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1001 Arabian Nights ... of Movies 

Nov. 26-Dec. 5

Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net

Individual tickets $5-$9, festival passes $50-$70

click to enlarge In Pearls on the Ocean Floor, director Robert Adanto interviews Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, who presented work in New Orleans during the international art biennial Prospect.1.
  • In Pearls on the Ocean Floor, director Robert Adanto interviews Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, who presented work in New Orleans during the international art biennial Prospect.1.

While Rene Broussard had no problem finding new and award winning films from around the globe to fill the 55 slots in Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center's fourth annual New Orleans Middle East Film Festival, there are some aspects that make the festival a challenge to promote.

  "There are two words that guarantee that no one will come see a film," Broussard says. "AIDS and Iraq. Aside from The Hurt Locker, nothing keeps people away from a theater more than the word Iraq."

  But Broussard has never shied away from a controversial topic and his film series and festivals have often attempted to fill in the massive deficits of exposure to some cultures and areas of the world. In the wake of President George Bush's coining of the term "Axis of Evil," Zeitgeist ran a series of films about the nations of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, most of them not about politics but aspects of art, culture and daily life in those nations.

  In creating the New Orleans Middle East Film Festival in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, he had a more direct idea about its relevance to New Orleans.

  "There were a lot of parallels with the Palestinians and what we were facing with the right of return, environmental and water rights and land grabs, whether it's housing projects or getting rid of villages," Broussard says.

  The festival opens this week with the U.S. premiere of the Turkish film Dark Cloud (8 p.m. Friday), an Islamic art show and a dance performance by an artist in residence at the Central City Artist Project. Programming highlights many artistic links to New Orleans. For example, the film Pearls on the Ocean Floor, about Iranian female artists, is by director Robert Adanto, who visited Zeitgeist earlier this year while in town shooting another film. It features Shirin Neshat, one of the artists whose work was included in the 2008 international art biennial Prospect.1.

  Dark Cloud is a Turkish tragicomedy set in Istanbul that Broussard discovered recently at the Toronto International Film Festival. Visiting Australian filmmaker Nicholas Rowe brings The Secret World, a reworking of Lord of the Flies in which youngsters in the West Bank city of Ramallah find themselves in a world without adults, and thus ties to politics and history, and explore how they will co-exist. There also are documentary films, including photographer Larry Towell's Indecisive Moments about his work crafting portraits of people living in the Occupied Territories. Film subjects range from the pro-democracy movement in Iran to the sounds of pop and rock music in Sounds of Beirut. There also are many features and short films from countries stretching from Afghanistan to Morocco.

  Other events and appearances include the opening of an exhibit of work by international and American Muslim artists curated by Egyptian artist Haitham Eid. Dancer/choreographer Leyya Tawil of San Francisco's Dance Elixir is an artist in residence at the Central City Artist Project. She will perform with local musician Dave Easley.

For a full schedule of films and events, visit www.zeitgeistinc.net.

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