From Nov. 6-9, Mizna, a St. Paul-based mecca of Midwestern Arab American culture, delivers Middle East film in partnership with the Film Society of Minneapolis-Saint Paul (the same group responsible for the International Film Festival each spring).
Mizna aims for a lineup representative of all film emerging right now from the Arab world—with the majority of the films selected coming out within the last year (full schedule here). Mohanned Ghawanmeh, who has led curation for the past four festivals, has put a pointed emphasis on the directorial work of Arab women this year. Laïla Marrakchi’s feel-good Rock the Casbah kicks off the proceedings on Thursday: It follows three sisters’ Tangiers homecoming for the funeral of their father, where long-concealed stories of debauchery and extramarital love affairs are revealed.
Also on the slate will be Challat of Tunis, a mock-umentary about a Tunisian motor-biker who a) may have been real and b) may have once roamed uncaught (and un-chased) slashing female butts on the streets of Tunis. (Talk about an eye-opening address of the subject of the victimization of women in North Africa.)
Two female directors will be making special trips to the Twin Cities to speak about their films. The first is Éliane Raheb, whose 2013 film Sleepless Nights will screen on Saturday, November 8. The Lebanese director will discuss the inspiration behind her documentary-style story of individual repentance after the 1982 Lebanese Civil War. On Sunday, Iraqi director Nadia Shihab will sit in for a Q & A following Amel’s Garden, which captures the resilience of one Turkmen couple in the face of ethnic discrimination in northern Iraq.
With the difficulty of the labor-of-love process involved in tracking down those with the distribution rights to films from the Middle East, many of this year’s festival winners will be seen for the first time in the U.S. This includes two Dubai Childrens’ International Festival winners, and several 35mm Iraqi shorts filmed as part of a project to revitalize the art of filmmaking in Iraq. Mizna’s Michelle Baroody, who is on this year’s film committee, says that her hope for festival attendees is for it to present another perspective on Arab culture to a Midwest audience that might not have access to the culture outside of politicized bombardment. So while bleak portraits of the region are at this point the norm, one of the missions of the festival and Mizna as a whole is to foster a space for outsiders to appreciate the cultural beauties that still thrive throughout the Arab world—a journey from Morocco to Main Street.
Twin Cities Arab Film Festival • St. Anthony Main • 11/6-9, mizna.org