Mahmovies! is back, and we’re excited. And if you don’t know what we’re talking about, it’s high time you did. Now in its third season, the last Mahmovies! outing, ‘Music For The Eyes’, showed a documentary about music every week for five weeks. There was the one about the orchestra that brought Jewish and Arab musicians together; the film showing Icelandic band Sigur Rós returning to their home country to play shows in strange places (tea rooms, a mountain); and the hilarious portrait of iconic metal band Metallica going through group therapy to become a better band.
The screenings, at thejamjar gallery in Al Quoz, are absolutely free and open to anyone. ‘Music For The Eyes’ proved immensely popular, with hundreds of film fans cramming into thejamjar each week to catch the screenings (when the bean bags ran out, folks were happy to stand at the back). So we’re expecting this next series, ‘Black And White Glory’, to be just as popular – as does its curator, the man behind the Mah, Mahmoud Kaabour. The award-winning filmmaker from Beirut, best known for his short documentary Being Osama, managed to squeeze Time Out in for a chat before rushing off to the dentist.
‘It’s always been about the movies, but something else started happening at “Music For The Eyes”,’ says Kaabour over an early-morning coffee at Jumeirah’s Lime Tree Café. ‘The screenings are becoming a public space. In the way that a park or a square would work in another city, Mahmovies! is now a place where people meet, loosen their ties and talk to one another.’ But does he have proof? ‘I know people who fell in love through Mahmovies!,’ he smiles. ‘I have a ton of friends that I met at the screenings, and now they come over for barbecues and stuff. Up to that point, the only place that brought people so close together in Dubai was Carrefour.’
The ‘Black And White Glory’ series celebrates achievements in black-and-white cinematography. Here, Kaabour tells us why it’s not to be missed.
Why did you choose black-and-white movies for this series?
I’ve noticed that [when choosing a movie] people look for a director’s name. What we’re trying to do here is train people’s eyes to look for other things. I’m hoping people will be introduced to the works of directors of photography, as opposed to film directors. At the beginning of each screening, I’ll say, ‘There’s a very special technique in this film – watch out for it.’ We thought black and white would be a great way to start because people tend to think of these movies as being old or romantic, and that’s not the case with the films we’re showing. There is no Casablanca, there is no Buster Keaton. Those are great cinematic achievements, but we’re trying to show different things.
So you’re aiming to change the way people perceive black-and-white films?
That has been a factor in my choice of films. All the films were made at least 30 years after the invention of colour, so they’re shooting in black and white because they’re hoping to achieve a certain effect. That in itself should prove interesting.
But they’re good stories too, right?
The stories range from straightforward narratives to more experimental pieces, but we’re not going to ask people to watch two hours’ worth of screenings where there’s no story!
‘Music For The Eyes’ was amazingly popular. Do you think there’s a big appetite for independent cinema in Dubai?
That’s what I thought up until last season. Now I think there’s a very, very big hunger that surpasses that, and that’s the hunger for public spaces. We need to be able to rub against each other’s shoulders once in a while. To me, watching cinema can be one of the most unifying experiences for people. You sit next to one another and watch a whole movie and there’s this feeling of having met and shared that experience without necessarily having to exchange names or phone numbers. And yet, when the same people find themselves again at Mahmovies!, they are likely to talk to one another.
So it’s about creating a casual, relaxed feel?
Yes, and let’s face it, not many places here offer that. Even art galleries, exhibition openings – the lights are blaring, everyone’s looking at everyone, it’s about each other rather than about art. Here, people get to be in the background for a change.
I hear you’re planning another ‘Music For The Eyes’ season. Is Mahmovies! a long-term project?
Totally. I can’t see why not. But I promise you, it hasn’t been easy – we always chip in out of our own pockets. We never show the film from DVD, we get clearances for all the films we show. You don’t want to know how much money we paid clearing rights for a film like La Jetée, which is internationally renowned. Sometimes you get compassionate distributors who tell you to show it for free, but that’s not been the case with the ‘Black And White Glory’ series. But we believe we need to keep this going. It’s the one thing we do all year without thinking of money.
Mahmoud Kaabour guides us through the movies showing in ‘Black And White Glory’.
Week 1: I Am Cuba
Dir Mikhail Kalatozov (1964), on Nov 2
‘This has four stories, all of which are about the suffering of certain people and how their suffering has lead to the revolution against Batista. It’s very well crafted [in terms of] telling the story visually. It’s my first choice because I feel it’s the kind of film that Dubai could make one day – to engage all our talents and nationalities and our buildings and streets, to make a big story that is just so Dubai. I Am Cuba is by far the most jazzy, flashy, exuberant black-and-white film ever made. It’s as colourful as it gets.’
Week 2: Last Year in Marienbad
Dir Alain Resnais (1961), on Nov 9
‘A famous French author invented an experimental way of writing books, where he has a character called A and a character called B. It’s very impersonal, yet the stories are very deep and cyclical and mysterious. That presented itself as a great starting point for Resnais to make films where the characters never have a name.’
Week 3: La Jetée
Dir Chris Marker (1962), on Nov 16
‘I am so excited that people are finally going to see this. It’s a film told entirely though black-and-white photos. It’s about Paris after a disaster has taken place and someone gets sent back in time to ask for help. It inspired Terry Gilliam to make Twelve Monkeys.’
Week 3: Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography
Dir Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, Stuart Samuels (1992), also on Nov 16
‘These are interviews with the greatest directors of photography in history, talking about the greatest things they’ve shot and seen. You see The Godfather, Marathon Man, Rosemary’s Baby… you see black and white and colour.’
Week 4: Salesman
Dir David and Albert Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin (1968), on Nov 23
‘This is one of my dearest choices. I’m a big Maysles brothers fan. The premise is fantastic: imagine chasing four Bible salesmen across the entire US. The film only shows you the encounters with people who do not have the money to buy, and the salesmen go on and on trying to sell them. For a city like Dubai, where sales is such a big thing, people are going to get a kick out
of watching this movie.’
Week 5: Europa
Dir Lars Von Trier (1991), on Nov 30
‘[With this movie] Von Trier would film something in black and white and project it onto a wall, then have his actors play in front of it and film them in colour. Then he has the rear image interacting with the foreground. The story happening in black and white is different to the story happening in colour. It’s an example to me of how, in this day and age, big-name directors can still choose to work in black and white to achieve certain effects.’