by Vicki Ikeogu
Hundreds of film lovers and critics from around the Midwest – and the country – gather every fall in Twin Cities to partake in the annual Twin Cities Arab Film Fest.
Sponsored by Mizna, a non-profit organization founded in 1999 to promote Arab-American culture, the film festival showcases both international and domestically made films highlighting the diverse experience of those from the Middle East and North Africa.
“Our festival is very unique in our region,” said Lana Barkawi, Mizna’s executive and artistic director. “It is the second longest and second largest of its kind in country.”
But while the film fest has gained traction in the Twin Cities, Barkawi said the group hopes to expand it’s reach into outstate Minnesota, particularly central Minnesota.
Starting on Saturday, April 14, and running through Sunday, April 15, Mizna will be taking their film festival on the road to St. John’s University’s Pellegrene Auditorium, 2945 Abbey Plaza in Collegeville.
“We wanted to be in central Minnesota specifically because we know that the community up there is dealing with a lot of racial tensions,” Barkawi said. “And for those reasons we thought it would be an interesting place to bring the tour.”
The St. John’s University stop is the final destination of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival’s 2018 tour. Several individual films have been shown at the St. Paul campuses of Macalester College, Concordia University, Hamline University, St. Catherine University and Metropolitan State University. However, the stop in Collegeville will have the most variety of films – a total of six – available outside the regular film fest.
“We really want to introduce new audiences to Arab films,” Barkawi said. “And hopefully if they like what they see they might be motivated to come to the Twin Cities for the fall festival.”
Barkawi said Mizna selected different genres of films for the Collegeville stop.
“We looked at films we showed at our most recent festival,” Barkawi said. “Of those films we selected films that were jury and audience favorites. There are some documentaries and experimental films. A wide range from love stories to comedies to really showcase the complexities of the Arab-American community.”
Films that will be shown at the St. John’s University film fest include: “The Wanted 18,” directed by Amer Shomali; “As I Open My Eyes,” directed by Leyla Bouzid; “A Man in Our House,” directed by Henry Barakat; “Mariam” directed by Faiza Ambah; and “Detroit Unleaded” directed by Rola Nashef.
In addition, the film festival will also show short experimental films directed by CSB/SJU Professor of Art Andrea Shaker.
Barkawi said there will be time for discussion and some question and answer sessions after several of the films.
“We like to think we are showing these films to two different audiences,” Barkawi said. “One is the Arab and Muslim audiences. And the second is (for those who are not Arab or Muslim). We are constantly confronted by the media, the public and Hollywood. And people’s impressions of our community are so negative. We want to highlight films made by people from the Middle East because it is empowering. It is important for them to see some aspects of their stories reflected on the screen. And for members of the non-Arab community, we want to provide something different than what they see on TV or in the movies.”
The Arab Film Fest kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 14. Tickets are $32.74 for all films or $12.24 for individual films. Discounts are available for seniors and those who are low-income. Students can attend the entire film fest for free. Tickets are available at http://bit.ly/2FoNN4R.