• A still from the Lebanese romantic comedy Mahbas, which is showing as part of the Arab Film Festival. (Arab Film Festival)Source: Arab Film Festival
Check out the best picks from this year's line-up.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

26 Jul 2017 - 8:59 AM  UPDATED 26 Jul 2017 - 8:59 AM

Arab women are telling their own stories on the big screen, as the 2017 Arab Film Festival shines a light on the lives of generations of Arab women and how they navigate and overcome modern day prejudice.

The festival, which opens in Sydney on August 17, before travelling to Melbourne, Canberra and Perth, includes six features and five short films from Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Tunisia and Australia.

Festival co-director Fadia Abboud says she is excited by the strong female representation in this year's line-up.

"It's not hard to find Arab films by women," Abboud tells SBS.

"We find that some years more than half of our films are made by Arab women. We don't do it by choice, we just pick the best films.

"It's important of course because, from a general western perspective, they think [Arab women are] oppressed, they think we don't have a say, we don't participate in ... the arts or whatever. Arab women are making really strong statements about their worlds and their films are a different insight into the family, into what women are doing to stand up against terrorism, what women are doing to rise above certain expectations of them."

It's not all about women though. AFFA also features stories that take an in depth look at the lives of young men and how they battle with expectations of masculinity in today's society.

A mix of challenging and funny fare, the selection includes films that examine the politics of being a Palestinian living under occupation, the disturbing treatment of foreign domestic workers in Lebanon, and an arranged marriage that lasted less than two hours. 

The films in the festival are chosen from more than a hundred films that are submitted, which are then selected by a committee representing the diversity of the region.

Abboud says it's a chance for the Arab community to see themselves and their stories represented on screen, and for non-Arab people see stories you won't see anywhere else.

"It's important for us to see ourselves on screen - it makes you proud or it makes you have a conversation with someone about something," she says.

"But then of course we love it when  non-Arabs come to the festival because they want to know more. And for non-Arabs when they come to the festival, part of watching the film is actually sitting in an audience that's mostly Arab - it's a loud kind of audience, they talk back to the screen, and laugh at the things that don't get translated very well."

Here are Abboud's picks of movies not to miss at this year's Arab Film Festival:

I Still Hide to Smoke

Set in a Hammam (Turkish bathhouse), I Still Hide to Smoke reveals what life is like for Arab women through a powerful all-female ensemble cast and the artful direction of Rayhana Obermeyer.

"We don't always get a chance to screen films from the Meghreb - from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco - but this is super fantastic," Abboud says. "It's all set in the one day in the Hammam and the women represent a microcosm of the whole society. So there's a woman who is a good girl, one who's fallen pregnant, one who's a lesbian, one who's an extremist. So they touch on all the different types of women who might make up Algerian society, and they all have their own opinions and problems. There's a major problem that happens and you work out whether the woman are going to protect each other or fall back on what's expected of them by men in society. It's a really good film, I love it."

Mahbas

The opening night film is a romantic comedy about love and marriage amongst Arab neighbours.

"It's a great romantic comedy about two families coming together, and the differences," says Abboud. "It's like Meet the Fockers. The mother hates Syrians basically, but it stems from a real experience - her brother was killed by a Syrian bomb. So the old war wounds just never die in our country. So it's about trying to understand how it affects future generations."

Ali's Wedding

This Australian film, which was shown at the Sydney Film Festival, is based on the real-life experience of lead actor Osamah Sami, whose arranged marriage lasted less than two hours. The screenplay was also written by Sami and tells a humorous, authentic and poignant tale about family life in multicultural Australia. 

"We love Ali's Wedding," says Abboud. "We thought it was important for us to include a film that was an Australian/Iraqi story, and it is a very Arab story. It's going to be really fun."

Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim

"The closing night film is a really fun one. It's a bit absurd, but it's not silly," says Abboud. "Arab men think they have to live up to this macho persona, and these men aren't doing that and they're ridiculed. This particular guy is in love with his goat. He feels a responsibility, a burden, he just can't live up to. So he goes on a road trip and I just think it's a really quirky fun film from Egypt that we don't normally get."

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