Tuesday, October 23, 2018

5 Questions with Shirin Ghareeb

Arabian Sights Film Festival Director Shirin Ghareeb

The Arabian Sights Film Festival (October 18-28) opened last week, with a screening of Yasir Al-Yasiri's On Borrowed Time (UAE) and an Opening Night reception at AMC Mazza Gallerie. This is the 23rd anniversary of Arabian Sights, which showcases the very best in Arab cinema to the nation's capital. We had a chance to ask the festival's founder & director Shirin Ghareeb 5 Questions about film selection, raising money, and the state of Arab film in the United States. Here's what she had to say...

1. As Arabian Sights celebrates its 23rd anniversary, what are the biggest challenges you face in putting together a film festival? Does it get easier or more difficult each year?

Ghareeb: Having directed the Arabian Sights Film Festival for 23 years, there are definitely aspects in the organizing of the festival that have become easier with repetition. The biggest challenge, as with all arts organizations, is raising funds. In addition, organizing a festival is a great investment in time and energy. No matter how many festival editions we have presented, that process can’t be sped up. Plus, every year there are new surprises. We can never predict what they will be. But it keeps us on our toes and we never assume we can let our guard down. Whether they be technical glitches, film shipping delays, or printing issues, among others, there is invariably a new, unexpected challenge every year!

2. Can you describe the selection process, including saying no to a film? Have you encountered any unique petitions/promotions (i.e. multiple phone calls, videos) to have films included?

Ghareeb: Films are selected either through submissions directly to Arabian Sights or we reach out to particular films that we have seen and researched. Arabian Sights features 10-12 films each year, in addition to shorts, so the program is very carefully curated, with special attention paid to quality and content. We want to offer new films from and about the Arab world that are engaging in every way. We also take into account the interests of our diverse and knowledgeable audience. 

Usually there is an ongoing dialogue between us and the filmmakers and film distributors who submitted the films. We welcome these exchanges because they keep us informed of new developments regarding their films. Saying “no” to a film is never fun because we want to be as supportive as possible to all filmmakers, but we always do so with an explanation.

3. The Arab Film Festival in San Francisco was founded in 1996 (the same year as Arabian Sights.) Do you think there will be more festivals in other U.S. cities in the near future? Briefly, what’s your take on the state of Arab film in America?

GhareebThere is indeed a continuously growing number of Arab festivals not just in the U.S., but abroad as well. Back in 1996 Arabian Sights and the Arab Film Festival in San Francisco were the first of the annual festivals that are still offering films today. Now there are Arab festivals and film series curated in art galleries and cultural institutions all over the United States. 

This is reflected in a growing level of interest within the American audience to see quality Arab cinema. There is a curiosity and a need for films that reflect the complex realities of societies in the region and the challenges facing them.

Plus, one of the most exciting developments in Arab cinema is an increase in the number of films being made today. The most significant reason for this is the availability of digital technology. Not only is it more accessible and more affordable for filmmakers, but as a result we are now seeing works by a number of talented young filmmakers who have innovative stories to tell, and who wouldn’t have been able to do so as easily in the past.

4. The Avalon Theatre hosts a number of successful film programs (French Cinematheque, Reel Israel DC, etc.) Is there any interest in a local monthly series of Arab films, hopefully under your watchful eye?

GhareebYes! It would be great to see a monthly series of Arab films. Not that long ago, Arabian Sights took place at the Avalon’s beautiful venue. In 2007, we opened Arabian Sights to a sold out audience for Nadine Labaki’s first feature film, Caramel, at the Avalon. Her latest film just won a major award at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year

5. We spoke about challenges at the beginning. Where would you like to see Arabian Sights in a couple of years? As it turns 30?

Ghareeb: It’s really hard to believe that this is the 23rd edition of Arabian Sights, much less thinking about the 30th! Back in 1996, Arabian Sights was originally meant to be a one-time event. It was the sold-out shows and the encouragement of the audience that made it an annual event. To this day, the audience is still most encouraging. And on our end, we want to continue providing quality cinema that offers engaging, entertaining and great stories. 

Offering the newest, most creative and diverse cinema from the Arab world by young first-time directors, as well as established filmmakers is our primary goal.

The Arabian Sights Film Festival continues through Sunday, October 28th, exclusively at AMC Mazza Gallerie. Click here for more information, and/or to purchase tickets.