BBC Arabic film festival: Stories from a changing Arab world

Lina El-Wardani , Wednesday 22 Mar 2017

The third BBC Arabic documentary and short-film festival will take place in London between 24 and 30 March showcasing 20 films from the Arab world


London will host the third BBC Arabic Festival starting Friday, featuring films and documentaries from "a changing Arab world", along with a range of special events, discussions and Q&A sessions with filmmakers.

The festival will take place in the Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House in Central London from 24 March to 30 March. All events are open to the public and free of charge. (Visit to register for free tickets.)

At a time when global politics is affecting the Arab world in new ways, the festival will bring personal stories from across the region to a new audience. The programme of films will highlight the real stories of political violence, displacement, the social struggles of poverty, drug addiction and religious extremism, as well as alternate and uplifting views of these hard realities through fictional stories.

Head of BBC Arabic, Samir Farah says: “We are proud once again to be bringing our unique festival to audiences both in person in London and across the world via our broadcasts. BBC Arabic Festival 2017 is our chance to showcase the experiences of our audiences in their own words and of some of the most exciting new journalists and film makers today, with a great emphasis on encouraging more of these voices to come out in this way.”

The festival will open on 24 March at 7pm with the award-winning short films from 2015 and an opening ceremony hosted by acclaimed filmmaker Adam Curtis (Hypernormalisation, Bitter Lake) with a reception to follow.

Also marking the occasion will be the first showing of the new film, NoKids Land, by the Festival’s 2015 Young Journalist Award winner Jumana Saadeh. The film reveals the story of unaccompanied children in Lebanon and Jordan in need of foster care. It was made after Saadeh received training and equipment as part of her prize. She will be in attendance at the event. (Register for free tickets to opening night by emailing [email protected])

The opening day will also see a free-to-all, un-ticketed street-food market with Arabic music. Taking place in the BBC World Piazza from 12pm will be a selection of food stalls with culinary specialties from the Middle East and North Africa. There will also be an experimental electronic performance by Khaled Kurbeh and Raman Khalaf in collaboration with Shubbak: London’s Festival of Contemporary Arabic Culture.

Against the background of the debate about fake news, An Evening with Adam Curtis could not be more poignantly programmed, offering a rare chance to hear Curtis recount his views on the backstory of how Britain and America invented fake visions of the Arab world for over 40 years. (Thursday 28 March, 7pm.)

London Mayor, Sadiq Khan says: “In a rapidly changing world, we need fearless voices to bring to life the issues that affect our world today. I am very proud that London is hosting the BBC Arabic Festival and I hope that all those attending come away inspired and moved by this great showcase of talent.”

Producer Nadine Toukan will be hosting a special seminar discussing the short-film format (Tuesday 29 March, 12pm), while Beyond the Script, presented by award-winning journalists, will probe the limits of filmmaking (Wednesday 29 March, 7pm).

Feature-film highlights include:

  • Roshmia, an intimate portrayal of an elderly couple facing displacement in Haifa Roshmia;
  • Valley (with a Q&A with director Salim AbuJabal, Saturday 25 March, 3pm);
  • The Art of Moving, directed by Liliana Marinho de Sousa, which follows a group of Syrian political satirists exiled to South-Eastern Turkey (with Director Q&A, Saturday 25 March, 6pm);
  • Wheels of War (Sunday 26 March, 12pm) is the debut feature by Rami Kodeih, about a group of ex-militiamen from opposing factions finding peace with their war torn past in Lebanon;
  • Ambulance, a Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016 favourite, is a moving account of filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly's perspective on the war in Gaza 2014 from the front seat of an ambulance (with Director Q&A, Sunday 26 March, 6pm);
  • Houses Without Doors (Monday 27 March, 6pm with Avo Kaprealian, director Q&A) shows the parallels between the Armenian genocide and Syria reality today.

Adam Curtis, filmmaker says, “The festival is not just a place to hear present-day voices from the Arab world - and look at that world through the eyes of a diverse mix of new filmmakers. It is also an opportunity to discover stories from the past, many lost and forgotten in the chaos of everything that is happening in the Arab world. Stories that often shine a powerful and revealing light that makes you look at what is happening in a fresh way. And also reveal a great deal about the strange and distorted vision the West has often had about the Arab world.”

A multi-bill screening of short films highlighting stories from a changing Arab world includes titles such as: Mare Nostrum, about a Syrian father who puts his daughter's life at risk; Aida, which alludes to the myth of Sisyphus following the oldest flower vendor in Alexandria; and Searching for Abbas Kiasrostami, a eulogy to Syrian filmmakers. (Saturday 25 March, 12pm, including Director Q&A.)

The films screened at the festival fall into four different categories: Feature Documentary; Short film; Short Documentary; and Reportage. The films cover different themes (Refugees; Lost Worlds; Human Suffering) but mainly concentrate on “Stories from a Changing Arab World” and “short documentaries about young men in volatile places.”

The winners of each category will be announced, as well as the first Liliane Landor award for Best Journalism, on the closing night gala, hosted by actor, comedian and writer Hisham Fageeh (No Woman, No Drive), with Moroccan musical guest Oum. (Thursday 30 March, 7pm. Register for free tickets to closing night by emailing [email protected]).

The festival takes place at:

BBC Radio Theatre
Broadcasting House
Portland Place
London W1A 1AA

Panel of judges:

Charlie Phillips (The Guardian), Jihan ElTahri (Filmmaker), Kate Townsend (Exec Producer, Storyville), Tony ElKhoury (BBC Arabic News), Nadine Toukan (Producer), Tarik Kafala (BBC World Service), Sultan AlQassemi (Barjeel Art Foundation), Rosa Bosch (Producer), Yalda Hakim (BBC World News).

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