Arabian Sights brings Arab films to American audiences
A screenshot from Ali Mostafa's road movie 'From A to B' (Afro.fm)
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This month the Arabian Sights Film Festival launches its 20th anniversary by presenting newly-released thought-provoking, enigmatic and entertaining films from around the Arab world.
Ten films are featured at this year’s Arabian Sights, which provides moviegoers here to see newly-released Arab films that are not easy to find and/or view in the US.
“Initially they will only be available in theaters in the countries where they are released, and here in the US, Arabian Sights 2015 is the only place you can view them, as they will not be playing in any other US theaters,” said Shirin Ghareeb, founder and director of the Arabian Sights Film Festival and an acknowledged international expert on films from the Arab world. Ghareeb is also the Deputy Director of the Washington, DC International film festival.
“My role as the Deputy Director of the Washington DC international film festival allows me to pick Arab films for the Arabian Sights Film Festival because I spend all year looking at films, researching them, and watching them online. This is a year-long process. So, when there is a new Arab film that comes to my attention, I make an effort to see it.”
Through the Arabian Sights screenings, Ghareeb hopes they will generate an interest in US distributors.
“This is a great opportunity to show the best quality films from the Arab world, from Algeria to Yemen. The selection of these movies really is a labor of love, as I want these films to be seen and to become known. I really want the American audience to be aware of them.”
“Getting Arab cinema distributed in the West is a pretty elusive process,” admitted Ghareeb. “There are certain Arab personalities who are well-known, such as the Lebanese film director and actress, Nadine Labaki who produced several movies, including ‘Where Do We Go Now?’ and Hany Abu-Assad, the very, very talented Palestinian filmmaker who produced the movie ‘Paradise Now’ and ‘Omar’.
These films are known world-wide, but are exceptions. My hope is that the Arabian Sights Film Festival will offer a venue to hopefully overcome this barrier. I believe the more Arab films are exposed in the US, the more it will create a demand and an attraction for them.”
While remaining unknown here in the US, many of these films have already participated in international film festivals, and have gained worldwide attention.
Viewing them here in the US, and throughout the Arab world, may have just become easier. “They will eventually be available on DVD,” she said, adding Internet platforms are available online.
But this year Arabian Sights has acquired a new sponsor, called, curiously for a Muslim audience: “Movie Pigs”. “They are a new organization that will make available independent Arab and international films online, by subscription,” said Ghareeb. (A quick search online shows that www.moviepigs.com has yet to offer up the films on their webpage.)
European countries have co-produced several of the 10 films being displayed at the festival “and have become involved in production of these films,” said the Arabian Sights Film Festival director. “These films are picking up awards at film festivals in the Arab world and in Europe, as there is an appreciation for these Arab artists in Europe.”
Despite the limited audience in the US, Ghoreeb believes that there is a huge demand for Arab films here. “There is curiosity and appreciation to see Arab films, as they offer a slice of culture from a very personal view, which is very different from what Americans see-or-read in the news, which gives a different perspective. These films give a viewpoint that is much appreciated here.”
To honor the festival’s 20th anniversary, a group of panelists have been invited to discuss the ‘New Arab Cinema,’ and will include several directors of these movies, as well as several Arab film experts. The panel will focus on the development over the past 20 years of
Arab cinema and focus on developments such as the increase in the number of films produced, the range of issues addressed in these films, new film styles and genres, as well as new financial and technical opportunities available to Arab filmmakers.
The 10 movies selected to be shown are:
1. Les Petits Chats (Egypt)
2. A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans (United States)
3. Eyes of a Thief (Palestine)
4. Zinzana (United Arab Emirates)
5. I Am Nojoom, Age 10 And Divorced (France, Yemen, United Arab Emirates)
6. Cairo Time (Egypt)
7. Far from Men (France, Algeria)
8. The Intruder (Netherlands, Morocco)
9. The Man from Oran (Algeria)
10. From A to B (United Arab Emirates, Jordan)
By Barbara G.B. Ferguson
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