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San Diego Arab Film Festival puts homegrown cinema at the forefront

SAN DIEGO: Three Academy award submissions from Arab countries are being screened at the San Diego Arab Film Festival, which runs until April 4.

The best international feature hopefuls will be among the highlights of the month-long festival organized by the nonprofit group Karama, which promotes understanding of issues in the Arab world, especially Palestine.

Among the 21 features and short films due to be screened are “The Stranger,” an Oscars submission from Palestine, on opening night and Algeria’s “Heliopolis” as the festival finale. 

Larry Christian, festival committee chair and president of Karama, told Arab News: “The festival has always had two goals. One is to be something that the local Arab community can identify with and celebrate, and the other is to communicate to the broader community about Arab culture, history and issues.”

Since the festival was launched in 2012, there has been remarkable growth in Arab cinema, especially in filmmaking technique, and the inclusion of voices from around the Middle East and Arab diaspora.

Najah Abdelkader, a selection committee member, said: “We’re seeing more women’s voices as directors of amazing movies. I have witnessed a change in the topics that are being addressed in these films.” 

The evolution of Arab cinema can be seen not only in the Academy award hopefuls, but also less lauded pieces such as Lebanon’s “Farah,” which addresses mental health issues, and questions traditional dynamics between parents and children. 

Hassiba Freiha, the writer and co-director of the 2022 thriller, said that she believes mental health is taboo subject in the Arab world.

“We wanted to touch on subjects that we felt people need to talk about and that need to be explored further,” she said.

Kenton Oxley, producer and co-director of “Farah,” said that the film is not about “the traditional subjects that you would expect to see in an Arabic movie that goes internationally.”

He added: “It’s not about religion. It’s not about war. It’s not about refugee status. There’s some beautiful things in the Middle East and I’ve lived there for 12 years. It's my home and I love it, and I want to show the world that aspect of it. It’s about hope.”

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