Mario Rizzi, born 1962, is an Italian artist and filmmaker living in Berlin. His works have been shown in art institutions and film festivals such as the Ankara Film Festival in 2015 and 2016, the Berlin Film Festival in 2008 and 2013, and the Dubai Film Festival in 2013. Rizzi deals with broad societal phenomena through the collective memories and individual stories of social outsiders, often forgotten or untold. His films are humane portrayals of people who are left outside of the Western gaze. For twenty years, Rizzi has portrayed the Islamic world and its transformation. His films have addressed the political movements that emerged in the Middle East and North Africa in 2010. Over the past fifteen years, he has lived in Turkey for long periods, closely following its social change. His trilogy BAYT (2013 – 2019) – enabled by the Production Program Award of Sharjah Art Foundation – has been shown at the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, Italy, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Netherlands, the Helsinki Art Museum and SALT Istanbul.
Al Intithar (The Waiting)
Video courtesy Mario Rizzi & Sharjah Art Foundation
Al Intithar is the first film of the trilogy BAYT (HOUSE), which won the Sharjah Art Foundation Production Grant 2012. The concept of BAYT is inspired by Anthony Shadid’s (1968 – 2012) memoirs House of Stone, where he writes that “bayt translates literally as house, but its connotations resonate beyond rooms and walls, summoning longings gathered about family and home. In the Middle East, bayt is sacred. Empires fall. Nations topple. Borders may shift. Old loyalties may dissolve or, without warning, be altered. Home, whether it be structure or familiar ground, is finally the identity that does not fade.”
In Al Intithar the notion of home has become a sensitive matter in the life of the protagonists, as they had to leave their own. Home is no longer a rooted existence or a solid place for the female protagonist, Ekhlas Alhlwani, but instead becomes a tent, having been forced to flee Syria to Zaatari, the refugee camp in the Jordanian desert. The film, which presents itself as an excerpt, follows her life throughout a period of seven weeks, translating the tragic macrocosm of the Syrian war to the intimate microcosm of a relentless woman and her three children.
Syrians, Camps, and a New Cosmopolis
Courtesy Mario Rizzi & Sharjah Art Foundation
KAUTHER is the second film of the trilogy BAYT (HOUSE), focusing on the emergence of a new civil consciousness in the Arab world, and reflecting on the shifting narratives of uprising and the problematics of representation in this critical historical moment. While focusing on the poetic intimacy of the house, BAYT chooses a personal and privileged viewpoint: the role of the woman in the family and in the changing Islamic society. In fact, in contrast to Western biased narratives, women have been at the forefront of the region’s revolutions and the most active organizers and leaders, both on and offline, since the early days of the Arab Spring. The trilogy keeps a distance from the strictly political aspects of the upheavals, opting for the generally disregarded impact on private lives and human relations.
The protagonist of the film is Kauther Ayari, the first activist to give a passionate and inspired voice to Tunis rioters, on o8 January 8, 2011, precariously speaking from a window of the Trade Union’s central building. She incited her comrades to stand up for freedom, social justice and democratic change. Kauther’s personality is revealed through a long monologue, given directly to the camera, in a bare room, over the course of a few days. With absolute openness and unconcealed intimacy, Kauther tells about herself, her youth, her university years and her social and political engagement in solidarity with her husband. She addresses the build-up of 2011 and the conditions of being a woman in present-day Arab society. The same brave woman that courageously spoke out when nobody would have ever imagined that Ben Ali would resign, is now putting the needs of her family before anything else. Though the mother of four children, the flame of her civil consciousness and of her sincere idealism is undiminished.
Her recounting of the revolutionary spirit has the potential to open up an articulate, fresh portrait of Tunisian character and family structure. Sadness and powerlessness permeate Kauther’s words, as she disappointingly confesses the people’s growing ambivalence for the revolution and its main defenders. She is resigned to return to her old unsettled life with its worries and uncertainties. The narratives of euphoria and utopia are blighted by this overwhelming reality of betrayal, reducing her self- confidence into mere reveries.
The piece was conceived as both a film piece and a sound piece: the noise from the streets of Kauther’s poor neighborhood, the cries of her children, a love song crooned while cleaning and tidying, resonate with her words to underline her still unsettled life.
The Little Lantern
Documentary, colour, sound, 61′ (Arabic, subtitles in English)
Leading cast: Anni Høver Kanafani
Director, photography, film editing: Mario Rizzi
Screenplay: Mario Rizzi, partially adapted from The Little Lantern by Ghassan Kanafani
Producers: Mario Rizzi & Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea, Luigi Pecci, Prato, IT
Sound editing: Francesca Genevois
Mix: Paolo Segat
Colour grading: Andrea Maguolo
Italian Council Production Award 2018 by the Italian Ministry of Culture
The Little Lantern tells the story of Anni Høver Kanafani, a 85-year-old Danish woman, who moved to Lebanon in the 1960s for the love of the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. Following the death of her husband, Anni Kanafani pursued his dream of justice and integration, continuing to live and work in Palestinian camps, creating kindergartens dedicated to education and childcare. The film is titled after a fairytale Ghassan Kanafani had written for his niece Lamis, a metaphorical narration of the development of a bottom-up democracy, envisioning a Palestinian spring that will break the barriers of refugee camps and overcome indifference through non-violence, dialogue, and culture. The narrative frame of the film consists of a laboratory, conceived and coordinated by the film director, in the kindergarten created by Anni Kanafani in the Burj el Barajneh refugee camp, which ended with the staging of the theatrical adaptation of the Ghassan Kanafani’s fairytale – an adaptation by the film director himself – in two theaters in Beirut. The documentary style and that of the fictional story alternate as do the two narrative times, that of a painful past and a present where this pain finds its meaning.