REVIEW: The Wanted 18: Contemporary Cinema from the Islamic World

Image result for the wanted 18

Claymation from the perspective of cows, real interviews of Palestinians and Israelis, a personal narrative interwoven as the spine of the movie, and a compelling true story of a town of Palestinian people who secretly milked eighteen cows as a way to resist Israeli occupation– this movie is artistically ambitious, politically evocative, and utterly heartrending.

The Residential College, with support from the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, is hosting a series of movies on contemporary cinema from the Islamic world, and The Wanted 18 is kicking off the series. The film screenings take place in East Quad’s Benzinger library at 7 p.m. After the film screening, audience members had a short dialogue on the movie lead by the series’ curator and host, Sascha Crasnow. I appreciated the organization of the events, the dialogue that followed it, and the film was easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen.  

This documentary takes place in Beit Sahour in the 1980s, a small town east of Bethlehem with a majority-Christian Palestinian population. The people of Beit Sahour used the cows as a way to boycott Israeli goods and remain self-sufficient. The eighteen cows went from ordinary livestock to infamous celebrities that were “threats to the national security of the state of Israel”. How? How did these cows, as one interviewee put it, become “political activists” alongside the Palestinians against Israeli occupation?

This movie unfolds that answer in one of the most creative documentary formats. The film brilliantly includes claymation in a comic-book-like style. In fact, it takes the humor so far that the animation is from the perspective of the cows. They’re the hilarious epicenters of the movie, and all the events unfold around them. “Oh, shit,” one cow says to another as they’re given off to the Palestinians; they have distinct characters (Lola is called the “sexy cow”, for example); they don’t side with the Palestinians or the Israelis, but are shown to be strong and powerful allies to their own cause. We as the audience relate to the cows in some very commonplace way– they have western accents, make crudely funny remarks, seem to full of desire and indecision. At first, the cows are reluctant to join the side of the Palestinians and even try escaping from the truck that held them. One cow said in the beginning to the Palestinian attempting to milk her, “Ugh, get lost, tiny terrorist.”

As much as we get of the cows, though, we also get of real interviews from people that lived through the boycott. For the people of Beit Sahour, these cows represented an attempt to join the narrative of resistance and recognition. One man from the documentary says when first acquiring the cows: “I felt as if we had started to realize our dreams of freedom and independence.” The cows became Beit Sahour’s symbols of civil disobedience and autonomy from occupation. They knew they were mere civilians– a doctor sweeping the street, a homemaker hanging up the laundry, butchers, teachers, tailors– but they wanted to feel like their lives were no longer dictated by an external force, like their homes weren’t a prison. “We deserve to have our homes,” another interviewee said, “We deserve to have our land, we deserve to have our freedom, and we deserve to have our cows.”

During the height of Palestinian resistance in 1987, the cows rose to celebrity status outside of Beit Sahour and the state of Israel become deeply paranoid that they may lose control over their occupied lands. In a scramble to regain power and composure, the state of Israel declare the eighteen cows as “wanted criminals”

There are parts of this movie that are controversial and jarring. There is an animated scene where a woman throws off her bedsheets and finds a dead cow beneath them; some of the things the cows say can be considered offensive expletives, like the “tiny terrorist” comment; one person frequently referred to by the interviewees dies at the end of the movie to the heartbreak of the audience; and of course, we know the struggle is not over for the people of Beit Sahour, or Palestinians, and Israelis. During the dialogue, one person critiqued the movie for trivializing the seriousness of the issue by the sense of crude humor the cows possess. The director of the film, however, counters this; he says, “When you laugh, you are challenging your oppressor and challenging the image of being a victim.” There is a great deal of conversation to be had around this film, for it is complex and deals with complex issues.

What I love about this movie is that it takes something so difficult to discuss and creates conversation around it in a manner that is intelligent and artistic. I would recommend this film to anyone who is exploring art from the Islamic world, or who is interested in political art, or loves to watch compelling, deeply moving documentaries. This film is brilliant and raw in its storytelling and creativity, and, in its own way, is a form of resistance.

You can find more films in this film series in the poster below:

Additional sources:

PREVIEW: The Wanted 18: Contemporary Cinema from the Islamic World

If you’re interested in the intersection between art and politics, this film screening is just right for you. With tasteful and clever genius, the creators of “Wanted 18” tell the true story of a group of Palestinian civilians that subtly resist Israeli forces who label Palestinian farms “a threat to the national security of the state of Israel.” The Palestinian farmers privately buy 18 cows and produce their own milk; in little time, the cows become local celebrities and a symbol of resistance. This film combines stop motion animation and in-person interview for an intriguing artistic documentary film about the power of grassroots activism. “Wanted 18” premiered in 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival. You can watch the screening on Tuesday, September 18th at 7 p.m. in East Quadrangle’s Benzinger Library. Entrance is free and the viewing is open to all students!

This screening is also part of a series of movies on contemporary Islamic films: 

REVIEW: RC Student Studio Arts Invitational Opening Reception

On a busy Friday the 13th, the Residential College’s art gallery opened its doors to show off several lucky students’ work. Granted, this exhibition is invitational and students were encouraged to drop off their works by their own hands, but we’re all pretty lucky to have this opportunity. All work from this exhibition is done by students taking RC studio arts courses and who have elected to show some of their work: ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, photography, and drawing. Individual works are not labeled, though a placard listing each contributing student rests among the artwork.

Even after four years at UM and several classes in East Quad, I’ve somehow never been inside this small gallery. It felt roomier than I expected, in a way that maximized the intimacy of the space. While I roamed around alongside a few other students, I still felt that I had plenty of time and space to admire the art on display.

