On 22 March, the 5th BBC Arabic Film Festival kicked off in London at the iconic art-deco Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House.
The festival screens short films and documentaries about current social and political changes taking place in the Arab world.
The screenings are followed by filmmaker Q&A’s and complimented by a selection of talks and presentations about the art and processes of non-fiction filmmaking in the Arab world.
The festival’s closing event is a televised awards ceremony, with musical guest and comedy performances by the most sought-after talent from the Arab world.
The opening night featured the winning film from last year’s edition, The Town the Men Left, directed by Egyptian filmmaker Hanan Yousef Abdulla.
This documentary visits Omay, Eyo and Sokar, each from a different Nubian village in Aswan, Egypt. These women share a similar struggle; abandoned by their husbands, they live the paradox of being neither married nor divorced and are stigmatised by their communities for working to support themselves and their children.
The director’s fly-on-the-wall approach is led by the women’s own narration, conveying their daily challenges living in a patriarchal society. Shot in vivid colour and wide-view photography, the audience is invited into these proud women’s warm homes, exposing a rich Nubian culture that is fading by the day.
This was followed by another short 2018 award winning film. Silence is directed by Farnoosh Samadi and Ali Asgari.
Fatma and her mother are Kurdish refugees in Italy. On their visit to a doctor, Fatma has to translate the doctor’s diagnosis to her mother but she keeps silent. This sparse short film speaks volumes about the complications of language, the comfort in silence and the uncertainty of life in a strange land.
The screening was followed by a brief speech from the BBC Arabic Service head Samir Farah who said explained that “the festival started with the idea that things are changing in the Arab world, but can’t be captured by the established media. So the festival set out to find stories and give filmmakers the widest audience here in the UK and also broadcasting the films to a larger audience around the world.”
The theatre was packed by an international and local British audience, with all ages keen to see films from the Arab world. The festival is free to the public.
The event ended with a preview clip of Ali Ibrahim's new documentary project, Anonymous Syria. Ibrahim is an independent journalist and filmmaker from Syria who won last year with his short documentary, One Day in Aleppo.
The festival will go on for a week.
Films this year focus on stories of women from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine.
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