Rasha Salti was hired last year as Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) programmer for Middle Eastern and African cinema.
Many hold her respectfully responsible for the stronger number, and quality, of Arab films on the schedule this year.
There are 13 from Arab filmmakers, Canada and US Arab diaspora filmmakers as well as films by international filmmakers set in and about the Arab world.
Rasha has previous experience as a curator, writer and programmer for other festivals (New York’s CinemaEast, Abu Dhabi Film Festival).
We caught up with her during an incredibly busy time…
DFI: Are there more Arab films this year in the TIFF schedule?
Salti: Certainly. The number of Arab films has increased and it’s a fantastic sign. The festival is responding to this new trend of an emerging cinema that’s becoming more prolific. Generations of filmmakers are able to make films and put them out with a lot more ease.
DFI: Why do you think that is? Have headline-grabbing politics inspired more interest?
Salti: It’s just a region that is more prolific in production. It’s natural. We follow trends, we follow what’s going on in the world. Latin American cinema started to make its place in the film festivals regardless of the political situation there. It’s the same thing with the Middle East. The Middle East happens to be a region that’s often in the news, but that doesn’t really produce good cinema.
DFI: So you’re saying now Arab filmmakers are able to produce better cinema?
DFI: Why? Has funding increased? Is there more education?
Salti: It’s because of digital technologies. Films are a lot cheaper to make than before, a lot easier to make. You have an unprecedented mix of generations and gender (making films). There are interesting new sources of funding, but considering what the governments used to spend in the 60s and 70s, it’s not as significant or comparable. It’s just that there is a generation that has decided to fight for its voice.
DFI: There’s a number of films from Algeria this year…
Salti: It is the 50th anniversary of the independence of Algeria; there is a documentary (Fidaï) and a feature film (Zabana!) which celebrate the issue.
DFI: Which films do you expect will be picked up for distribution?
Salti: I suppose “The Attack” by Ziad Doueri and “When I Saw You” by Ann Marie Jacir. Being feature films that have picked up international sales companies, they will probably get distribution in North America. “Zabana!” by Saïd Ould-Khelifa, has a France based sales agent. I’m not sure how it will do in America, but I’m sure it will get a release in Europe and in the Arab world.
DFI: How do you see the future of Arab cinema?
Salti: It just gets better, sharper, more radical and less inhibited.