Our dearest blog readers – Happy New Year! We are excited to kick off 2023 by sharing with you all of the incredible Arab films being showcased at the very first major film festivals of the year, Sundance Film Festival and the International Film Festival Rotterdam…with a little bonus look at the Slamdance lineup too.

Arab Films at Sundance 2023

The Sundance Film Festival will be taking place in-person in Park City, Utah and online from January 19 – 29th. The selection of Arab films at Sundance 2023 is small but exciting. And as a bonus, these Arab films at Sundance 2023 are all available to watch online from your home!

Arab Films at Sundance 2023: a still from 5 Seasons of revoultion by Lina

A still from 5 Seasons of Revolution by Lina. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

5 Seasons of Revolution by Lina
Syria, Germany, Netherlands, Norway – Documentary Feature – World Cinema Documentary Competition

When the promise of an Arab Spring swept the region and word of protests calling for the Syrian regime to be overthrown reached Damascus, young, independent video reporter Lina and her group of hopeful, cosmopolitan compatriots celebrated the arrival of revolution. In order to avoid detection from the state and its directed and implied violence, Lina learned to embrace multiple identities to survive and continue reporting. As the months turned to years, the heady early days slowly became an ever-present brutal grind, chewing up relationships, futures, and lives.

Arab Films at Sundance 2023: Oumaïma Barid appears in Animalia by Sofia Alaoui.

Oumaïma Barid appears in Animalia by Sofia Alaoui. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Animalia by Sofia Alaoui
Morocco, France, Qatar – Narrative Feature – World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Heavily pregnant Itto looks forward to a day of peace and quiet when she gets her affluent household mostly to herself after her husband, Amine, goes away on business. She’s quickly lost sight of her modest origins and has adapted to her new family’s detached opulence. But when a mysterious state of emergency is declared nationwide, Itto struggles to find help; meanwhile, increasingly ominous events and strange weather phenomena suggest a supernatural presence is nearing. While frantically searching for a way back to Amine, Itto unexpectedly finds emancipation and the possibility of solace in a new world order.

Arab Films at Sundance 2023: a still from Simo by Aziz Zoromba.

A still from Simo by Aziz Zoromba. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Simo by Aziz Zoromba – AFF2022 Alum
Canada – Narrative Short – Short Film Program 6

In order to prove his popularity to his older brother, Simo sneakily infiltrates his brother’s gaming channel and uses a suspicious object to help increase the viewers. His actions have the effect of a bomb on the whole family.

Additionally to the above Arab films at Sundance 2023, Passages, a film from France directed by Ira Sachs, was produced by notable Tunisian-French producer Saïd Ben Saïd. It is a narrative feature playing in the Premieres section of the festival.

Bonus: Arab Films at Slamdance

The Slamdance Film Festival is a smaller independent film festival that takes place in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, right around the time of Sundance. This year, it will be from January 20-26, with online screenings taking place from January 23-29. Slamdance was conceived as an alternative to the large, oblique film industry & festival system and is known for showcasing new and incredibly unique voices in the film world. They have chosen a few short films from the Arab world for this year’s lineup…including one you may recognize from AFF2022!

Arab Films at Slamdance 2023: film still from Baghadad on Fire.

Film still from Baghdad on Fire

Baghdad on Fire by Karrar Al-Azzawi
Norway – Documentary Short – Documentary Shorts Program

Tiba joins Iraq’s youth protests where she braves bullets and tear gas with the hope of reclaiming her nation.

Arab Films at Slamdance 2023: Film still from Our Males and Females

Film still from Our Males and Females

Our Males and Females by Ahmad Alyaseer
Jordan – Narrative Short – Narrative Shorts Program

A father and mother are faced with the painful task of washing their deceased transgender daughter, but when no one agrees to wash her, how far is the father willing to go to make sure his “son” is washed?

Arab Films at Slamdance 2023: Film still from The Laughing Woo Woo.

Film still from The Laughing Woo Woo.

The Laughing Woo Woo by Amir Youssef – AFF2022 Alum
United States – Narrative Short – Narrative Shorts Program
Set in San Francisco during the 2011 Arab Spring, a lonesome Egyptian asylee battles his bizarre misfortunes to follow immigration procedures.
The Laughing Woo Woo played at the 26th Arab Film Festival in our Dahik (Laughter) program and the Local Talents program.

Arab Films at Rotterdam

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is an annual festival located in the Netherlands that was founded in 1972. It is known for its focus on independent and arthouse cinema and to showcasing both new talent and established auteurs. This year’s festival will take place from January 25-February 5 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Film still from Thiiird.

Film still from Thiiird. Courtesy of IFFR.

Thiiird by Karim Kassem
Lebanon – Documentary Feature – Tiger Competition

In a village outside of Beirut, amidst scrap metal, chickens and goats, the quiet Fouad runs a mechanic’s garage with a detached but soothing presence. His customers, both old and young, are invited to sit and drink coffee while they wait for their vehicles to be repaired. In these moments of stillness, the garage becomes a haven for people to express their growing despair amidst the economic collapse that surrounds them. No jobs. Sleepless nights. The burden of school tuition. No one is safe. As the darkness closes in, Fouad must undertake a deeply symbolic, transcendent journey through his own psyche: a search for the other side.

Film still from Indivision.

Film still from Indivision. Courtesy of IFFR.

Indivision by Leïla Kilani
Morocco, France – Feature – Tiger Competition

El Mansouria, near Tangier, is the wealthy homestead of the Bechtani family. Its location is shared with an abundant forest and villagers who have ‘squatted’ in the area for 40 years. A forthcoming wedding triggers a splitting of paths: while the matriarch of the Bechtani clan wants to clear out the land and sell it, her son Anis and granddaughter Lina live within nature in a fully mystical way, paying heed to coincidences and signs that announce a coming social revolution.