Prints and drawings color the long wall and give it life. Several pieces were more political than others, though holistically mixing textures and adding to said life. A piece with a person stretching to reach their foot says “Let me live” beside a different piece shouting “The first pride was a riot” in stark contrast; a piece with an image of a gun and “Never again” sits above one of a mountain. I liked seeing how the creative minds of classmates look beside each other and how the individual pieces work into the whole. Despite so many different approaches, it all worked so well together.

From there, the gallery moves into sculpture and ceramics. A series of patterned blocks make a nice juxtaposition with a smooth and more organic-looking shape. Surrounding it, wire sculptures make shadows on the walls, reminding me of various works by Alexander Calder and their placements in other galleries. Mixed-media sculptures rest in the middle of the room: one being a sculpted human heart held up by wires attached to a three-dimensional frame.

Opposite the prints, ceramic vases and series give the walls texture among another color print and several black and white photos. I especially liked the glaze techniques on the smooth vases and the patterns that the artists were able to create — and I really loved the leaf patterns on one of them, with 3D ceramic leaves crawling around its rim. It was calming to view.

One of the walls of this gallery is a large window, so people can glance at art while walking past. Between that window and the rest of the gallery, exhibition space was definitely maximized by adding other walls. I liked this because of the chance given to see work during its closing hours: different types of work are displayed together, ceramic and photo in particular, giving passersby a glimpse into what the rest of the gallery has to offer.

My own work is on display as well (photos and poems teamed together). I’m taking the black and white photography course this semester, so I recognized some of the photos and series of photos from my peers. I haven’t been able to see the other section’s photos until this exhibit, and I enjoyed seeing what they’ve been coming up with for certain projects. Their displays both juxtaposed and mirrored the prints coloring the opposite wall: several different artists with different approaches/subjects adding to one array that still works holistically.

Part of me wished that each piece was individually labeled with titles and/or artist statements so I could see what some of the artists had conceptualized, but I also liked that they stood alone. This element truly added to the idea that art can have as many meanings as people who see it, and sometimes it’s fun to make your own thoughts separate from what the artist wants you to think.

This exhibition of student work is on display until the April 27th, so you have plenty of time to go see these wonderful pieces! The gallery is always free, and open M-F from 10am-5pm. If you’d like to one day have your work shown in an exhibit like this, consider taking an RC studio arts course. Some seats are open to non-RC students.

And, for those who also have their work exhibited — truly great work! I hope you’re as excited as I am to have something original shown in a nice gallery space.

PREVIEW: RC Player’s Marie Antoinette

While delving into the world of American playwright David Ajmi’s Marie Antoinette, it is evident this revisionist history comes from the growing oeuvre of theater-meets-pop-culture. Labeled a “tragicomic satire”, it turns its French Revolution-era subject into a mirror for today’s political climate. Put on by the RC Players, I am interested to see how they will take Ajmi’s work and run with it, not only with the script, but with any potential set and costumes (though that’s possibly due to the cotton-candy spectrum of the Sofia Coppola film coming to mind). With the potential to invigorate (or infect, depending on your historical tastes) the continually-analyzed figure of Marie Antoinette with the self-absorbed pop culture of today, I’m excited to see how vain and indulgent their Marie can become to create the biting satire that humbly reminds us we haven’t distanced ourselves too much from the past two-hundred-fifty years.

March 17 & 18, 8pm

Keene Theater, East Quad


Image c/o the American Repertory Theater’s 2012 production of Marie Antoinette

PREVIEW: A Dangerous Experiment

This play takes us back to 1871, to U-M’s first class of female students to enter into the exclusively-male student body. Written and directed by current U-M students, the play is based on both historical and fictional accounts of five female students as they work their way through the world attempting to assert themselves to their male counterparts, faculty, and the city of Ann Arbor itself.

The issue of women in male-dominated spheres remains an issue almost 150 years later. While U-M looks very different today, it’s revealing to look back at its origins to see how far we’ve come, as well as the bounds the University has left to make.

February 10 and 11 at 8 pm, and February 12 at 2 pm

Keene Theater, East Quad


PREVIEW: Voices of the Middle West

Image courtesy of Midwestern Gothic

Calling all book lovers, readers, publishers, bagel eaters, robots, Midwesterners4Life…whoever you are, you have a VOICE! And we want to hear it!

One year later after its debut, the Voices of the Middle West Literary Festival is a new annual event, created in partnership by local literary mag Midwestern Gothic and UM’s Residential College. From the Midwestern Gothic website, Voices of the Middle West is “a festival celebrating writers from all walks of life as well as independent presses and journals that consider the Midwestern United States their home.”

The event, set up in the East Quad Main Concourse, will be all day starting at 10 am-6pm, available for you to wend your way through tables of books to buy (including ones from Literati Bookstore), freshly-printed campus publications to peruse, publishers and editors and visionary students to chat about the future of the industry in an electronic world, and some very famous authors to brush shoulders with!

Throughout the day will be many panels featuring authors such as Matt Bell, Alissa Nutting, and Anne Valente, on different topics about the Midwest. There’s a chance to hear (or perform) poems and prose at the Open Mic, a great way to support your fellow writers on campus. And don’t miss the very special keynote speaker, Stuart Dybek, who will discuss his own take on publishing, writing, being successful, and of course, living in the Midwest.

I believe everyday should be a day to celebrate books! But Midwestern Gothic and the Residential College have put their heads together to make Voices of the Middle West a celebration that immerses you in Midwestern pride and literary splendor. Indeed- Voices is a unique “book holiday” that is too good to pass up. (Party hats optional. Love of books required)

What: Voices of the Middle West

Where: East Quad, University of Michigan Central Campus

When: Saturday, March 21 from 10-6

How Much?: FREE!!! … unless you choose to buy a book! Which I mean, how could you not??? 🙂

For more information on the schedule of events, check out