KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews San Diego's first Arab Film Festival.
Related Story: Preview: San Diego Arab Film Festival
ANCHOR INTRO: Tonight and tomorrow, San Diego will play host to its first Arab Film Festival -- which includes a film addressing elements of the ongoing violence between Arabs and Israelis in Gaza. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with the festival organizers.
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TAG: The first San Diego Arab Film Festival kicks off at 6:30pm tonight at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Go to Cinema Junkie at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G for more information.
Films can be great ambassadors. Just look how French films or Japanese anime have spread those countries' cultures around the globe. Now the San Diego Arab Film Festival wants to combat stereotypes with a diverse selection of films.
NASSER: I think when people see films from another culture , there's a humanizing aspect to it. Especially if the films are good. And we see that for example with the popularity of Iranian films.
Nasser Barghouti hopes the first annual San Diego Arab Film Festival can open a dialogue. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with the event organizers next on Morning Edition.
San Diego resident Nasser Barghouti grew up in Egypt and he's shocked that most Americans have never seen an Egyptian film.
NASSER BARGHOUTI: And Egyptian cinema is one of the oldest in the world.... And it's one of the largest, it produces 100s of films every year.
That's just one of the reasons that Barghouti got involved in the first of what will hopefully be an annual Arab Film Festival. Barghouti is president of the San Diego Chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. He hopes the Arab-American community comes out to support the festival but he actually has a different target audience in mind.
NASSER BARGHOUTI: To me I think it's actually more important to get people who are not exposed to Arab culture but who are interested in film, and cinema to come and see that because I think that is how you start a conversation.
And what he wants to address are the stereotypes many Americans may have about the Arab world.
NASSER BARGHOUTI: The United States is heavily involved, unfortunately mostly militarily, in the Arab world. The Arab world has 300 million people. It's an ancient civilization, a very important part of the world and most Americans know very little about Arab Culture beyond very specific stereotypes, mostly negative.
Larry Christian is a founding member of Karama, which is presenting the festival. Karama defines itself as a non-partisan organization seeking to promote understanding of the issues facing the Arab and Islamic world.
LARRY CHRISTIAN: We want to get information in front of people so that they see there really is a thing called an Arab Film Festival.
Christian says San Diego is home to more than 70,000 Iraqi, Palestinian, Lebanese, o-Syrian, and other Arab immigrants and Arab Americans. He says the festival will try to address that diversity in two short days of films.
LARRY CHRISTIAN: We have 2 from Lebanon, one from Algeria, one from Palestine, one from Jordan, one from Kuwait, and one from the United Arab Emirates.
Barghouti says most Americans think of Arab culture in heavy terms -- linking it to terrorism and extremism, or as very foreign and having nothing to do with them. But he feels strongly that well made films can help change that. Take Nadine Labaki's film from Lebanon, "Where Do We Go Now?"
NASSER BARGHOUTI: Half the village is Muslim and half is Christian. And the men are always bickering about religious, political things. The women decide they are fed up with this and they scheme, all the women from the women from the Christian and Muslim society. To distract the men in all different ways of course the easiest way to distract the men is sex and food. So they have all kinds of schemes to distract them as to unite them.
There will also be a Palestinian documentary called "The War Around Us" that looks to Gaza to explore what it means to be a city under siege.
Barghouti says the film gives a human face to the fighting.
NASSER BARGHOUTI: If you look two weeks ago when Sandy devastated New Jersey and New York, and I have family in New York, and they tell you how incredibly difficult it was to have no power for 4 days. So imagine if you live in a war zone. So what does it mean to be bombarded for 30 days. And how do people live, what do people do? How do people survive. It's from the point of view of a reporter who was stuck there.
The Arab Film Festival hopes to provide a venue for San Diegans to experience and enjoy Arab culture and to perhaps start to see that part of the world from the inside rather than from the outside.