“Prepare Yourself!", is the exciting slogan of the 13th Dubai International Film Festival taking place from the 7th till the 14th of December 2016. This cinematic celebration has become the most distinguished in the Arab world after proving its importance in supporting the film industry through the “Dubai Film Market” and its production line: The “Accomplishments” fund. With these and other initiatives, the festival has succeeded in attracting some priceless content.
The 2015 festival showcased 134 films, this year however the number increased to 156 films from 55 countries.The festival includes feature and non-fiction short and long films including 57 international premieres, 73 MENA premieres, 12 Middle East premieres and 9 GCC premieres.
The films produced in 44 languages compete for DIFF’s Emirati, Gulf and Arabic categories, the Mahr Prize, alongside prizes for to the categories of Virtual Reality and Children Films.
In the midst of all these films, choosing a film to watch becomes very hard; so we have prepared a list of the 10 best Arabic language films for you:
Better known as “Hedi”, this film is already out there! Due to its distinguished success in the Berlinale International Film Festival, earning two prestigious awards: Best Long Film for Director Mohamed Ben Attia (1976) and Silver Bear for actor Majd Mastoora. The film also earned Best Film at the Athens International Film Festival and was shown in more than 15 international festivals. Through “Hedi” who doesn’t mind others dictating his life, Ben Attia approaches the post-revolution Tunisian youth and their aspiration for liberation and change. Hedi demands social change because political change is not enough. The film sheds light and gives credit to the role of women in the real transformation that the country went through.
Two days before his marriage, Hedi meets Reem. She is a completely different person from him and he gets blown away by her charms and emancipation. For the first time in his life, he is able to get familiar with maturity and freedom of choice away from society’s guardianship and patriarchy. This is one of the best post-revolution Tunisian films, though, another film that is worth mentioning is Leyla Bouzid’s "As I Open My Eyes" (2015).
Jordanian Mahmoud Al-Massad (1969) is one of the most important documentary directors, with two amazing films 'Recycle" (2007) and "This is My Picture When I Was Dead" (2010). He earned prestigious awards in Sundance International Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival and Dubai International Film Festival, and today his works are taught in Europe. The name of Mahmoud Al-Massad alone was enough for this film to be worth watching.
The film is considered a Al-Massad's return to feature films. Combining ironic comedy and life situations, he presents the construction worker Ahmed who gets arrested for fraud and is put in jail. Ahmed meets Ibrahim, the crook, when holding on to his last hopes to prove he is innocent; he realizes that life behind bars might be better than his life outside. This is a prison film to seriously consider watching. It premiered internationally in Toronto and earned two awards in Warsaw.
A Memory in Khaki
Post-Syrian war documentaries are always interesting, the question is whether the documentary will be a piece of propaganda or a cinematic work that is different, creative and with a clear concept. Syrian director Alfouz Tanjour works his scalpel through this memory, by shedding light on the tight grip of the military on the regime. The author’s biography (the scenario is his in collaboration with Louai Haffar) intersects with the biographies of Syrian people who were forced to leave the country due to their political stances.
Tanjour is active and productive, his documentaries and short features show optimism for new films following his first world premiere.
Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim
Finally, after a short astonishing filmography, director Sherif Elbendary (1978) delivers his first long feature film. The Egyptian director started with Sabah El Ful (2006) with actress Hind Sabri and graduated from the High Institute of Cinema with Sa’a Asari (2008) adapted from the story A’akhir Al-Nahar by Ibrahim Aslan. These two films earned 29 awards on several world tours. His film 18 Days (2011) about Egypt’s January Revolution was featured among 90 other films to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. His latest work Har Jaf Saeyfan (2015) competed in Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival – the most renowned international short film festival – and earned awards in Oran and Malmo.
everyone was anticipating his long film Oudheteen We Sala adopted from the novel Hujratan Wa Sala by Ibrahim Aslan specifically because it represented the return of the late Mahmoud Abdul Aziz after Ibrahim Al-Abyadh (2009). But Mahmoud Abdul Aziz withdrew from the film. Elbendary moved on to create Ali the Goat and Ibrahim which is originally a story by his friend Ibrahim Al-Batoot with the intention of returning to Oudheteen We Sala. It can be said that Elbendary is one of the most interesting Egyptian directors among his peers.
