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Arts & Culture

San Diego Arab Film Festival Opens Friday

Badia's unmarried aunts have plans for her in the comedy, "Villa Touma," about a Christian family from Ramallah.
Badia's unmarried aunts have plans for her in the comedy, "Villa Touma," about a Christian family from Ramallah.

This weekend marks a new season for one of San Diego’s newest film festivals organized by KARAMA, a local non-profit dedicated to promoting understanding of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

An off-shoot of the San Francisco Arab Film Festival — one of the oldest Arab film festivals in the United States — San Diego's Arab Film Festival is moving into its fourth year with a broad selection of work, including several timely documentaries and a surprising short from Saudi Arabia.

Screening over a well-organized three nights, (Friday to Sunday), the Arab Festival will be held at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), with showings throughout the afternoon and into the evenings. Multiple films are programmed for Saturday and Sunday.

Two unusual pieces open the festival Friday night.

“The Wanted 18” is a brilliant mixed film/stop-motion animated feature documentary that tells one of the strangest stories to come out of the Occupied Territories. Shot and animated in comic book style, the story is told partially from the viewpoint of Rikva, Ruth, Lola and Goldie - four of the “wanted 18” - who turn out to be part of a group of Palestinian dairy cows declared “a threat to national security” in the 1980s by Israel. The film follows the journey of the cows from members of an independent dairy cooperative in the town of Beit Sahour, to their unexpected notoriety as “wanted” by the Israeli state to producing “Intifada milk” on the run with the Israeli army in hot pursuit.

“The Scarecrow,” a short from Saudi Arabia, starts off Friday’s screening. A charming piece about a family hoping angels will come and bless their farm, “Scarecrow” is part of a small wave of emerging cinema coming out of Saudi Arabia.

The festival continues on Saturday with the U.S. premiere of a timely documentary, “Queens of Syria,” Yasmin Fedda’s award-winning film about Syrian refugees in Jordan. Fedda’s documentary follows a group of Syrian women as they work their way through an adaptation of “The Trojan Women,” a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripedes. As the Syrian refugees in Amman explore the classic tale of rape, pillage and war in ancient Troy, both the similarities and their own private stories take center stage.

Additional films of note include the Palestinian film “Villa Touma,” the directorial debut of Suha Arraf, best known as the screenwriter of “The Lemon Tree” and “The Syrian Bride.” Here, Arraf teams up with some of the best actresses of recent Arab films, Nisreen Faour (“Amreeka”), Ula Tabari (“Inheritance”), and Cherien Dabis (“May In The Summer”) for the story of three unmarried Christian Palestinian sisters from Ramallah whose plans to marry off their 18-year-old niece, Badia, are hardly what Badia has planned for herself.

“Villa Touma” is preceded by the Tunisian short, “Pere” (“Father”), an adaptation of a short story by Moroccan-French writer, Tahar Ben Jelloun, “Pere” looks at what happens when a taxi driver stops one night to pick up a pregnant woman, and finds his life turned upside down.

Other films from Lebanon, the UAE, Egypt and Iraq fill out the program.

An all-festival pass is available for $50 and tickets for individual films run $10. For information about times and tickets, go to the San Diego Arab Film website.