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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Festival...

Just Like Us


Laughter is the common denominator that unites people" ~ Ahmed Ahmed

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It was Thursday night, opening night of the of the MV Int’l Film Festival and Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed was at the Capawock Theater on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. He was introducing his documentary (and directorial debut) on humor, “Just Like Us”. It was a packed house. Charming, articulate and charismatic it was easy to see how he could travel through the Middle East pre-revolutions and make people laugh.

He is bringing the Arab Muslim world to the Western world and vice versa to show that we all love to laugh, that it’s good for us, that it connects us. When asked if Arabs have a sense of humor “this is the answer”, he replies. With twelve comedians at different stops along the way, the tour traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The scenery in Beirut was breathtaking as we were taken on a visual tour of the architecture, oceans and of course the people. And the same for Lebanon. It was sad to see the bullet-riddled buildings, and tanks in the streets. But that’s why laughter is so important – although one can’t go on stage and point it out. It was great to see that people could laugh despite it. That it’s necessary, and courageous of the comedians who stand in the middle of a stage with their only armor humor.

There are all kinds of stringent roadblocks to a tour like this. In the Kingdon of Saudi Arabia you can’t come in as an ‘entertainer’, you must be a 'consultant'. And then there’s the Mutaween, the religious police (and don’t try to film them). Seventy to Eighty percent of Saudi’s are under the age of twenty-five. There are no cinemas, bars, clubs and of course no alcohol. This generation is struggling to find a place in a radically rapidly changing world. With the internet, bluetooth, YouTube, etc., inter-globalization is happening.

Egypt was the last stop on the tour, and it was fabulous. It was especially poignant as this is where Ahmed Ahmed’s parents lived and married before moving to America. He visited with his relatives, who showered him with love and gentle affection. It was very personal and touching.

“Eighty-nine million people who love to laugh “he says of Egypt. He played the first comedy show in Alexandria making history. Tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims came out to see the shows. That in itself was history.

The photography is spectacular, partly because of the subject matter, and our connection to those in another part of the world, laughing at the same things we are. Needless to say, a 72-minute documentary with thirteen comedians has to be funny. Well, no it doesn't, but this one is.They aren’t shock jocks, they are humanitarians, bringing us closer together, which is the goal of this Film Festival.

At the end of the screening there was a Q & A. Amhed Ahmed’s father (quite the ham, adorable and funny) played throughout the film, as the rest of his family did as well. Ahmed Ahmed told a story about being at the Tribeca Film Festival. After twenty rejections of his documentary this was the festival that gave him his break, and he’s been fast-forwarding ever since. He met Robert de Niro and did an hysterical impression of him. He was thrilled to meet him – de Niro was his usual self – if you know what I mean. Then de Niro looks at his father and goes “hey, you were in the movie”. Soon they were talking, de Niro has his arm around him and Ahmed Ahmed is out of the loop. As he put it – “Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the wiper”.

It was an epic start for the Festival and it has continued. The response was so huge for “Just Like Us” it will be screened again tomorrow, Sunday, at 12:00 p.m.

See “Just Like Us”, not only will it make you laugh, it will open your heart.