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Arab Film Festival in Tulsa shatters stereotypes, shares stories

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Tulsa’s Arab Film Festival is back for a third year in an effort to expose residents to the vibrant diversity of stories and perspectives. Tickets are on sale for the festival, which runs from Thursday, November 9 to Sunday, November 12 at Circle Cinema.

MIZNA, an organization that showcases contemporary Arab film, literature and art, is the brains behind the Arab Film Festival. Working with local SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) directors from across the world, a local artist has helped to bring the festival to Tulsa for its third year.

When Moheb Soliman organized this year’s festival, he had no idea a conflict between Israel and Hamas would catapult the identities and struggles of Palestinians to global awareness.

Yet unlike the solemn documentaries one might expect, Thursday’s first showing at the Arab Film Festival will feature a Palestinian dark comedy.

“I hope people find the films give surprising entry points to part of the world we’ve built stereotypes around,” Soliman told The Black Wall Street Times.

Arab Film Festival showcases humanity

Born in Egypt, Soliman moved with his family to Stillwater, Oklahoma when he was just six years old. Spending most of his life in Ohio, Soliman jumped at the opportunity to apply for the Tulsa Artists Fellowship in 2018.

With a desire to bring intersectional awareness to seemingly different communities, Soliman worked with MIZNA to bring the festival to Tulsans.

“It’s such a vibrant city, and there’s such a hunger for diversity and learning about other cultures,” Soliman said.

“It’s not a festival just for Arab Americans, especially in a place like Tulsa; It’s really about brining all the other communities here to spend some time with these stories and voices across the planet that have a lot of these overlaps,” he said.

Opening night on Thursday will feature catering from a local restaurant.

Notably, the festival will also feature at least one North African film, illustrating the connectedness between African and Arab regions and culture.

Thursday Showings

Mediterranean Fever, directed by Maja Haj, will play at 7 p.m.

Synopsis: Aspiring writer Waleed lives in Haifa with his wife and children and suffers from chronic depression. Repelled by outside interaction, Waleed’s attempts at isolation are interrupted by the arrival of a new neighbor and small-time crook Jalal, who forces him out of his shell.

He develops a close relationship with Jalal, with an ulterior plot in mind. As the two become close, the scheme to hire an assassin leads them into a journey of dark encounters.

After the film, Arab Film Festival organizers will host a festival kick-off party at 9 p.m. with food by Shawkat Mediterranean Grill and music by Atomic Culture.

Friday Showings

The Dam, directed by Ali Cherri, will play at 8 p.m.

Synopsis: ‘The Dam’ is a political fable about the power of imagination set against the backdrop of the Sudanese revolution. In Sudan, near the Merowe Dam, Maher works in a traditional brickyard fed by the waters of the Nile.

Every evening, he secretly wanders off into the desert to build a mysterious construction made of mud. While the Sudanese people rise to claim their freedom, his creation slowly starts to take a life of its own.

Saturday Showings

“Desert PHOSfate”, directed by Mohamed Sleiman Labat, will play at 2 p.m during the Arab Film Festival.

Synopsis: DESERT PHOSfate is about indigeneity, environment, sustainability, and history in the western Sahara. It weaves through the story of phosphate, exploring multi-layered narrations about sand particles, plants and human displacement.

The film explores ways of telling about realities, metaphors and poetics in the desert. It highlights connections between colonial practices, traces of anthropocentric mineral extractions and the loss of indigenous ways of knowing and telling about the world based on narratives and philosophies rooted in the Sahrawi way of living.

“Kira & El Gin,” directed by Marwan Hamed, will play at 7:30 p.m.

arab film festival

Synopsis: Cairo, 1919. The Great War has left Egyptian soldiers of the Empire traumatized, the Spanish Flu has ravaged the country, and nationalist leaders are being deported amid fervent protests. Unphased 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. Adapted from Ahmed Mourad’s novel 1919 (2014), Kira & El Gin is a rousing anticolonial drama set during the Egyptian independence movement of the 1920s.

Sunday Showings

“Kash Kash,” directed by Lea Najjar, will play at 2 p.m. during the Arab Film Festival.

arab film festival

Synopsis: Beirut is torn apart by a corrupt political elite, anti-government protests, and one of the biggest explosions of the 21st century. But above the roofs of the city emerged an unexpected bearer of hope: the pigeon game of chance, “kash hamam.”

Every evening, in the golden sun above the labyrinthine streets, swarms of pigeons fly out of their cages and fill the sky. Their flight follows the choreography of an ancient tradition.

Each player holds their own flock and lets it circle above their house, trying to lure the neighbors’ pigeons onto their own roof in order to catch the birds and expand their flock. During the dystopian times of the recent political collapse of Lebanon, the film embarks on a journey from roof to roof.

When everything perishes, why do we hold on to flying? Kash Kash observes a city in turmoil from the perspective of three pigeon players and a young girl fighting to release her own birds.

Before the final film on Sunday, Arab Film Festival organizers will host a closing party at 3:30 p.m. It will feature food by My Moroccan Oven and music by Atomic Culture.

“Queens,” directed by Yasmine Benkiran, will play at 4:30 p.m.

arab film festival

Synopsis: Asma and Sarah meet while working as waitresses in France. They both come from the Levant and carry the shadows of their pasts, each in their own way. Finding a common ground that traces back to the time when the city of Lyon was connected to their homeland via the Silk Road, they form a tentative friendship. The film explores exploitation–then and now–as well as female solidarity, friendship, and solace

Shattering stereotypes at Arab Film Festival

Ultimately, Soliman said he’s grateful to play a role over the last three years in bringing together Circle Cinema, MIZNA, and Tulsa Artist Fellowship to bring these stories to the big screen.

“It’s really nice to bring partners together to do what they do best. It’s been received really well. Local Arab communities do exist here,” Soliman said.

To purchase tickets or learn more about the Arab Film Festival in Tulsa, visit Circle Cinema’s website.

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