x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

California's Arab Film Festival illustrates how films that were first given a platform at festivals in the UAE are now going out into the world to find new audiences.

Tahani Salim in When Monaliza Smiled, a romantic comedy about a love story between the Jordanian Monaliza and the Egyptian Hamdi, set in present day Amman among a community of nosy and quirky characters. Courtesy of Made in Amman Productions
Tahani Salim in When Monaliza Smiled, a romantic comedy about a love story between the Jordanian Monaliza and the Egyptian Hamdi, set in present day Amman among a community of nosy and quirky characters. Courtesy of Made in Amman Productions

The organisers of the UAE’s film festivals could have been excused for saying “you saw it here first” when the programme for a multi-city event in California was published last week.

A number of the movies that are being shown at the annual Arab Film Festival (AFF) were given crucial early support and recognition in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The California event was founded in 1996 and is the largest of its kind in the US. It is regarded as one of the most important showcases of Arab cinema outside the Arab world. The festival starts in San Francisco on Friday and moves on to Los Angeles, Berkeley, Oakland and San Diego.

The programme illustrates how films that were first given a platform at festivals in the UAE are now going out into the world to find new audiences.

The film selected for the gala opening night is When I Saw You, directed by Annemarie Jacir.

UAE film fans will remember the film won the New Horizons Award for Best Film from the Arab World at last year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF). It received backing from the festival’s SANAD fund.

“The success of When I Saw You represents all of the efforts by Abu Dhabi Film Festival and its SANAD fund in supporting Arab cinema,” says Ali Al Jabri, ADFF’s festival director.

“Having already been screened at the Abu Dhabi, Berlin and Toronto film festivals, receiving an award at ADFF for Best Film from the Arab World, I am delighted that Californian audiences will have the chance to see this wonderful film on the big screen.”

The film is set in Jordan in 1967 when tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees poured over the border.

Jacir, a Palestinian, says it was important that a film such as hers was shown in the US at events like the AFF.

“The community, especially people who do not follow film closely in general, do come to festivals like AFF,” she says.

“AFF manages to reach out to our people in the US and I believe it’s a wonderful community experience to watch the film in that kind of environment.

“For me, personally, AFF is close to my heart – I screened my first films here more than 15 years ago. I also attended the festival and had some beautiful moments with the people there.”

The festival moves to Los Angeles on October 18, where the opening night screening will take place at the home of moviemaking.

When Monaliza Smiled, directed by Jordanian Fadi Haddad, will receive its US premiere at a theatre on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The romantic comedy was screened at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) last December and was nominated for a Muhr Award.

Other films in the programme that were previously shown at DIFF include Fouad Alaywan’s Asfouri, Lara Saba’s Blind Intersections and Pary El Qalqili’s The Turtle’s Rage.

Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours, which is being screened during the San Francisco, Berkeley and San Diego legs of the festival, won three awards at ADFF. The Dubai-born director Fleifel, like Jacir, received support from the SANAD fund.

The organisers of the California festival say they select films that represent Arabs in ways that contradict the “stereotypical images frequently encountered in the American mass media”.

They add: “The Arab Film Festival screens films from and about the Arab world that provide realistic perspectives on Arab people, culture, art, history and politics.”

However, Jacir says: “I don’t make films to fix stereotypes. I make films about stories and people which speak to me, which mean something to me, and I try to be honest in that.”

Works shown at the UAE’s third major cinema event, the Gulf Film Festival (GFF), are also receiving a US showcase this week.

Many of the 15 films to be screened at the Middle East Studies Association Film Festival in New Orleans were shown at GFF earlier this year.

They include the UAE productions Souvenirs from Candy Land, a documentary about drug abuse directed by Amani Alowais, and Half Emirati, directed by Amal Al Agroobi.

Works from Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will also be featured at the festival, which runs from Thursday to Sunday.

artslife@thenational.ae