London Arab film festival surveys fast-changing family values

SAFAR is the only UK festival dedicated to showcasing films from the Arab world. This year there will be three premieres among the 20 films to be screened in three cinemas and online up to July 17.
Tuesday 29/06/2021
Souad, director Ayten Amin’s second feature, explores the double lives of teenage girls in Zagazig, Egypt, a small city on the Nile Delta. (safarfilmfestival.co.uk/screenings/souad)
Souad, director Ayten Amin’s second feature, explores the double lives of teenage girls in Zagazig, Egypt, a small city on the Nile Delta. (safarfilmfestival.co.uk/screenings/souad)

LONDON - The Arab Spring did more than disrupt long-standing political dispensations. It also gave impetus to sometimes disturbing social changes. The impact in particular on families is the focus of a new festival of Arab films opening in London on July 1.

The sixth SAFAR film festival explores the theme “Generational Encounters” showing films that look at the disparities and reflects on the legacy of these popular protests by focussing on stories of personal revolution, the kind that unfold daily in households across the region and beyond. The films record ordinary people pushing back against patriarchy, challenging social inequality and dreaming of change.

Founded in 2012, by London’s Arab-British Centre, a cultural organisation which works to further understanding of the Arab world in the United Kingdom, SAFAR is the only UK festival dedicated to showcasing films from Arab cinema. This year there will be three premieres among the 20 films to be screened up in three cinemas and online up to July 17.

The three premiers are “Souad”, “Their Algeria” and “We Are From There”.

“Souad” , is the second feature film from director Ayten Amin and explores the double lives of teenage girls in Zagazig, Egypt. The Variety newspaper review said that Amin makes use of first-time actors and improvisation techniques to achieve a “razor-sharp, non-judgmental insight” into the lives of young women today; from their messy friendships, to their longings for independence. The film received the Cannes 2020 label and actually premiered at the 2021 Berlinale, in the Panorama section. Lead actors Bassant Ahmed and Basmala Elghaiesh have also recently been jointly been awarded Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The second premier, “Their Algeria”, is Lina Soualem’s intimate and poignant documentary debut, excavating the chaotic immigrant lives of her grandparents as they separate after 62 years of living side by side. Together, they came from Algeria to Thiers, in France, over 60 years ago. Side by side, they experienced this chaotic immigrant life. For Lina, their separation is an opportunity to question their long journey of exile, as well as her identity.

In the third premier, “We Are From There”, director Wissam Tanios documents the experiences of his Syrian cousins as they embark on journeys to Europe in search of new lives, leaving everything behind except their hope for a better future. The film explores the human ability to cope with change as radical as it may be and won Best Arab Film and Best Non-Fiction Film at the 2020 Cairo International Film Festival.

Other events at the SAFAR film festival include a free online Masterclass with Palestinian actor Ali Suliman on Monday July 5, accessible globally. From his work on Hany Abu Assad’s Golden Globe winner “Paradise Now” (2005) to Ameen Nayfeh’s Venice-awarded debut “200 Meters” (screening with a director Q&A on Saturday July 10), Ali Suliman has constantly reinvented himself with every performance, intensely connecting with each character he portrays while shying away from stereotypical roles.

In this Masterclass, moderated by film critic Jay Weissberg, the Palestinian actor speaks about his diverse acting journey including working with Peter Berg and Ridley Scott in Hollywood as well as established filmmakers in the Arab world such as Elia Suleiman and Ghassan Salhab, while also lending his talents to support the careers of emerging Arab filmmakers including Emirati director Majid Al Ansari and Jordanian director Yahya Al-Abdallah.

The 2021 edition of SAFAR is curated by Rabih El-Khoury around the theme of Generational Encounters in Arab Cinema.https://www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk/
The 2021 edition of SAFAR is curated by Rabih El-Khoury around the theme of Generational Encounters in Arab Cinema.https://www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk/

Two coming-of-age stories, “You Will Die at Twenty” directed by Amjad Abu Alala and “Al-Sit”  from Suzannah Mirghani are Sudanese films being screened at the ICA. Both directors, plus Sudan Film Factory founder Talal Afifi, will join an online panel discussion about Sudanese cinema, exploring how their recent films question traditional versus modern values through their inter-generational stories. They will also look at how the Sudan Film Factory is bridging the memory of the past with the hope of the future through supporting this new generation of filmmakers.

There will also be a special screening marking 40 years since the filming of Mohamed Malas’ documentary “The Dream” followed by a discussion with the director and the producer. Shot in 1980-81 and released later in the decade, “The Dream” is composed of interviews with different Palestinian refugees including children, women, elderly people and militants from refugee camps in Lebanon, including Sabra and Shatila.

Other screenings include Mayye Zayed’s documentary “Lift Like a Girl” which investigates the world of Alexandria’s champion female weightlifters through the eyes of up-and-coming Zebiba and Marianne Khoury’s “Let’s Talk”,  a mother-daughter journey exploring four generations of women in an Egyptian family from the Levant where life and cinema have been intimately linked and still are.

There is also “Adam”, the feature debut of Moroccan filmmaker and actor Maryam Touzani which follows a desperate pregnant woman out of wedlock who is taken in by a grieving widow and her daughter.

All three screenings will be followed by virtual Qs&As with the director.

A special ticket price is being offered at the Institut Francais for those who want to see both films featuring Cannes Best Actor Award winning Sami Bouajila, “The Blessed”,  Sofia Djama’s portrait of post-civil war Algiers and Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s thrilling drama “A Son” which follows Bouajila in the role of Fares as he desperately tries to save the life of his injured son.

The online programme includes four recent documentaries exploring home, family and migration alongside the classic, Maroun Bagdadi’s “Little Wars”, available to watch online for free for UK audiences from July 11-17.

There is also an online talk “There’s No Place Like Home” exploring making documentaries in the family home with three directors Cyril Aris, Zeina Alqahwaji and Anthony Chidiac and a talk “Chronicles of an Exile”, with Algerian director Karim Sayad about his documentary “My English Cousin”.

SAFAR Film Festival: Generational Encounters in Arab Cinema runs from July 1-17  in cinemas from July 1-10 and online from July 11-17.

SAFAR Cinema Screenings are held at Barbican, ICA and Institut Francais’ Cine Lumiere. Tickets cost between £9 – £12 depending on venue and concession.

SAFAR online screenings and talks are hosted on www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk where they can be registered for for free or with a donation.

View the full programme on www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk