with screenings October 24, 26, and 28 at the California Theater in Berkeley and October 23 (6 p.m.) and 25 (12 noon) at the College of Alameda. AFF.org

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