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May 12, 2024 at 7:30 pm

Liminal Tales

Featuring Sofia Al Khyari, Mahmoud Hamdi, Ayçe Kartal, Huda Razzak, Inna Sahakyan and Sarah Said

Doors 7:30p
Program 8:00p

352 Onderdonk Ave
Ridgewood, NY

We’re delighted to come together with ArteEast to co-present LIMINAL TALES  a collection of contemporary animated shorts that share poignant and pressing narratives from across the SWANA region and its diasporas. The in-person program at UnionDocs includes shorts by Sofia El Khyari, Ayçe Kartal, Huda Razzak and Sarah Saidan and an introduction by curator Lila Nazemian.

It features short films by Ayçe Kartal, Sofia El Khyari’ Huda Razzak and Sarah Saidan, and a feature-length animation by Inna Sahakyan Memory is experienced like a phenomenon in which each central character or narrator reveals how their internal psyches affect their external realities. Furthermore, the narratives are told through the lens of characters that vary in age, allowing for a nuanced storytelling of reflection and at times, disassociation. Each film has an innate ability to transport viewers into their intricate realms using a variety of visually expressive techniques

Inna Sahakyan’s Aurora’s Sunrise is based on the true story of Aurora Mardiganian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide who, after fleeing to the U.S., starred in a silent film about her own life and experience, titled Auction of Souls (1919). The animation retells Mardiganian’s harrowing story, incorporating scenes from the 1919 film, archival footage of Mardiganian recounting her arduous journey, as well as using her memoir, Ravished Armenia, as a chronological grounding. Mardiganian’s astonishing yet horrific memories are rendered using paper cutouts and semi-rotoscoped characters crafted alongside ephemeral watercolor imagery.

In Ayçe Kartal’s Wicked Girl, centers around the story of a young girl whose vivid and conjured accounts of summers in the countryside of Turkey with her grandparents reveal a horrible reality she has suffered. While she recounts various fond memories amidst describing things that bring her joy, her fragmented narrative is interspersed with dark and threatening imagery. Kartal masterfully depicts the girl’s innocence and confusion through over 10,000 drawings made on a tablet and animated with fleet pen strokes.

Huda Razzak’s The Ocean Duck is inspired by a passage from Rumi’s Masnavi and is based on the director’s relationship with her grandmother who passed away after a long struggle with dementia. The touching narrative revolves around a young girl who visits her grandmother in the hospital. While reminiscing fond memories spent together, she recalls a poignant story that her grandmother told her about a duck who lived with hens since it had forgotten that its true home was the ocean. The metaphor refers to humanity’s amnesiatic impermanence on earth and each person’s ultimate union with the Divine. The decorative borders that frame the film and the flat two-dimensional perspective are inspired by the tradition of illuminated manuscripts.

In Shadow of the Butterflies, Sofia El Khyari incorporates hand-painted ink and watercolor images to evoke fleeting feelings of nostalgia. The film explores the notion of saudade, a portuguese term describing an emotional state of melancholic yearning for a beloved, or a melancholic longing for something or someone who is absent. The sensorial experience of the animation is imbued with El Khyari’s own touch, from imprints of her skin to the sound of her singing voice serving as the soundtrack.

Unresolved feelings of longing are also at the core of Sarah Saidan’s playfully touching, Home of the Heart. When an Iranian immigrant who moved to Paris with his family is attacked on the street and stabbed in the heart, doctors come to the startling realization that he has survived because he has no heart. He embarks on a journey back to his hometown of Shiraz in hopes of reconciling what is missing within him. The stories within the film are inspired by Saidan’s own immigrant experiences in France. The film was made from a mix of 2D drawn and digital cut-out animation which convey its layered textures. While the saying goes “Home is where the heart is,” Saidan asks us a question many immigrants are faced with, “Where is home if you cannot locate your heart?”

Saidan’s Beach Flags revolves around the story of a group of young Iranian women by the Caspian Sea coast who are training for the beach flag competition of the international Lifeguard Championships in Australia. A new girl enters their team and outruns their star contender sowing dissonance among the team’s spirit. The film aptly reflects the overlapping issues of class, tradition, and gender struggles within Iranian society. Solidarity in the face of external forces ultimately bridges the seemingly clashing worlds of these women.

A Man Wanted to Play Drums by Mahmoud Hamdi is a rotoscope animation using scenes taken from the 2007 American film “The Visitor,” directed by Tom Macarthy. The film’s subject matter of a man sheepishly joining a public drum circle in a park while others dance and play accompanying instruments would appear to be comical were it not for the ominous soundtrack. The artist’s visual touch in vibrantly coloring the instruments is juxtaposed alongside his addition of helmets, berets and whistles possibly alluding to the military’s heavy presence amidst rising public tensions in Egypt, only a month prior to the 2011 revolution.

Note: This program is part of the legacy program Unpacking the ArteArchive, which preserves and presents 20 years of film and video programming by ArteEast. The program will be screened online on artearchive.org from May 7 – 19.


Home of the Heart by Sarah Saidan

14 min and 46 sec, 2022, France, Animation, Persian and French with English subtitles

Omid is an Iranian immigrant who came to France with his family. One evening, in the street, he is attacked and stabbed in the heart. At the hospital, the diagnosis is formal: he has no heart. Has he left it behind in Iran?

