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TALES FROM ARAB DETROIT

USA, 1995 (MIFF 1996, Documenta)

Director: Joan Mandell

Joan Mandell's documentary was filmed during a visit by an Egyptian poet/story-teller to Arab-American community centre in Michigan. Sheikh Ghanim Mansour is one of the last people alive able to recite from memory the 1000-year old, 100-hour epic tale of the Bam Hilal tribe. The purpose of his visit was, as the narrator tells " to make us think again about who we are, where we came from".

The result is a familiar American story parents trying to pass on cherished tradition and language, while their children are at home in a world of McDonald's and MTV. With mesmerising imagery, humour and warmth, Tales from Arab Detroit blends voices, poetry, song 3 dance into everyday stories of cultural conflict and resilience within the largest Arab community in North America. The camera follows the sheik not only to the community centre, but to the local high school and a local hotel ballroom he recites the epic to the accompaniment traditional music. As Arab-Americans around him tell Mandell their own family epics, the film becomes a tapestry of their tales and reflections on culture, interwoven with the sheik's performances and observations about modern American life,

"Who are we?" and "What does it mean to Arab?" are the central questions to the film, it shows the intimate quality of Arab America.

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