Happy New Year all! We’re kicking off 2019 with our annual series profiling the world’s major film festivals and the Arab films in their programs.

First up, with have the Sundance Film Festival which will begin this week in Park City, Utah on January 24th. For this piece, we’ve chosen to separate the films into two categories, films that tell Arab stories and films that are by Arab filmmakers but tell other stories. Representation is extremely important, both in front of and behind the lens!

Without further ado, we present this year’s selection of Arab films at Sundance:


There will be two feature-length films covering Arab stories at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Both films are documentaries in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Film still from Gaza – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Gaza by Garry Keane & Andrew McConnell
Ireland/Canada – Documentary
92 min

Facing the serene Mediterranean Sea, 17-year-old Karma Khaial stands at the water’s edge and senses freedom. But in Gaza, the sea is yet another wall restricting the lives and dreams of its inhabitants.

This documentary offers an intimate look into the heart of Gaza – the city and its people. It shows us not only the challenges they face every single day but also the hope, joy and humanity that can be found in every corner of this mosaic of life. 

Still from Advocate – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Advocate by Rachel Leah Jones & Philippe Bellaïche
Israel/Canada/Switzerland – Documentary
110 min

This films tells the story of Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, who is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal charges in Israeli courts for nearly five decades, she is a staunch supporter of compassion within the court system. Frequently subjected to harsh criticism in the press and in the public view, Tsemel remains optimistically steadfast in her belief that justice can be served.

This documentary juxtaposes two of Tsemel’s cases, one professional and the other personal: the defense of a minor accused of attempted murder and a past case in which she defended her activist husband from an accusation of treason against the state.

There are also a number of Arab narrative short films featured in three of this year’s Shorts programs.

Still from Dunya’s Day – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Dunya’s Day by Raed Alsemari
Saudi Arabia/USA – Shorts (Shorts Program 1)
14 min

Abandoned by her domestic help, Dunya fights to throw the perfect graduation soirée.

Still from Brotherhood – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Brotherhood by Meryam Joobeur
Canada/Tunisia/Qatar/Sweden – Short (Shorts Program 2)
25 min

When a hardened Tunisian shepherd’s son returns home after a long journey with a new wife, tension rises between father and son.

Still from Aziza – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Aziza by Soudade Kaadan
Syria/Lebanon – Short (Shorts Program 3)
13 min

A dynamic take on the life of Syrian refugees told through black comedy.


Academy Award nominated Egyptian filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, (known for The Square, Control Room, and Startup.com,) return to Sundance with a new film showing in the Documentary Premieres program. 

Still from The Great Hack – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The Great Hack by Karim Amer & Jehane Moujaim
USA – Documentary
139 min

Have you ever filled out an online survey? Do you wonder why you receive ads for products that you happened to research the day before? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Data has surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset, and it is being weaponized to wage cultural and political wars. We’re in a battle for control over our most intimate personal details. The Great Hack uncovers the dark world of data exploitation through the compelling personal journeys of players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breach that rocked the world.

And in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition program, you will find the second feature film from Danish-Egyptian director May el-Toukhy, who’s known for her first film Long Story Short, as well as for her work on a number of radio dramas, stage plays and award-winning television series.

Still from Queen of Hearts – Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Queen of Hearts by May el-Toukhy
Denmark – Drama
128 min

Anne, a successful lawyer, lives in a beautiful modernist home with her two daughters and physician husband, Peter. Yet when Gustav, Peter’s troubled teenage son from another relationship, comes to live with them, Anne forms an intimate bond with Gustav that jeopardizes her perfect life. And what initially seems like a liberating move for Anne soon turns into a disturbing story of power, betrayal, and responsibility with devastating consequences.

We’re so excited for these films and can’t wait until we get the chance to see them ourselves. Which films are you most excited to see at this year’s Sundance Film Festival?