Filmmakers Depict Women In The Muslim World ~ LA Times

From Los Angeles Times | By Deborah Vankin | March 22nd 2011

A Los Angeles screening samples contributions to an online film festival.
Alka Sadat directing "Half Value Life." {Women's Voices From the Muslim World}

Filmmakers Mostafa Heravi, Alka Sadat and Laila Hotait Salas may hail from three different countries — Iran, Afghanistan and Lebanon — and represent a cross-section of vastly divergent backgrounds. But they speak a common language: filmmaking.

All three recently traveled to Los Angeles for "Women's Voices From the Muslim World," a screening of 63 shorts from 21 countries, last week at the Los Angeles Film School. The three-day event, however, was just the beginning: Films will remain viewable on the Web and the festival's parent organization, the nonprofit Women's Voices Now, plans a roster of screenings, panel discussions and other events throughout 2011 both domestically and abroad.

The festival has been in the works for about a year but is playing out against the backdrop of revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, civil war in Libya and unrest across the Arab world, its theme of examining women's lives and rights in the Muslim world is especially timely. And, just as much of the recent uprising in the Middle East has been facilitated and powered by social media and the Internet, the festival is largely Web-based.

"I thought: How do we get the message out? Give voice back to the people? And I kept coming back to the Internet and movies. There is moderation, there is tolerance in the Muslim worlds, but it's being blocked by extremists," said Los Angeles gallery owner Leslie Sacks, who founded Women's Voices Now just over a year ago and is its chairman.

More than 200 submissions were uploaded to the festival website from 40 countries, including Tunisia, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S. and Iran. The final 98 films that make up the online festival are being rated and commented on by viewers from all over the world. And users can post new videos and photos to add to the mix. "We're using social media to spread the message even further," said the organization's executive director, Catinca Tabacaru. "We're supporting a cultural movement and have created an artistic exchange." [...]

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