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Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Apr 29 (Reuters) An award-winning heartthrob of Egyptian cinema, Khaled Abol Naga is happy to be starring in an American film that doesn't label him as a terrorist.

''Civic Duty,'' a low-budget thriller about post-September 11 paranoia playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, presents a largely sympathetic portrait of an Arab in America. It is among a number of films dealing with U S and West Asian tensions since the 9/11 attacks.

''Middle Eastern and Egyptian actors usually only get to play terrorists, but in this movie I got to be the terrorised one. That was a refreshing twist,'' said Naga, who plays a student who draws the suspicion of a neighbor in ''Civic Duty.'' ''We feel that we're very misunderstood,'' Naga, a winner of the Egyptian version of an Oscar award, said at a news conference.

''For many Middle Eastern (people), Egyptians, Arabs, they feel misunderstood, misrepresented. They feel their voices are unheard in the Western world.'' The festival, founded in the wake of September. 11 to revitalise lower Manhattan, opened with the premiere of ''United 93,'' a Hollywood dramatisation of the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers overwhelmed the hijackers.

''Civic Duty,'' produced independently for a budget of just 1.2 million dollars , stars Peter Krause, best known as the lead in HBO's hit drama ''Six Feet Under,'' as Terry Allen, an accountant who loses his job, spends too much time watching scare-stories on cable news and grows more and more paranoid.

Suspicious of his new neighbour, Terry takes matters into his own hands after failing to convince his wife or an FBI agent, played by Richard Schiff of ''West Wing'' fame, of his concerns.

The film raises troubling questions about civil liberties and racial profiling and is deliberately ambiguous on whether Terry's suspicions turn out to be well-founded, but the makers say they didn't want to get bogged down in politics.

''There's no way of reaching a certain segment of moviegoers without making a strong suspense thriller,'' said Krause, who plays funeral director Nate Fisher in ''Six Feet Under.'' Director Jeff Renfroe said he was determined not to tell people what to think. ''If we'd gone out and made this really heavy, dark, political movie I'd be afraid that people wouldn't go to see it and that it would preach,'' he told Reuters.

Another thought-provoking exploration of the post-September 11 era is ''The Yacoubian Building,'' billed as the most expensive movie ever made in Egypt.

It is a very different kind of film -- a slow-moving epic about the residents of a fading apartment building in Cairo, including the young Taha, who is rejected by the Police Academy because his father is a doorman, and is drawn into a militant religious group.

Made for a budget of more than 20 million Egyptian pounds ($3.5 million), the film also tackles taboo subjects such as homosexuality, prostitution, sexual harassment of women and class divisions in modern Egypt.

''It is a work that discusses, with all boldness and neutrality, all the cases existing in the society, and a lot of people are afraid to come near it,'' director Marwan Hamed said in the program notes for the film.

REUTERS SHB VC1016

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