Ladies Take the Night At San Francisco’s Arab Film Festival

As political and social upheaval continues in the Arab world, another type of revolution is enfolding — one that is transcending borders, nationalities and religions. A renaissance in artistic expression, fueled by a newfound sense of freedom and dignity, is being championed by a courageous new generation of visionaries—many of whom are women—and they are offering a fresh lens into contemporary Arab society, culture, history and politics. This generation’s notion of what they think the Arab world should be is often in sharp contrast to the views of their parents’, and it boldly challenges the status quo in ways unimaginable before the Arab Spring. Not surprisingly, many are choosing to make their voices heard through film.

The pulse of the Arab Spring was certainly felt at the 17th annual Arab Film Festival (AFF), which premiered in San Francisco in October. Much of the vibrant energy experienced at this year’s event was undoubtedly a reflection of the AFF’s new direction as an organization.

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Gaza On The MTA

On October 18, 2013, the 7th Annual Boston Palestine Film Festival (BPFF) will kick off in three locations: the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Cambridge Public Library and Harvard Law School. Running for ten days, the Festival will continue its mission of exposing Boston and its neighbors to Palestinian culture and film BY highlighting more than 30 international films, as well as speakers and conversations with some of the directors whose features are being shown this year.

The BPFF was created in 2007 with a mission to celebrate Palestinian culture, not to highlight the political aspects-- or aspirations-- of the state of Palestine. And while the latter certainly benefits from the former, the festival aims to highlight the cultural and artistic expression of the Palestinian people, while at the same time, attempting to combat the perceptions and stereotypes of both Palestinians and other people of the Middle East that gelled after 9/11 and have solidified in the years following. The festival itself also offers an outlet for Palestinians in exile to reconnect with their culture through the eyes of artists and filmmakers from around the world.

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The Muslims are Coming! Sharia Through Comedy

Katie Couric suggested that America needs a Muslim Cosby Show. We say a Muslim Seinfeld. There could even be a Ramadan special. Sponsored by Arby’s. Call it punchline diplomacy. Or, to borrow from Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, “Sharia through comedy.”

“People don’t notice minorities until either one of them has a hit song or does something horrible,” Jon Stewart said. We’re often left with images of sun-baked unabombers such that “being Muslim,” Iranian-American comedienne Negin Farsad observed, “became an accusation.”

She and Obeidallah set out to correct that. In 2011 they began working on a new comedy tour and documentary called The Muslims are Coming!, in which their band of comics—Aron Kader, Preacher Moss, Kareem Omary, Maysoon Zayid and Omar Elba—went on a tour through the Heartland and Deep South “to give America this big Muslim hug” by offering free shows in cities and towns they thought could use a little “Muzzie” love. (Doesn’t that sound like a Sesame Street puppet!?)

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Strange Bedfellows In Eran Riklis’ Zaytoun

Zaytoun, the latest feature from acclaimed Israeli filmmaker, Eran Riklis (Playoff, The Syrian Bride), opens in New York on September 20th before releasing nationwide. The film takes place in 1982 amid Lebanon’s civil war and tells the story of an unlikely alliance between Fahed, a twelve-year-old Palestinian refugee, and Yoni, an Israeli air-force pilot shot down and captured by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) forces. Overcoming (at least to some extent) their sense of mutual hostility and distrust, the two ultimately band together for a common mission: to enter into Israel. For Yoni, it is a return home. For Fahed, it is a journey to the land of his ancestors.

Fahed (Abdallah El Akal) lives in a Palestinian camp in Lebanon, trying to earn money by selling gum and cigarettes on the streets. He also trains, albeit reluctantly, with the local PLO forces. Tragedy strikes, however, when his father is killed by an Israeli air attack. Soon after, an Israeli pilot (Stephen Dorff) is shot down, captured, and interrogated. Fahed’s hatred towards the imprisoned stranger is understandable, but when Yoni offers to take Fahed with him back to Israel in exchange for helping him escape, Fahed - who has longed of visiting his familial homeland - reluctantly agrees. The two of them then set off on a dangerous but ultimately transformative journey, to a place they both call home.

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Argo Reviews Reveal Generational Divide Amongst Iranians

Ben Affleck's 2012 political thriller "Argo," about the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis, reached the streets of Tehran, Iran via the black market soon after its theatrical release in the US. The film's depiction of the historical event and its portrayal of Iranians at the time and its winning the coveted Academy Award for Best Picture, drew mixed emotions from residents of Tehran. These reactions are notably different across generations of Tehranis due to their respective familiarity with Iran at the time of the Hostage Crisis.

Sara, a 21-year-old accounting major, explains, "It all depends on how you look at the film. If you want to want to look at it from an artistic point of view, (then) it was a very beautiful film. However, because they wanted to appeal to the audience's emotions there were a lot of exaggerations. It's true that at the beginning of the Revolution, revolutionaries and the Basiji did not do good things. However, 'Argo' doesn't provide a collective image of Iran's population ... It only depicts the revolutionaries and the people that were against the Shah."

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A Halal “Hangover”: Lena Khan’s “Tiger Hunter” and Re-framing Muslim-American Narratives

Katie Couric suggested we need a Muslim Cosby Show. We say a Muslim Seinfeld. Like other minorities in the past 50 years, normalizing Muslims in mainstream media comes not from pointing out cultural differences, but from finding empathy- even humor- in the eccentricities and neurosis that every society shares, and the shared experiences of being seen as an American who happens to belong to a particular culture or faith. Hollywood likes labels- it thrives on defining its characters within stock categories. But film’s most enduring personalities are those who defy boundaries, who stay in our heads because we can’t cleanly classify them.

“The negative perception of Muslims is fueled in part by the media,” remarks director and UCLA grad Lena Khan. “Whereas we see every other group normalized by film and television, we [Muslims] are still missing. In this film, we are telling an entertaining story that happens to have a Muslim character.”

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No Hatred, No Cry: Short Film Admissions Screenwriter on Violence, Forgiveness and Mideast Peace

“You can’t want hell for other people without being in hell yourself.” If there were an Academy Award for one-liner delivery, John Viscount’s award-winning 2011 short film Admissions should have clinched it. With 21 minutes, four actors and a single set, Viscount lays out a modern-day parable where the stakes are high to find the wisdom required to learn true forgiveness in a world where “the ones who find it hardest to love need love the most.”

Set in the admissions room of the afterlife, the story at the center of this short film revolves around the Israeli couple Daphna and Eli (Anna Khaja, Anthony Batarse), a Palestinian man Ahmad (Oren Dayan) and the clerk (Oscar-nominated James Cromwell) to whom the three must plead their case for admittance into heaven. As they do, Daphna, Eli and Ahmad begin to realize that their lives are more intertwined that they initially thought, and as they grapple to find meaning and salvation in their deaths in the wake of Middle East conflict, histories compete, alliances are drawn then dissolved, and in realizing that they are part of a greater narrative far too complex to attribute blame to a singular person or deprive yourself of feeling compassion towards who might otherwise be your externalized enemy.

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“Reel” Narratives of an Otherwise-Politicized Story: A Review of the 16th Annual Arab Film Festival in San Francisco

For 16 years, the Arab Film Festival (AFF) has sought to illuminate the beauty, complexity and diversity of the Arab world by featuring films from distinguished as well as emerging filmmakers. This year’s event was no exception—the festival screened 40 films from 27 countries and in the process, accomplished its mission of providing a more balanced, multidimensional representation of the Arab people and their culture—an essential anecdote to countering the negative stereotypes so prevalent in the American media.

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