Ali is a young man in his twenties who loves his goat and faces criticism from the people around him. His mom forces him to visit a spiritualist. He meets Ibrahim who is suffering from depression and hears strange voices. However, the spiritualist insists that three grits shall be thrown in three bodies of water in order for the treatment to be effective. So Ali, his goat and Ibrahim start an existential journey through Cairo, Alexandria and Sinai as if they were on an official mission. The film explores the geography of the land of Pharaohs like never before, steering the cameras to places never discovered previously.
7 years after his film The Nile Birds, the Egyptian Magdy Ahmed Aly brings us his new film about the ambiguous relationship between religion and power, a very important theme in a very troubled region. This film is adapted from a novel with the same name by the famous journalist Ibrahim Issa. Sheikh Hatim’s character is played by film star Amro Saad alongside Durra, Ahmed Ratib, Fathi Abd Al-Wahab and Sabri Fawaz.
The film involves several conflicts around a son who is being medically treated abroad, having to deal with the demands of National Security and other Egyptian authorities in order to rescue the presidential family from embarrassment. The intersections between the public and the personal, religion and religiosity, faith and hypocrisy, interest and duty make Mawlana a film not to be missed.
This is an Arabic thriller exploring the themes of the end of the world and post-resurrection. The year is 2033, a group of survivors living in a dystopic future seeking to preserve the last source of pure water. When they are joined by two strangers, a streak of killings and alignments starts. Chaos reaches higher levels of madness when violence takes control of the characters.
The Emirati director Ali Mostafa is known for works such as City of Life (2009) – which is the first Emirati blockbuster – and From A to B (2014). He enters the world of thriller and action films with the help of two Hollywood experts: Peter Safran (The Conjuring, Annabelle) and Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) alongside one of the best producers and Arabic networking and funding experts, Rami Yassin. The cast is promising, and includes Syrians Samir Al-Masri and Samir Ismael, Palestinians Ali Soleiman and Maisa’a Abd Al-Hadi and Emirati Habib Ghaloom. The Worthy is certainly a primary recommendation.
When a Syrian young man asks for the hand of his Lebanese girlfriend for marriage from her family, the issues between the people of the two countries arise. This is what the Lebanese Sophie Boutros presents after directing numerous Music Videos featuring many famous Arab singers. With an Italian comedy style and a social context that doesn’t lack sarcasm, she asks the following question: Can love reunite what politics divided?
This is also a return of Bassam Kusa to cinema after a long period of absence, though it wasn’t through a Syrian film. The cast includes Abdel Lateef Abdel Hamid, Ousama Mohamed, Nabeel Al-Malih, Sameer Zikra, Ghassan Shmeet and Fajr Yaakoub, alongside the Syrians Nadine and Jabir Jukhdar, Julia Kassar, Ali Al-Khaleel and Serena Al-Sahmi from Lebanon.
A Maid for Each
Maher Abi Samra is considered to be one of the most important documentary filmmakers in Lebanon. He doesn’t shy away from tackling taboos, and rarely discussed problems and issues including the civil war. In this film, Abi Samra addresses the issue of domestic workers in Lebanon. There are 200,000 domestic workers for a population of 4 Million in the country. Zain is an owner of a recruiting agency, he helps his costumers chose their suitable maid from a “catalog” he prepares. Rima plays the role of a maid but has a Sri Lankan maid back home; which puts her face to face with reality. Lati is a maid who always feels sad and angry. Three characters illustrate the relationship between master and commodity. The film earned The Peace Award at the last Berlinale.
Without a doubt, a short feature that features both Hind Sabri and Ashraf Barhoum is worth being on the watch list. The two actors worked with Jordanians Darrin J. Sallam and Amjad Al-Rasheed on their shared scenario with Rafqi Assaf.
We are looking at a Jewish Levantine family trying to start a new life upon its arrival from Tunis to Haifa in 1948. But there is this annoying parrot that the Arab inhabitants left behind. The film earned the 2015 short feature film award from the Robert Bosch foundation; it makes its world premiere in Dubai.
The dangerous waste crisis in Lebanon tempts Mounia Akel to ask critical questions and make a film about its impact on individuality, identity and belonging/affiliation. Submarine is a short feature that was shown first at the Cannes Festival in 2016 as part of the Ciné-fondation competition. It was presented in more than 10 international festivals including Toronto International Film Festival, Montpelier International Film Festival, New Orleans International Film Festival and Hamptons International Film Festival.
It is important to mention that picking short films is a hard task. Rajol Ya’awood by the Danish-Palestinian Mahdi Fleifel is an example of a film that one article cannot be enough to discuss.