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Photo Credit Arab Women Say What?! // National Film Board of Canada

Calgary Arab Film Nights showcases the diversity of Arab culture

By Nazeefa Ahmed, October 27 2023—

From Oct. 20 to Oct. 22, the Calgary Arab Arts & Culture Society hosted the Calgary Arab Film Nights at the Globe Cinema. The festival curated 11 films from several genres and Arab nations. 

“With a team of dedicated volunteers, we have been exhibiting resilience and art forms that tell the story of the Arab people, here and overseas, adding to the cultural mosaic of this amazing place,” reads a statement by Mones Rizkalla, the chairman of the Society. 

The starting film was Arab Women Say What?! by Nisreen Baker, which shares the perspectives of eight Arab women navigating life in Canada. Through this documentary, Baker hopes to assert the voice of Arab women in the Western World, away from the preconceived notions of the mainstream.  

Sudanese feature film Goodbye Julia directed by Mohamed Kordofani covered the 2011 Sudanese separation from the perspective of a Muslim woman, Mona, and a Christian woman, Julia, brought together by unforeseen circumstances. The film was presented in the Cannes Film Festival and won the Un Certain Regard prize. 

The story explores how religious and political tensions often hinder our ability to see others as human. The characters are often limited by their racism and prejudices, ultimately losing their empathy during the country’s instability. Tensions between the southern Christians and the northern Muslims led to the unjust treatment of people caught in the center of the conflict. 

The protagonist, Mona, also struggles with identity as she creates a facade of complacency despite having dreams and ambitions of her own. Her identity is contained within the shadow of her husband, and the free-spirited Julia helps her break out of her shell. The movie is able to convincingly portray important historical events through the lens of people who are navigating competing demands. 

The festival also had compilations of short films surrounding a particular theme. Palestinian film director Ahmad Saleh produced three short films, titled HOUSE, AYNY and NIGHT which are aimed at showcasing the effect of Palestinian life in Israel. 

The first film portrays how a family lost their home to guests, the second portrays two boys who follow their desires to play music and the last follows a mother unable to sleep due to losing her child during bombings. During the opening credits, Saleh says that his stories focus on the human struggle of the Palestinian people rather than the political turmoil. 

“I was hoping to portray these stories in a way that is out of the political box that these people are boxed in to see something that is just from a human to a human,” said Saleh. “The fight against the resistance and attacking the resistance is being put in the front. What is being put in the back is the people who actually suffer from that unjust fight.”

Lighthearted movies such as Sugar Daddy by Mahmoud Karm and the Egyptian film Beit el Ruby provided a variety of options for viewers. All of the films had English subtitles, which allowed for a diverse group of attendees interested in Arab art and culture. 

More information about the Calgary Arab Arts and Culture Society can be found on their website

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