Aurora’s Sunrise by Inna Sahakyan

1 hour and 36 min, 2022, Armenia, Germany, Lithuania, Animation, Language with English subtitles

A genocide survivor becomes a silent movie star: Aurora Mardiganian’s odyssey is close to unreal. After losing her family, escaping slavery, and enduring Hollywood greed, she journeys far to tell the world of the Armenian Genocide.

Shadow of the Butterflies by Sofia El Khyari

9 min, 2022, France, Portugal, Qatar, Animation, Arabic with English subtitles

In a mysterious forest, a young woman’s emotions, memories, and desires intermingle with the delicate movements of the butterflies that surround her.

The Ocean Duck by Huda Razzak

7 min, 2021, United States, Animation, English with English subtitles

A granddaughter visits her ailing grandma in a hospital during a flood, bringing back fond memories of the past – spilling over into fantastical visions in the present – as an ancient tale comes to life.

Wicked Girl by Ayçe Kartal

8 min, 2017, France, Turkey, Animation, Turkish with English subtitles

S., 8 years old, is a little Turkish girl with an overflowing imagination. She is keen on nature and animals. While she is looking back on the good old days in her grandparents’ village from a hospital room, dark and terrifying memories emerge and, little by little, begin to make sense.

Beach Flags by Sarah Saidan

13 min and 38 sec, 2014, France, Iran, Animation, Persian with English subtitles

Vida is a young Iranian lifeguard swimmer. Popular in her team, she is determined to fight in order to be the one to participate in an international competition in Australia. However, when Sareh, as fast and talented as her joins the team, she will have to face an unexpected situation.

A Man wanted to play Drums by Mahmoud Hamdi

3 min and 12 sec, 2010, Egypt, Rotoscope animation, Silent

A Man Wanted to Play Drums is a short rotoscope animation in which Mahmoud Hamdi reworks footage from Tom McCarthy’s “The Visitor.”

Program Duration: 50 mins

Watch the conversation between Presenter1, Presenter2 and Presenter 3 on the UnionDocs’ Membership hub.


Lila Nazemian (she/her) is an independent curator and the Special Projects Curator at ArteEast in New York. In 2023, she joined the Brooklyn-based Transmitter gallery as a co-director. Her research and curatorial practice are focused on reimagining approaches to histories from the Middle East/Southwest Asia North Africa (SWANA) and Central Asia regions in an effort to counter narrative revisionism and collective amnesia. Recent curatorial projects include: “Conjuring Flames,” Arsenal Contemporary, New York, (2023); “Now That We Have Established A Common Ground” within Protocinema’s Emerging Curator Series, (2022);  “A Few In Many Places, New York,” Protocinema, Governors Island New York, (2021); “I open my eyes and see myself under a tree laden with fruit that I cannot name,” Center for Book Arts, New York (2020).

Sarah Saidan is a director, graphic author, and script writer. She graduated from Tehran University of Art and later from la Poudrière (France) in 2011, as a director of animation films. Sarah Saidan has since directed many short films often with the common theme of Human Rights, notably the award-winning Beach Flags produced by Sacrebleu productions.

Huda Razzak is an animation filmmaker based in Atlanta, whose parents immigrated from Iraq. Her animated short, ‘The Ocean Duck,’ was long-listed for the Oscars short animated film category after winning the 2022 Jury Award at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. In 2023, she was nominated for the Best of Newfilmmakers LA Award. Huda has also independently produced and directed content for Sesame Street and is a former ISF Film Grant recipient. She studied Animation at SCAD, where she received her MFA in 2021. Huda currently works as a Script & Story Production Assistant at Netflix Animation.

Sofia El Khyari is an animation filmmaker and visual artist born in Casablanca. Alongside her Master studies in cultural management in France, she taught herself the craft of animation before obtaining another Master’s Degree from the Royal College of Art in London. Her films have since won awards and been screened at multiple international festivals, including the Locarno Film Festival, TIFF Toronto International Film Festival and Annecy animation film festival. They have also been acquired and exhibited by prestigious museums and institutions such as Institut du Monde Arabe and Musée du Quai-Branly Jacques Chirac in Paris or the Cinémathèque Française.

Ayce Kartal graduated from Anadolu University in Eskişehir with a Master of Fine Arts in 2010. His last film, Wicked Girl received the Césars Award for the Best Animated Short Film in 2019. It’s also the first animated short in 40 years to win the National Grand Prize in Clermont-Ferrand.

Mahmoud Hamdi, is a Cairo based visual artist, curator and cultural activist. He graduated from the Faculty of Art Education at Helwan University in 2002 and has since been active in Egypt’s visual art scene since 2000. He has held nine solo exhibitions and participated in many group exhibitions in Egypt and abroad. He concurrently works as a curator and cultural events manager and has curated exhibitions for the Egyptian ministry of culture, NGOs, NPOs and private art spaces in Egypt and abroad.

Inna Sahakyan has directed and produced feature-length documentaries, documentary series, and shorts, for over fifteen years. Following her feature-length debut co-directing the award-winning Armenia’s Last Tightrope Dancer in 2010, she directed Mel and Aurora’s Sunrise, completing both international co-productions in 2022. Inna also enjoys mentoring her native Armenia’s next generation of filmmakers.

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May 12, 2024
7:30 pm


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States
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