As the Arab Film Festival Australia adds to its 12-year journey another glorious chapter, Festival Co-directors Mouna Zaylah and Fadia Abboud prepare to enliven audiences with films dealing with a range of issues from anger, violence, angst and inequality to gratitude, recognition, faith and peace. “We want to challenge our audience – we want the festival to continue to break down barriers and address the stereotypes even amongst the Arab community,” says Zaylah.
“The Arab Film Festival Australiais where these films can be seen and the more a film gets screened, the more encouraging it is for filmmakers to develop their craft and simultaneously grow audiences for the stories [that] come from the Arab world,” continues Abboud.
Since its inception in 2001, the Festival has been a driving force in aiding international renaissance of Arab screen culture and film production. Their vision, as Zaylah explains, is to show “Arab films that you can’t see anywhere else, to Arab and non-Arab audiences in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. There is no other public Arab cultural event that is celebrated for bringing diverse audiences together by creating a space where issues are debated, discussed and explored for their artistic, political and social impact.”
Although this year’s Festival doesn’t have an official theme, one might find the idea of unity within diversity to be a pretty obvious thread shared by all eleven films on offer. “We have programmed films from different countries of the Arab world, so you’ll see a film from Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and a world premiere short film from Australia,” says Zaylah.
According to Zaylah and Abboud, there are two standout films that offer alternate representations of Arab subjects across culture and narrative. The first, Merzak Allouache-directed Algerian film The Repentant tells the story of “a person that is generally feared and never depicted on screen except for the daily news… You have to decide for yourself if this man deserves your pity or your forgiveness,” says Abboud.
The second, In My Mother’s Arms, a documentary film from Iraq directed by Atia & Mohamed Al-Daradji. Abboud emphasises that the movie “should encourage you to see a story from the street, from the daily lives of the people that have lived through hell. This is the story of an Iraqi man who plays mother and father to some of the thousands of orphans this invasion has created.”
This is not to say that The Repentant and In My Mother’s Arms should be the only films on your radar. Opening and closing night films should also rank high on your must-see list. After the Battle, an Egyptian movie that “delves deep into society’s post revolution trauma” opens the Festival while Rough Hands, a love story from Morocco “closes the festival making you feel like no dream is too big”.
In essence, the Arab Film Festival Australia brings to the fore contemporary issues surrounding socio-cultural, political and personal agendas and experiences. “Many [films] talk about the impact of war on individuals and on the environment they live in. There are also films about relationships, clash of class and the challenges between generations. The Festival will quench your third and suck you into Arab life, love and realities,” says Zaylah.
BY JOSEPH RANA