Far from relegating its dreamtime visions to a nostalgic prelapsarian past, Indivision fuses its depiction of nature with the new means of communication and creation engendered by the internet. The mute Lina, who writes keywords and questions all over her body, emerges as a paradoxical teenage warrior for our troubled times: she believes herself to be a superheroine, gifted or cursed, who holds the fate of the whole world in her hands.

Indivision radically combines an intrigue-filled family melodrama with transcendent lyricism and the far-sighted political wisdom born of Morocco’s Arab Spring movement.

Film still from The Disaster cannot be contained.

Film still from The Disaster Cannot Be Contained. Courtesy of IFFR.

The Disaster Cannot Be Contained by Diana Al-Halabi
Netherlands – Documentary Short – RTM Program

Disaster struck Beirut in 2020: the city was damaged by the biggest non-nuclear explosion in history, resulting in hundreds of victims. Filmmaker Diana Al-Halabi has a love of ports and has worked in the port of Beirut in the past. She draws a poetic parallel between the harbour of Rotterdam, where she was when she heard about the explosion, and that of Beirut. The blast hit Beirut at its core, but the stories reach much further.

Film still from 45th Parallel.

Film still from 45th Parallel. Courtesy of IFFR.

45th Parallel by Lawrence Abu Hamdan
United Kingdom – Short – Short & Mid-length program

A stirring monologue that slices through the noise of the news media to critique modern understandings of separation, violence, terror, and war. Border crossings and checkpoints reveal the privilege and contradictions inherent in ideas of freedom of movement and public space.

Film still from Le jour où j'étais perdu.

Film still from Le jour où j’étais perdu. Courtesy of IFFR.

Le jour où j’étais perdu by Soufiane Adel
France – Narrative Short – Short & Mid-length Program

A young man on his first day in a new enterprise. Gradually, we get to know his position and outlook on life. In parallel, a new space operation is launched: another small step in the utopic desire to understand the infinite. Tackling the idea of contemporary mythology, where self-made men and the conquering of space have supplanted the ancient heroes, Le jour ou j’étais perdu seduces the audience with ambiguity and continuous shifts of perception.

Film still from Ode to Loneliness.

Film still from Ode to Loneliness. Courtesy of IFFR.

Ode to Loneliness by Rawane Nassif
Lebanon – Narrative Short – Short & Mid-length Program

A woman alone in her high-rise apartment in Doha, as day passes into night. Rawane Nassif’s stylised treatment takes us inside this person’s experiences and longings. Carefully orchestrated images compare the textures of exterior and interior worlds. Similar shapes are superimposed; colours are varied and projected onto the cityscape. The pandemic hovers as the unspoken social context. But, more deeply, is a release from the prison of the self finally possible?

Film still from Paradiso, XXXI, 108.

Film still from Paradiso, XXXI, 108. Courtesy of IFFR.

Paradiso, XXXI, 108 by Kamal Aljafari
Palestine, Germany – Documentary Short – Short & Mid-length Program

The title, flashed on screen in multiple fonts and languages, prompts us to look up the reference: Dante wonders about the imprint of Christ on the Veil of Veronica – “was your semblance made like unto this?”. In this way, Kamal Aljafari declares the underlying theme of his disquieting, found-footage collage: do the heroic, suspenseful representations of armed warfare on screen, whether in documentary or fiction, bear any resemblance to the devastating, tragic, barbaric reality?

Image from A House in Jerusalem.

Image from A House in Jerusalem.

A House in Jerusalem by Muayad Alayan – AFF2015 Alum
Palestine – Narrative Feature – Limelight

Following the traumatising death of her mother in an accident, Rebecca moves with her father, Michael, to her grandfather’s home in Jerusalem. Although disconsolate himself, Michael wants his daughter to begin a new life in the new city. But, clinging to the memories of her mother, the young girl cannot bring herself to let go of the past. The tussle between father and daughter comes to a head when Rebecca discovers another girl of her age living in the house.

Check out our interview with Muayad Alayan about his pervious film, Love, Theft and Other Entanglements, here.

Film still from Kira & El Gin.

Film still from Kira & El Gin. Courtesy of IFFR.

Kira & El Gin by Marwan Hamed
Egypt – Narrative Feature – Limelight

Cairo, 1919. The Great War has left Egyptian soldiers of the Empire traumatised, the Spanish Flu has ravaged the country and nationalist leaders are being deported amid fervent protests. Unfazed by the tumult, Abdel Qader, an apolitical drug peddler known as the Jinn, continues to do business with the colonizers. But when injustice comes knocking, he finds himself joining hands with an underground resistance unit led by Ahmed Kira, a physician in the good books of the British.

Three additional Arab films are also included in the Limelight program which we at AFMI have previously shown or written about. They include The Blue Caftan from Morocco by Maryam Touzani, Cairo Conspiracy (previously titled Boy From Heaven) from Egypt by Tarik Saleh and Mediterranean Fever from Palestine by Maha Haj.

Finally, in the Rotterdam CineMart, the festival’s co-production market, one Arab film is included:

Eldorado by Alaa Eddine Aljem – AFFC2020 Alum
Morocco – Narrative Feature

A group of migrants seeks to reach Eldorado, a secret utopian island where everyone lives in peace – and eventually ends up in a factory of the same name that produces tomato sauce.

Which films at these January festivals are you looking forward to seeing? What do you hope will make it to the 27th Arab Film Festival? Let us know!