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Deep Arabian Nights

Observer Scene | Thursday, January 26, 2006

The DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts will host its first ever Arab Film Series from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3, celebrating contemporary Arab art and concluding with Simon Shaheen’s acclaimed musical performance on Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. in Leighton Concert Hall.

The series and concert will provide students, faculty and local residents with cinema and music not often readily available.

The films chosen for the series are highly acclaimed, demonstrating the accomplishments and diversity of Arab cinema. And Shaheen – who performs original fused jazz and classical, Latin American and Arab music with an ensemble – was nominated for 11 Grammy Awards for the critically acclaimed 2001 album, “Blue Flame.”

Together, these performances offer the first-ever showcase of contemporary Arab art at Notre Dame.

The Arab film series, organized by Browning Cinema manager Jon Vickers, contains films with themes linking the Arab world with the West. The series is in no way political, he said. In fact, the films were carefully selected so the series would not be politically charged or present any trace of a certain agenda.

“We’re presenters,” Vickers said.

The series offers the audience the ability to separate themselves from the current political struggle of the region and view the human face of Arab culture.

“Cairo Station,” a classic film from 1958, portrays a crippled newspaper dealer who falls in love with a beautiful but apathetic woman. The dealer becomes consumed by his passion, kidnaps the woman and faces the consequences. “Destiny,” the 1997 action adventure by the same director, addresses religious fundamentalism and free speech through the struggles of a 12th century Spanish-Arabian philosopher in Medieval Spain.

The selections for the film series were carefully chosen for their style, diversity and message. Arab cinema is often noted for its dramatic regional differences, and the series pays tribute to that. The films are unique and highly successful in their regions, although some have not been distributed at all in the United States.

“A Summer in La Goulette” portrays the struggles of Muslim, Jewish and Catholic fathers who are best friends until their daughters swear to lose their virginity to men of different religions. During this time, the Six Day War starts, bitterly dividing Jews and Arabs. “Ali Zoaua: Prince of the Streets,” featured in the Sundance Film Festival, depicts the bitter struggle for innocence under the rule of the Mafia, featuring a cast of untrained children from the streets of Casablanca.

Shifting to music, Shaheen is hailed as a champion world musician, but he also devotes much of his time to bridging the gap between the Western and Arab worlds through music and cultural awareness.

He teaches and performs at elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities throughout the United States in an effort to increase exposure and understanding of Arab culture. He attempts to inspire peace between these conflicting groups through an open-minded display of the accomplishments of Arab music. In 1994, he started the Arab Festival of Arts in New York City, an annual exhibition of contemporary Arab artists, while creating programs for the study of Arab music.

A brilliant performer, Shaheen is hugely popular on college campuses such as the University of Michigan, where he has put on multiple concerts to sold-out venues. This will be his debut at Notre Dame.

With the DPAC already offering so much international and foreign art, it is fitting for Notre Dame to devote a whole week now to the accomplishments of the Arab world.