• Film
  • Our guide to The Arab Film Festival


Our guide to The Arab Film Festival

There are over ten film festivals taking place this September, but here’s one you can’t miss. Touching on themes like resistance and gender, it also includes one of the year’s best documentaries. Our film editor surveys the programme.

Image for Our guide to The Arab Film Festival

You Will Die At Twenty is one of the many highlights at this year’s Arab Film Festival. Photo: ALFILM

The pandemic has meant that several of the world’s most important film festivals were cancelled. Berlin got lucky with the Berlinale, but those that followed weren’t so fortunate, and the city’s key celebrations of all things film were postponed to avoid becoming Covid-19 incubators.

Many festivals have chosen to reschedule under the terms of the ongoing pandemic, and September sees over 10 fests vying for your attention. A common thread is either reduced runtimes, streamlined programmes that allow for repeat screenings, as well as online-physical hybrids, all stressing they will respect hygiene protocols and social distancing. Whether they are getting in there before a possible second wave, cramming into September to buttress the efforts of Berlin kinos to make up for lost time, or just beautifully aching to showcase the works of their selected filmmakers, what’s pretty obvious is that film lovers will have their retinas full this coming month.

One of the first out of the gate is one of Berlin’s most smartly programmed region-specific festivals, ALFILM. Five months after its intended opening, the 11th Arab Film Festival returns as a condensed “Nomad Edition” from September 1st to 29th at Arsenal and City Kino Wedding. It presents a fantastic cross-section of films from the Arab world and its diaspora, presenting both fictions and documentaries about survival and the importance of cinema. Considering the safety parameters – and like FilmPolska at the end of this month – the festival has shrewdly elected to utilise an outdoor option for it’s opening night, with the Sudanese film You Will Die At Twenty at Freiluftkino Kreuzberg on the 1st (9.15pm, with repeat screenings on 05/09 at Arsenal – 7pm and on 27th at City Kino – 9pm). Based on a short story by Hammour Ziada, Amjad Abu Alala’s debut sees a dervish predict that a mother’s newborn son will die at the age of…you guessed it. It’s a beautifully filmed fable about the acceptance of fate, life overshadowed by death, and how superstitions – in this case a prophecy – can petrify the experience of living.

Highlights of this edition include Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ Oscar-nominated For Sama (2nd, Arsenal – 8pm), which opens the Spotlight programme “Resistance is Female”, focusing on female perspectives on conflict, and Naziha Arebi’s Freedom Fields, (4th, Arsenal – 8pm; 27th, City Kino – 7pm), following three women and their football team in post-revolution Libya. It’s the impressive story of how the Libyan team dreams of playing their first international game and become not only role models but also accidental activists.

From the 14th until the 20th, ALFILM will put their wonderfully curated shorts programme online (following their Shorts Evening on the 9th at Arsenal – 8pm), as well as panel talks that deal with the Spotlight programme’s focus on the lives of women in films from the Arab world, specifically on the priorities and influence their work has on the perception of the situation in and outside the Arab world. Both filmmakers Naziha Arebi and Waad Al-Kateab will discuss with moderator Irit Neidhardt, the author, curator and film distributor at mec film.

Lastly, one must-see title this year is the winner of the 69th Berlinale’s Best Documentary, Talking About Trees (5th, Arsenal – 9.15pm; 29th, City Kino – 7pm). Charting the attempts of four elderly filmmakers to revive cinema-going in the conservative Sudanese city of Omdurman, Suhaib Gasmelbari’s gently devastating portrait of cultural eradication after decades of Islamic censorship is nothing short of stunning. It’s an unmissable and inspiring ode to cinema and the power the medium yields – without a doubt one of the best documentaries you’ll see all year.

ALFILM / September 01–29, Arsenal and City Kino Wedding. Full programme here.