wicklow films
Sundance Channel

Press Release:

Series Includes Television Premieres of Samira Makhmalbaf's Cannes Jury Prize Winner Blackboards and Taran Davies' Acclaimed Documentary Afghan Stories

New York, NY, March 17, 2003 - Sundance Channel explores contemporary life in a range of Islamic cultures with its May FilmFest "Portraits of Islam." The series presents narrative features by world-renowned Muslim filmmakers Abbas Kiarostami and Samira Makhmalbaf, as well as three documentaries by Taran Davies, a New York-born filmmaker who since 1994 has focused on the ethnic and religious cultures of inner Asia and the former Soviet Union. The films of "Portraits of Islam" offer intimate, insightful depictions of ordinary human beings in a variety of circumstances, from the mundane to the surreal to the dangerous; in so doing, each opens a window onto both universal and highly particular aspects of life in Muslim regions.

Highlights of "Portraits of Islam" include the U.S. television premiere of Blackboards, the sophomore feature by Iranian prodigy Samira Makhmalbaf, who was just 18 when she rocketed to international acclaim with her stunning 1998 debut, The Apple. A seriocomic parable about two itinerant teachers searching for pupils, Blackboards earned Makhmalbaf the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and cemented her reputation as a major new filmmaker. Reviewing Blackboards for the British magazine Sight and Sound, critic Jonathan Romney declared, "This film is so different from The Apple and so striking that it can only encourage us to see Samira Makhmalbaf as a very distinctive sensibility, working to develop her own film language with conspicuous success."

"Portraits of Islam" begins on Monday, May 19th with a DOCday presentation of three documentaries by filmmaker Taran Davies. Davies, born in America and raised in Britain, became fascinated by the Islamic cultures of post-Soviet Central Asia in the mid-1990s; he has traveled extensively throughout the area, and his films - informal, colorful and filled with the details of everyday life - make for engaging as well as informative viewing. "Portraits of Islam" includes the U.S. television premiere of Davies' most recent film, Afghan Stories, an extraordinary look at several Afghan families - exiles, refugees and nationals - filmed in the immediate wake of 9/11. Davies arrived in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. bombing campaign began in October 2001, and Afghan Stories captures a singular moment in history. Afghanistan's Ambassador to the U.N., Dr. Ravan Farhadi, has enthusiastically endorsed the film, writing, "Many Westerners have made films about Afghanistan, but Mr. Davies is the first to tell the stories of the ordinary Afghan people. His portraits of the Afghans and the Diaspora in New York, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Canada are accurate and moving."

The lineup for "Portraits of Islam" is as follows:

Mountain Men and Holy Wars (U.S. Television Premiere) - Directed by Taran Davies. An eye-opening look at the centuries-old roots of Russia's bloody struggle with Islamic separatists in Chechnya and Daghestan. Davies journeys to the Caucasus, the region at the southern edge of the Russian steppe, to tell the story of Imam Shamil, a 19th Century Islamic leader who fought a ferocious 40-year holy war against Russia. Davies and his companions - author Nick Griffin, photojournalist John Boit and their Uzbek guide Ilya Suleymanov - travel to Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Karabagh as they follow Imam Shamil's trajectory, piecing together a tale of tenacity, vendettas and kidnappings that is all too pertinent. Airs May 19th at 9:00pm.

Afghan Stories (U.S. Television Premiere) - Directed by Taran Davies. This unpretentious, empathetic film takes us inside the lives of disparate Afghan families in the weeks following 9/11. Accompanied by his friend, Afghan-American entrepreneur Walied Osman, Davies set out to examine the impact of a generation of war on the Afghan people, an undertaking that led them from Queens to Tajikistan, Toronto and Afghanistan itself. Among the people the pair meet over the course of their travels: an exiled member of the Afghan royal family who recalls his torture at the hands of the Taliban; a revered elder in Northern Afghanistan who prays that his country will finally experience peace; and an Afghan working for the UN World Food Project, who is calmly determined to rebuild his country, road by road. Premieres May 19th at 10:00pm.

Land Beyond the River (Sundance Channel Premiere) - Directed by Taran Davies. Davies began his explorations of Islamic Central Asia with this vibrant, entertaining travelogue, which captures everyday life in regions rarely seen in Western media. Davies arrives in Turkmenistan in June 1995, eager to chronicle what was billed as the world's greatest horseback marathon and festival along a 1,200-mile stretch of the ancient Silk Road. When his plans are thwarted, Davies takes to the Silk Road, following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane as he explores Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Along the way, he attends a traditional wedding that lasts all of three minutes; witnesses a buoyant group of (pre-Taliban) Afghan women on their annual pilgrimage to the tomb of an Islamic holy man; and gets an insider's tour of Tamerlane's tomb. Airs May 19th at 11:00pm.

Blackboards (U.S. Television Premiere) - Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf. In the perilous, heavily mined terrain that lies between Iran and Iraq, two itinerant schoolteachers, Said (Said Mohamed) and Reeboir (Bahman Ghobadi), search for pupils. After the pair separates, Said encounters a nomadic group of old men who, along with a woman and her young son, have fled chemical warfare in their homeland. Meanwhile, the affable, practical Reeboir happens upon a gang of adolescent boys hauling contraband to the Iraqi border. Neither Said nor Reeboir makes much headway in their educational efforts, but the blackboards they tote on their backs are far from useless - the slates variously serve as splint, stretcher, shield, and even, in Said's case, a marriage prize. Premieres May 20th at 9:00pm.

Silence... We're Rolling (aka Skoot hansawwar) (U.S. Television Premiere) - Directed by Youssef Chahine. Traditions of Hollywood and Bollywood combine near the banks of the Nile in this high-spirited musical comedy/melodrama from Egypt's most renowned filmmaker. Upon learning that her husband has run off with her best friend, a superstar diva (Latifa) is wooed by a slimy psychiatrist (Ahmed Wafik) with his eyes on her fortune. Meanwhile, her lovesick screenwriter (Ahmed Bedir) devises a plot to expose the gold-digger. Chahine creates a witty, screwball valentine to the world of showbiz which Britain's Guardian dubbed "a treat." Premieres May 20th at 10:30pm.

A Taste of Cherry - Directed by Abbas Kiarostami. Winner of the 1997 Cannes film Festival Palme d'Or, this luminous inquiry into morality and mortality is widely considered a modern masterpiece as well as benchmark in Iranian cinema. The film follows a middle-aged Muslim, Mr. Badi (Homayon Ershadi) as he drives around the hilly outskirts of Teheran, looking for a kindly soul who will help him carry out a simple task. As he explains to three very different people, Mr. Badi wants to commit suicide, an act forbidden under Muslim law. Airs May 21st at 9:00pm.

Samia (U.S. Television Premiere) - Directed by Philippe Faucon. Samia, a teenager of Algerian descent living with her large family in a small Marseilles apartment, is caught between cultures. At home, she endures lectures from her brother about adhering to traditional Islamic values; while outside, Samia is surrounded by the callous racism and the pervasive materialism of modern French society. Philippe Faucon's compassionate and even-handed portrait was praised for its rare glimpse into the challenges facing Muslim immigrants in Europe and for Lynda Benahouda's astounding performance in the title role. Premieres May 21st at 10:45pm.

All Times Listed are Eastern/Pacific.


Sarah Eaton
Vice President, Public Relations
Sundance Channel
(212) 654-1613
(212) 654-4738 fax

Katie Lanegran
Director, Public Relations
Sundance Channel
(212) 654-3398
(212) 654-4738 fax
Wicklow Films, New York