BBC Arabic Festival held its first edition in 2014 as a four-day, London based event. Today, the Festival runs for a full week, doubling the audience in attendance while continuously developing live content for BBC Arabic TV, radio and web to a potential of over 44 million viewers. The Festival is keen to build on its strength in seeking original works by new talent and screening films by established directors delivering unique stories from across the Arab world. These screenings are complemented by Q&A’s with directors, special presentations and panel discussions on the challenges and developments of film, documentary and journalism production.
Launched in 1938, BBC Arabic has been broadcasting for more than 80 years. Available on TV, radio, online and social media, BBC Arabic covers political, social, and cultural issues and brings impartial, balanced and accurate news that matters to its diverse audiences across the world (Source: TPR MEDIA).
The BBC Arabic Festival returns for its fifth year, from 22-27 March, celebrating the most exciting talent in Arab film and journalism with a series of free screenings, Q&As, talks and events. Find out about the full programme here.
The programme of 18 films includes four feature documentaries, nine short films and five short documentaries, made by new and established filmmakers from Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Canada, the USA and the UK. The films explore themes ranging from sexuality and the drug trade to conflict and displacement. Many of the films have received recognition on the international festival circuit – from Berlin to IDFA, Sundance to Toronto. To complement the screenings, there will be a programme of events, including a presentation and panel discussion on recent ground-breaking research into the role that digital technology can play in cultural preservation. Panellists including historian and broadcaster, Bettany Hughes, and Sarah Nankivell from Turner-nominated Forensic Architecture, will take part (Monday 25 March).
Amal by Mohamed Siam © Amal
In the last few years, Arab cinema has seen a new wave of female filmmakers. The festival reflects this development, showcasing the work of seven female directors, including Katia Jarjoura, whose short film, Only Silence (Sunday 24 March), follows a Syrian student who flees to France and tries to convince her family to leave before it’s too late. Other films focus on the experiences of young women growing up in the Arab world: Amal (Monday 25 March) tells the coming-of-age story of a feisty 14-year-old in post-revolutionary Egypt, while What Walaa Wants (Sunday 24 March) charts the teenage protagonist’s journey to try to become one of the few women in the Palestinian Security Forces. The BBC World Service’s weekend arts show, The Cultural Frontline, will be holding a discussion (Tuesday 26 March) on women in Arab film, with high-profile contributors reflecting on the influence of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
What Walaa Wants © What Walaa Wants
Several of the films have a satirical, often surreal edge. In the multi-award-winning The President’s Visit (Saturday 23 March), a Lebanese village learns that the president is planning to visit its soap factory as part of his campaign to clean up the nation. Manivelle: Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow (Saturday 23 March) is a Lebanese mockumentary about a man-robot whose ups and downs reflect those of the country. For the first time, the legendary pigeon races of Cairo are captured on camera and a young pigeon fighter must choose between his lifelong passion and romantic love in Koka, The Butcher (Saturday 23 March).
Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow © Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow
Other highlights include Anthony Chidiac’s Room for a Man (Saturday 23 March), an autobiographical account of being gay in Beirut today, and Survivors of Firdos Square (Sunday 24 March), about the sculptor who created the iconic metalwork that replaced Saddam Hussein’s statue. There will be an exclusive preview of the BBC Arabic documentary, Who’s Getting Rich from Moroccan Hash? (Monday 25 March), which investigates the murky politics behind the country’s lucrative crop. Five short films draw on real life for their inspiration: from sperm smuggling in Israeli prisons in Bonboné to the Yazidi’s struggle against the Islamic State group in Sabeya (Sunday 24 March), as well as the health crisis that’s gripped the Iraqi people in Iraq: A Nation in Trauma (Monday 11 March).
Anthony Chidiac’s Room for a Man © Room for a Man
Since its inception, the BBC Arabic Festival has championed new talent. Ali Alibrahim, who received last year’s Young Journalism Award for One Day in Aleppo, is returning to discuss his latest project, Anonymous Syria (Friday 22 March). Also returning, by popular demand, is the acclaimed stand-up comedian Chung Won-ho, who will be hosting this year’s awards ceremony (Wednesday 27 March), joined by judges including the presenter and novelist Francine Stock and Rula Nasser, the film producer. There will be live music from the Palestinian hip-hop crew DAM.
Sam Farah, Head of BBC Arabic said: “I’m delighted that in just five years the BBC Arabic Festival has now become a fully-fledged series of events that garners hundreds of submissions per year, engages thousands of live audience members, and is enjoyed as televised events by millions in the Middle East. We are very happy to be extending this platform for independent filmmakers focusing on issues in and around the Arab world. It is our mission to get their stories from the streets to our audiences, and to support them along the way.”
* You can follow the festival on @BBCArabicFest.