Arab Film Festival Making Waves in San Diego

Arab countries sometimes get a bad wrap here in the West. Thanks to the tumultuous headlines and political upheavals constantly stealing the spotlight, people associate the Middle East with violence and ceaseless conflict.

However, there is much more going on in that part of the world than what we see in the news. Thanks in part to the Arab Spring as well as efforts in Arab countries to demonstrate more of their artistic culture to the world, Arab cinema is beginning to make a name for itself.

And one of the most prominent names right now is the Arab Film Festival that recently took place for the second time at San Diego.

The biggest highlights from this year’s film lineup were the remarkable films of two sisters, Jessica Habie and her narrative film “Mars at Sunrise” and Sara Ishaq and her documentary short “Karama Has No Walls.”

As more Arab women sit in the director’s chair — which is no easy feat in some Arab countries where the liberties of women are severely restricted — directors like Ishaq attribute this change to the Arab Spring upheavals that have, in some cases, removed the limitations placed on women. Indeed, Habie stated at the Arab Film Festival that women’s creative efforts in the Middle East can help break cycles of violence that continues to haunt Arab culture.

Habie’s “Mars at Sunrise” tells the tale of two artists — one Palestinian and one Israeli — who meet and use their art to work through the conflicts that they have encountered in the Israeli-Palestinian political turmoil.

Sara Ishaq’s documentary short, “Karama Has No Walls,” tells the story of the Yemeni massacre during the Arab Spring when the government fired upon peaceful non-violent protestors and killed over 50 of them. Ishaq did extensive interviews in the square where the murders occurred. The power of Ishaq’s film has quickly earned it some Oscar buzz.

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