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Arts & Culture

San Diego Arab Film Festival Returns for Third Year

The Hassan family contemplate their next move in Laila Marrakchi's tale of family intrigue in Tangiers, Morocco.
San Diego Arab Film Festival
The Hassan family contemplate their next move in Laila Marrakchi's tale of family intrigue in Tangiers, Morocco.

The San Diego Arab Film Festival is back for its third year, starting Thursday at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts.

Poised between the films of the Arab Spring and yet to be released works on the current state of affairs in Iraq and Syria and Gaza, this year’s program is a manageable eight feature length films with greater focus on the larger Arab world than in previous years.

Opening Thursday night, the three day program lists films from Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. There is a special free screening the following Tuesday of the U.S. produced documentary, “It’s Better To Jump,” about the inhabitants of the ancient port city of Akka (Acre) on the coast of Israel, and how its diverse inhabitants cope with modern developments and change.


The San Diego Arab Film Festival opens with the Franco-Moroccan film "Rock The Casbah," a film making the festival rounds, due in part to an eye-catching cast of stellar well-known Arab actors, including Egyptian Omar Sharif, Lebanese Nadine Labaki and Arab-Israeli Hiam Abbas. Omar Sharif plays a recently deceased patriarch in director Leila Marrakchi’s tale of an upper class family from Tangiers, whose remaining members need to work out the differences between generations men and women, tradition and modern ways, over the traditional three day mourning period.

The festival continues with the touching "Girafadda," a co-production from Palestine. Starring the expressive newcomer, 10-year-old Ahmad Bayatra, "Girafadda" looks at what happens when an Israeli air raid kills the male of a pair of giraffes in Palestine’s only remaining zoo. It is a charming if heart-breaking take on a lesson we seem to have to learn over and over again, war is good for neither children nor zoo animals.

While Tunisia was the match that lit the Arab Spring, the real seat of North Africa’s uprisings is arguably Algeria and its war of independence from France, which broke out 60 years ago this year and lasted until 1962. Algerian director Hamid Benamra takes a layered look that reflects the art of his subject, the Algerian artist Mustapha Boutadjine , now living in Paris, in the documentary "Pieces of Lives, Pieces of Dreams." Boutadjine's work includes torn paper portraits of resistance leaders and commentaries on social struggles. With music by Marcel Khalifa and Miriam Makeba, Benarama casts Boutadjine's work as witnesses to some of the great struggles facing the Third World.

Also, not to be missed is “In My Mother’s Arms,” another documentary, this time from Iraq. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, thousands of Iraqi children have become the unseen face of “collateral damage,” suffering the loss of housing, their neighborhoods, and frequently, their parents. This documentary, shot in 2011, takes a look at an impromptu orphanage where one man, Husham, struggles to give 32 orphans from Iraq’s diverse communities, a sense of safety and stability, no matter how fleeting.

The closing film, "May in the Summer," broaches a similar subject to the opening film, a daughter coming back from abroad. However, this time, in Cherien Darbis’ new film, May returns for her own wedding, only to find her “perfect” day cracking under the pressure of religious divisions, traditional expectations and her own dreams. Director Cherien Dabis, a Palestinian-Jordanian American actor and director, was named one of "Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch."


For more information on times and ticket prices, please see