3 Must-See Films at This Year’s Arab Film Festival

The annual event aims to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and give perspective to issues faced by the Arab world
“Soufra” follows the lives of women living in Burl El Barajneh who work together to start a food truck business. // Photograph courtesy of The Arab American National Museum

The 2018 Arab Film Festival has officially kicked off in metro Detroit. As a part of the larger Cinetopia Film Festival, the event will run through June 10, presenting a lineup of director talks, workshops, special events, and award-winning short films. The showings touch on a range of subjects, including gender, sexuality, identity, social justice, and the lives of refugees in the U.S. and abroad.

The 13th annual festival, presented by the Arab American National Museum, screens in Ann Arbor and Dearborn. The curated lineup features both newly released and classic films and a shorts program celebrating Arab women filmmakers.

Dave Serio, coordinator of the festival, says the purpose of the annual event is to “give [Arabs] a chance to tell our own story, to bring up issues, and to break stereotypes.”

Serio says the program showcases the “best of the best” in local, national, and international films from the Arab world and Arab-American community. Many of these films are making their U.S debuts and are not receiving, “the coverage they rightfully deserve,” he says.

According to Serio, the general public often sees a misconstrued, vilified, and negative perspective of Arabs. The festival strives to bring light to the “normalcy” of Arab lives and aims to provide a platform for talented filmmakers and impressive films coming out of the Arab world, which are now making their way into mainstream media.

Here, three of the festival’s most highly anticipated feature films.

June 7 at 4 p.m. and June 9 at 7:15 p.m.

Rated 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the award-winning documentary Soufra follows the inspirational lives of women living in Burl El Barajneh, a refugee camp south of Beirut, Lebanon, who team together to launch a food truck business. Born and raised in the camp is Mariam Shaar, a child of Palestinian refugees, who launched the catering business “Soufra” and leads the diverse group of refugee women from Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, and Lebanese backgrounds. With all odds against them, the women find empowerment, purpose, and create friendships while running a thriving business.

This Is Home
June 9 at 2 p.m. and June 10 at 1 p.m.

Winner of the 2018 Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival, This is Home gives a humanizing lens of four Syrian refugee families resettling in Baltimore. Escaping their war-torn homeland, these families have just eight months to find employment, learn English, become self-sufficient in a foreign country, and overcome a deep cultural divide. A few months after their resettlement, President Trump issues a travel ban on all refugees from Muslim-majority countries, exposing many Americans’ underlying hostile attitudes and lack of empathy toward Syrian refugees. The displaced Syrian community, and those still trapped in Syria, face a crisis of constant uncertainty and instability, all while meeting closed doors in the “land of the free.”

Where To?/A Certain Nasser
June 10 at 3:30 p.m.

Directed by the “grandfather of Lebanese cinema,” Georges Nasser, the 1957 film Where To? (Ila Ayn?) narrates the story of an impoverished family living in a village of Lebanon’s mountains, struggling to make ends meet. The father abandons his family to start a new life in Brazil and is never heard from again, forcing the mother to raise two boys alone. Twenty years later, the oldest son starts a new family and the younger son gets ready to immigrate to Brazil when a ragged old man arrives to the village. This double-feature will pair the film with the biographical documentary A Certain Nasser, which explores the life of the iconic filmmaker.

For a full schedule of films and events, visit arabamericanmuseum.org

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