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Karama's Arab Film Festival kicks off with Palestinian film

"The Stranger," a Palestinian film set in the occupied Golan Heights, opens Karama's Arab Film Festival this Friday, March 11, at the Museum of Photographic Arts.

Karama is a non-profit organization made up of Arab and non-Arab members. This Friday the organization kicks off its 11th annual San Diego Arab Film Festival.

Karama focuses on issues of the Arab and Islamic world with a special emphasis on Palestine. In 2012, it launched a film festival.

"The film festival has always had two goals," explained Larry Christian, president of Karama. "One was to be a celebration of Arab culture by the local community who has long not been recognized. The other part of it was to show the community at large an honest and real portrayal of Arab culture; show its essential humanity, its creativity, and recognize that Arab culture has been a dynamic, major contributor to world culture as we know it. And that by doing that, we then provide a basis to overcome the very negative stereotypes that dominate public discourse about Arabs and that have been true in film terms since Rudolph Valentino and 'The Sheik,' but especially since 9/11. Film is a really good medium for showing humanity."


And that’s why film is an excellent medium to challenge stereotypes. It can also offer different perspectives on histories people may think they know. Histories that have been taught to many from a white, Western point of view.

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"Heliopolis" looks to the massacre of Muslims at the hands of the French in Algeria in 1945.

"Heliopolis," screening March 26, looks to Algerian resistance to French colonialism in 1945 while "Trapped," screening March 19, focuses on women from diverse social backgrounds who find themselves caught up in the turmoil of the early days of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Both films show a side of history that people do not often see.

The well-crafted "Heliopolis" reveals the horrors of the French massacre of tens of thousands of Muslims just after the end of World War II. And to dig deeper into that colonial history, Karama pairs that film with "Their Algeria," a documentary about a couple, who came to France from Algeria 60 years ago and reflect on what led them to leave their homeland.

The festival showcases films that not only address global issues but which also look at smaller, more personal stories. Women are figured centrally in many of this year's film selections. One showcase film, "The Daughters of Abdulrahman," looks to the various struggles of four sisters in modern day Jordan. The film leans toward melodrama but is anchored by four outstanding female performances and a heartfelt compassion for the challenges they face.


The festival opens Friday night with the Palestinian film "The Stranger" set in the occupied Golan Heights.

"We didn't plan it this way but our opening night film is timely," Christian said. "How it is that there are occupations and annexations that happen in Europe that are widely condemned, [but] those that happen in the Arab world are accepted and recognized even by the U.S."

Christian, who is not Arab, got involved with the Arab community in San Diego decades ago. His interest in social activism began when he was studying history at UC Berkeley in the 1960s.

"I had an interest in the issues of how the colonized world was responding to the growing national liberation movement and independence of so many countries in that period," he recalled. "I concluded then that the history of my lifetime was really going to revolve around how that happened, and the goals and success of the colonized people in achieving their aspirations."

In the 1980s, his wife, a lawyer, became involved in a case in Los Angeles — referred to as the L.A. Eight — where a group of Palestinians were raided and apprehended by the FBI, and the government wanted to deport them for being radicals.

"So I started to get involved in that," Christian said. "And then the first Palestinian intifada happened, and a group of Arabs started having nightly vigils. One of them, who I had met through this other L.A. Eight case, approached me and said they really needed to have some literature to be able to give to people ... so they really wanted someone who was a native English speaker to develop those, and I would be that person. So that evolved into the precursor of Karama, which was called the Middle East Cultural and Information Center."

Christian added that because he is retired he has more time than many of the other board members to devote to running a film festival.

Karama’s Arab Film Festival runs the next three weekends in person at the Museum of Photographic Arts with a program of shorts running online March 11 through April 4.

Arabic dinners will be available for purchase each night of the festival. A special North African menu will be offered on closing night. Advance purchase price is $12. On-site purchase price is $14. Price includes dinner, water and sales tax. Baklava, coffee and tea will be available for an additional $2.00.

Daughters of Abdulrahman.jpeg
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Four sisters are the focus of the Jordanian comedy-drama "The Daughters of Abdulrahman."

Film festival line up:

Friday, March 11, 7:30 PM
"The Stranger" (2021, Palestine)
Directed by Ameer Fahker Eldin

Saturday, March 12, 6:00 PM
"Eleven Reflections on September" (2021, U.S.)
Directed by Andrea Assaf

"Selahy (My Weapon)" (short film)
Directed by Alaa Zabara

"Casablanca Beats" (2021, Morocco)
Directed by Nabil Ayouch

Friday, March 18, 7:30 PM
"Farah" (2021, Lebanon)
Directed by Kenton Oxley and Hassiba Freiha

Saturday, March 19, Europa 6:15 PM
"Trapped" (2021, Egypt)
Directed by Manal Khaled

"The Daughters of Abdulrahman" (2021, Jordan)
Directed by Zaid Abu Hamdan

Friday, March 25, 7:30 PM
"The Anger" (2021, Lebanon, Germany)
Directed by Maria Ivanova

Saturday, March 26, 6:15 PM
"Their Algeria" (2020, Algeria, Qatar, Switzerland, France)
Directed by Lina Soualem

"Heliopolis" (2021, Algeria)
Directed by Djafar Gacem