Set up by The Arab British Centre in London, Safar: The Festival of Popular Arab Cinema returns to the stunning grounds at the ICA between 19-25 September. This year’s film festival features an impressive line-up, including films from countries such as Egypt, Beirut and Morocco.
Factory Girl opens the festival; this award winning drama follows the life of a young factory worker and her day to day life with her colleagues. She falls deeply in love with the supervisor at work and issues of class difference begin to emerge. Beautifully shot, this is an engaging and charming film with plenty of drama and moments of comedy. Unfortunately tickets have sold out but rest assured there are plenty more great films to catch.
Traitors, set in Morocco, follows the life of a female rock band. Exploring elements of family financial problems and personal ambition, this film is definitely one to catch. West Beirut tells a heartbreaking story of two young boys whose lives are surrounded by political violence. The film explores childhood innocence and being raised in a war torn country.
Voted one of the 10 best Arab films of all time, Kit Kat is an Egyptian comedy following the life of a blind man who lives with his elderly mother and frustrated son. He refuses to accept his condition and instead escapes into an unorthodox lifestyle, casually smoking marijuana and spending his days dreaming of riding a motorcycle. We also recommend The Sparrow, directed by one of the greatest directors from Arab cinema, Youssef Chahine (who was also largely responsible for the success of Omar Sharif’s career). Set in 1967 following the war between Israel and Egypt, a young policeman tries to unearth government corruption while looking for his family members.
Award winning actress Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now) stars as the lead character alongside the brilliant Omar Sharif in the closing film of the festival, Rock The Casbah. Following the death of a family patriarch the arrival of Sofia, a rebellious teenager who had fled for the US seeking an acting career, disrupts the occasion. Sofia’s return prompts her sisters to reconsider their own life choices. All of this takes place as their father's remains are prepared for burial. A strong family drama with an exquisite cast.
There is plenty to see at the festival. Screenings are often accompanied by director Q&As, and there is an evening of short films as well the Saturday forum which hosts discussions led by scholars in Arab cinema and culture.
Safar runs 19-25 September at the ICA, on The Mall. Unlike most festivals, tickets are surprisingly reasonable: if you buy tickets for three film screenings, you get them for £9 each. Otherwise prices for single films are £11 each. Students £8, ICA members £7 and Saturday Forum £5. For more information and to book, see the festival website.
By Natasha Saifolahi