October 2016 was a whirlwind. In the past 20 years, the Arab Film Festival has grown steadily across California, and this year it outdid all expectations. I couldn’t possibly describe all the excitement and wonderful times we shared with long time fans, filmmakers, and Arab cinema newbies. Here’s the top 10 🙂

1) #LaunchAFMI

The most important moment of the festival came at Opening Night, when AFF’s Executive Director Serge Bakalian announced the launch of the first Arab Film and Media Institute in the United States. We raised thousands of dollars on the spot through text to give and thousands more at a fundraising brunch.

Serge Bakalian at Arab Film Festival Opening Night 2016

Photo by Ramsey El Qare

We still need $30,000 to launch next year, and we are raising it on Indiegogo – our campaign runs until Dec. 3rd. Help us create a complete ecosystem to discover, nurture, and showcase Arab and Arab American stories through film. The first phase of the institute will include a school education curriculum to share Arab films and perspectives in the classroom, and the beginning of our filmmakers services. Help us #LaunchAFMI, by making a donation today.

2) October 7th is now officially Arab Film Festival Day in San Francisco

Whaaat!?! Yes, you read it right! San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee officially recognized the Arab Film Festival for its 20 years of service and commitment to the arts and proclaimed October 7th Arab Film Festival Day in San Francisco. We are honored to share this date with National Frappe Day. Milkshake for everyone next year?

Arab Film Festival Day October 7 San Francisco

Photo by Marco Villalobos

3) AFF 2016 premieres CLASH in the US

The line was around the block to see CLASH, the hard hitting, funny, sad, intense, amazing film by Mohamed Diab. Everyone came to the Castro to celebrate the beginning of the festival and to watch one of the best Arab films of the year.

Arab Film Festival Opening Night 2016 at the Castro Theater

4) AFF’s First Animation Program!

For the first time this year we showed a curated program of animated short films. It included Diaspora (Tunisia), The Dice Player (Egypt), In the Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain (Palestine), Karouma (United Arab Emirates), The Pot Thief (Lebanon), Silence (Lebanon), Unfinished Tales: Fool’s Paradise ( Jordan, France and the United Kingdom), Waves ’98 (Lebanon).  We hope to keep showing this type of work, stay tuned for more to come.

5) Fahad Albutairi and Loujain Alhathloul…

…joined us to celebrate our San Francisco Opening Night. What a wonderful visit! Both are very active on Twitter, follow them for all their latest updates at @Fahad and @LoujainHathloul

Fahad Albutairi and Loujain Alhathloul at AFF2016

6) After Spring Shined a Light on the Refugee Crisis

We hosted a screening of After Spring, followed by a discussion about the refugee crisis, in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee in Oakland.

7) Los Angeles Opening Night SOLD OUT!

For the first time in 10 years, our Opening Night in LA sold out, thanks to Very Big Shot. Writer and Director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya joined us all the way from Lebanon to answer questions following the screening, during a Q&A with AFF’s Artistic Director Deana Nassar.

Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya and Deana Nassar at AFF2016

8) All of Lebanon joined us in Los Angeles

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we were so happy to host Honorable Johnny Ibrahim, Consul General Of Lebanon in Los Angeles, Miss Lebanon, House of Lebanon, Lebanese Collegiate Network (LCN), and more!
A word to the wise: get your tickets early next year, I am afraid LA is not going to be such a small festival edition anymore 😉

9) Arab Classics Night in Oakland

It was our first time showing a classic, and we want to do it again! Thanks to M.Media we brought Bennesbeh Labokra, Chou? to the Bay Area, for a sold out screening.

10) New T-Shirts!

This year our T-shirts not only celebrate our 20 years as a festival, but make a powerful point about Arab American representation. You can still grab a t-shirt online, and help us make the community more visible in a way that reflects our diversity and individuality. Dena Takruri even wore it for one of her segments on AJ+!

This is What an Arab-American Looks Like

And last, but not least, THANK YOU to all our partners and volunteers: you made 2016 our best year yet. 

Thank you: Wells Fargo, Sling TV, Movie Pigs, TV5 Monde, Consulate General of Lebanon in Los AngelesAlef,b, Creative Arab Talent, Harmony Gold, M.Media, The New Parkway, Landmark Theatres, California Arts Council, Center of Arab American Philanthropy, Center for Cultural Innovation, Macy’s, National Network of Arab American Communities, San Francisco Arts Commission, Hewlett Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Arabology, Arab America, KQED, KPFA, KPFK, KPOO, Muslim Public Affairs Council Hollywood BureauArab American Civic Council, Arab American Institute, French Film and TV Office – French Consulate in Los Angeles, House of Lebanon, Joseph’s Foundation, Layali Zaman, Lebanese Collegiate Network, The Los Angeles Cedars Rotary Club, Miss Lebanon USA, Middle Eastern Student Center, Network of Arab American Professionals-L.A, Network of Arab American Professionals-San FranciscoQabila Folk Dance Company, Samo’s Dabke Group, The Markaz Los Angeles, UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, Women in Film Los Angeles, Women in Film- International, A Country Called Syria, USC Middle Eastern Department, Lebanese Social Club – UCLA, Jana Program, AlmjharByblos Restaurant, Wahib’s Middle East Restaurant, Victory Pastry, Old Sasoon Bakery, Date 2 Remember, MYH Events and Production, Photo Hatem, NBStaffing, Yalla Food Truck, Photobuzz PhotoboothAccess California, Arab American Cultural Center Silicon Valley, Arab Cultural and Community Center, Arab Resource & Organizing Center, Asian Art Museum, BART, Bay Area Women in Film &Media, Consulate General of France in San Francisco, Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco, Hip Hop for Change, International Rescue Committee, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Pacific Film Archives, Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, San Francisco Film Society, San Francisco Green Film Festival, Sunjams, The Markaz: Resource Center at Stanford University, United Nations Association Film Festival, Women’s Intercultural Network, Women’s Voices Now, Yalla Arabi, ZAWAYA/Aswat

Here’s to 20 years more and to #LaunchAFMI together!