A few weeks ago I was excited to attend the Safar Film Festival in London; the only UK film festival dedicated to showcasing Arab cinema. The festival took place from 1-17 July, across various venues and online in the UK. The theme for this year was, “The Stories We Tell In Arab Cinema”, exploring the essence of storytelling through the medium of film. Featuring thrillers, science-fiction and LGBTQ+ themes, the festival also covered a time span from the 1980s to the present day. As someone passionate about Arab cinema, It was incredibly inspiring to see all kinds of Arab stories coming to life on the big screen. Below are a few of my favourites to check out.
Becoming (2020) This film showcases five stories written by five Saudi Female Directors. The series of short films champions women-led narratives. It is a deep look into the Kingdom’s ever changing society, as well as Saudi female Identity. Find out more here.
Sommay’s Bride – When a Bride disappears on her wedding night, her mother struggles with the stress of searching for her while maintaining composure in front of the guests and the Groom’s family.
Al Dabah – Isolated in the hearts of the city, a forty year old Mother and hairdresser contemplates abortion. However, the teenage daughter is determined to change her mother’s mind.
Until We See The Light – A Divorced Mother whose life is a constant struggle suffers an anxiety attack as she tries to break Free.
The Unforgetting Hand – Dalil is a popular female infertility healer suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s. Her life intersects with Maha, a Pharmacist trying to get pregnant.
In Malika Refuge – An 11 year old girl arrives at her Aunt’s house just before Friday Prayers and is suddenly allowed to express everything she hides from her conservative parents.
I was lucky enough to attend the Q&A that followed the screening with Directors Sara Mesfer and Hind Al Fahhad. It was a fascinating conversation on Saudi’s upcoming cinema and how so far the censorship remains flexible for filmmakers to push boundaries.
Farha (2021) Inspired by true events, Farha tells the story of a young girl whose dreams change from seeking education in the city to survival in Palestine, 1948.
While speaking with Director Darin J. Sallam, she mentioned that her mother had met the young girl the story is inspired by, and that “it has been passed down from generation to generation to keep the memory alive”. The film finds a new way of exploring the struggles of Palestinan identity and sheds a new light on what Palestine would have looked like in 1948.
The Alleys (2021) In a violent, gossip-ridden neighbourhood in the Jordanian capital, Ali, a young hustler with dreams of being a businessman, has to keep his relationship with his lover, Lana, a secret. Things start to crumble when a voyeur blackmails the couple with a sex tape and Lana’s mother hires the neighborhood gangster to tear them apart.
I was particularly struck by The Alleys and its ability to hook audiences within minutes of viewing. The film seems to be somewhere between what is considered as an arthouse release and a commercial one. While speaking with Director Bassel Ghandour, he stated that the film explores “the contrast between what people actually desire and their innerselves versus the social mask and what they poster for the public”, which is something he believes international audiences would be able to relate to.
In showcasing titles like The Alleys, which sit closer to international commercial releases, The Safar Film Festival has been able to create a better understanding of what Arab cinema looks like and expand the notion of Arab cinema on screen. With a distinct lack of Arab cinema distribution in the UK at present, festivals like this feel like an important space to celebrate and come together.
If you would like to support the festival and help bring more Arab films to the UK, you can find out more here.
Laila El azhary
Impact Campaign Researcher, with an MA in Documentary Practice and an interest in Arab Cinema. Arab Cinema has always been important to me as an Egyptian and has played an integral role in allowing me to understand my culture and that is why I’m passionate about it being showcased.