The Best Arab Film Festival Moments - 2017 Edition

1) Full House at the Castro!

If you haven’t been to the Arab Film Festival‘s Opening Night in San Francisco, you don’t know what you’ve been missing: it’s big, bold, and at the Castro, the historical movie theater that holds 1,400 people. And it was our largest opening night attendance to date. Thank you for coming out to see Sophie Boutros‘s Solitaire and for supporting Arab cinema!

From the VIP reception, to the opening statement of our Executive Director Serge Bakalian, from the amazing volunteers who made this night special, to the laughs and tears of Solitaire, we are already looking forward to be back in 2018.

And after the movie…AFTER PARTY! We know how to have fun ūüėÄ Take a look at all the pictures on Facebook, and tag yourself and your friends.


Psst: Thank you, Naji Sawas, for leading the way!

2) More AFF in the Bay Area

This year we expanded our reach: in San Francisco we screened multiple films at the Roxie, one of the best and most recognized movie theaters in the city. Grab a burrito and watch a movie, what’s not to like?

We also returned to Shattuck Theaters in Berkeley, the New Parkway in Oakland (more about it later), showed special programs at the San Francisco Public Library, and expanded to the Empress Theater in Vallejo. We loved this new location and dare we say the love was mutual? Some local ladies even prepared Mediterranean food for one of our screenings, with Saudi coffee and tea ♥♥♥

We have some of the best, most supportive film festival patrons and some of our hardcore VIPs who’ve frequented the fest for years told us that this year has been especially exceptional! *blush* Believe it or not, one of our biggest fans even traveled from Canada to come to our film festival this year!

3) The First Saudi Film Showcase at an American Film Festival

Saudi Arabia has a budding independent film scene but unfortunately it is almost impossible for American audiences to catch these movies. This year, the Arab Film Festival brought three of the most creative and boundary-pushing films to Oakland in the first Saudi Film Showcase at a film festival in the States!

The sold-out show culminated in an amazing Q&A session with MADAYEN’s writer/actor Hakeem Jomah and executive producer Sultan Faisal who joined us in person. This was the biggest international screening of their film to date. Everyone was engaged during the screening, laughing with the punch lines, and shrieking with the horror “shock” moments of the film – Madayen is a horror movie ūüėČ

After the Q&A the Hakeem and Sultan hung out in the lobby chatting with so many who still had questions! It was a magical night.

4) More Filmmakers’¬†Q&As

AFMI is all about amplifying the voices of Arab filmmakers and we set the tone at this year’s Arab Film Festival. We had more Q&A sessions than ever and we are planning on continuing the trend next year. We kicked off our run of filmmakers’ appearances with¬†Raed Rafei, the director of HERE I AM… HERE YOU ARE. And hosted a Q&A with our very own Artistic Director Deana Nassar and Senior¬†Film Festival Programmer Alexander Farrow after the screenings of WOMEN OF FREEDOM and 17 in San Francisco.


Then we¬†saw a significant turn out for our “Refugee Stories” program at the New Parkway in Oakland, followed by a powerful and productive Q&A with AFMI board member Hisham Zawil, who is also the site manager of the Oakland chapter of the International Rescue Committee. IRC is a non profit organization that helps refugees upon their arrival to the USA. Also on the panel, Khaled Eid, photojournalist and Syrian refugee. Many found themselves teary-eyed, especially as Khaled recounted his experience.


Director of THE CANDLE, Nasser Samara joined us for two Q&A sessions and is always amazing to have on stage. And director Carol Mansour and producer Muna Khalidi joined us in person for our screening of STITCHING PALESTINE, see #5.


In Los Angeles we had three compelling¬†Q&A sessions: with director Raouf Zaki and some of the cast/crew of his short film FIREFLIES, the cast from Nasser Samara’s short THE CANDLE;¬† and finally for our closing film NUT$ executive producer Tarek Sikias and actor Alexandra Kahwagi joined us for a special panel moderated by Alfred Madain from The Markaz.

5) Stitching Palestine

Another super powerful and near sold-out experience was watching STITCHING PALESTINE, followed by a Q&A with director Carol Mansour and producer Muna Khalidi. The most amazing moment was when one woman in the audience revealed that her mother was shown in one of the many archival images displayed in the film. Here’s how our festival programmer, Alexander Farrow, described the moment: “The entire room gasped. Tears happened… And. Just. Wow. Speechless. You could feel the power in the room and looking around I saw that people were having emotional responses including myself. Another person in attendance has family who live near the filmmakers in Beirut, and both Carol and Muna know this particular person’s family! It was very cool and you felt the radiance of the community glowing with deep energy and spirit. Dozens of folks lingered afterwards wanting to talk.”

6) The Los Angeles Festival is All Grown Up

Our LA Opening Night saw the largest sold-out turn out in Los Angeles ever. Not an extra seat available.

The Arab Film Festival in Los Angeles

The evening started with a wonderful reception and¬†everyone showed up, from film students, to Arab film fans, from celebrities to our community partners. Our LA Festival Director Nagham Wehbe organized an amazing evening, and we were thrilled to welcome our guest of honor Hisham Fageeh, who is on this year’s AFF jury and whose film¬†BARAKAH MEETS BARAKAH was Saudi Arabia’s official 2016 Oscar entry. We also caught glimpses of award-winning director Hassan Said, TV host, actor and philanthropist Christine Solomon, Syrian Broadcast Journalist Dima Tayeh, filmmaker Raouf Zaki, producer Tarek Sikias, Lebanese-American battle rapper Dizaster, the team from¬†Arab American Casting, and more. If you are in LA, start planning on joining us next year, this is quickly becoming the place to be for the Arab film community in Southern California!

The Arab Film Festival in Los Angeles

Psst: you can catch¬†BARAKAH MEETS BARAKAH on Netflix ūüėČ

7) Community and Connection

The 2017 edition of the Arab Film Festival was so special because of the myriad different moments we all connected around our own stories and the stories of all we love. With all that has been happening this year, it can be hard to keep smiling. But nothing helps move forward and find hope as knowing we are not alone. No blog post can capture that feeling, but if you joined us even for one film, you know what it is like. We are planning on creating small and big moments of connection throughout the year. Here’s to closer ties in 2018!