Arab Film Festival opens tonight — without four of its stars

Courtesy of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival
Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” won the 2018 Cannes Jury Prize in May.

Now in its 13th year, the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival will screen more than 30 films from Palestine, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, the UAE and Iraq, along with films by local Arab filmmakers.

Starting tonight (Thursday, Sept. 27) and ending Sunday (Sept. 30), the four-day event, presented by Mizna, will include an opening night party, post-screening talks and discussions.

Not all of the planned post-screening events will take place. “Of the four international guests invited and who were able to visit, none were granted their visas,” Mizna’s executive and artistic director Lana Barkawi told MinnPost on Wednesday.

Iraqi Kurdish director Hakar Abdulqader’s visa was never approved. For a while, there was hope because he didn’t get an immediate no. The U.S. embassy still has his passport. “Unless he gets a yes and has his passport and visa returned to him in the next few hours,” Barkawi said, “we won’t be able to get him here in time for his film screening on Friday.” Abdulqader’s film is “Separation.”

Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis appears in three of the festival’s films, “Sheikh Jackson,” “Looking for Oum Kulthum” and “Kiss Me Not.” She was not granted a visa in time by the U.S. embassy in Egypt.

Palestinian activist Naila Ayesh, the subject of Julia Bacha’s documentary “Naila and the Uprising,” was allowed into Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival. But she was denied entry to the U.S.

Syrian filmmaker Gaya Jiji, whose film “My Favourite Fabric” will be screened at the festival, was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy in Paris, where she lives. Her passport is Syrian.

“It is frustrating, and a tangible effect of the administration’s attitude to the world,” Barkawi said. “This was all quite stressful for the film artists and for us in planning for this cultural event. I can’t imagine what it’s like if the stakes are higher for an immigrant, refugee, or someone who is separated from a family member in a time of need.”

Despite those disappointments, the festival is solid. Tonight’s opener, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” has already made history. It won the 2018 Cannes Jury Prize in May, and Labaki became the first female Arab filmmaker ever to win a major prize in competition. “Capernaum” has previously screened only in Cannes and Toronto; this will be the U.S. premiere. It’s a big deal. The audience at Cannes gave it a 15-minute standing ovation.

Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis
Courtesy of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival
Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis appears in three of the festival’s films, “Sheikh Jackson,” “Looking for Oum Kulthum” and “Kiss Me Not,” above.
This is the 70th year of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and Palestine will be a major focus of the festival, which has partnered with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. The national organization is holding its 2018 conference in St. Paul at the same time as the film fest, which will screen 10 films from Palestinian filmmakers.

On Friday, “1948: Creation and Catastrophe” will screen free for students (middle school, high school and college), followed by a conversation with filmmaker Ahlam Muhtaseb and local Palestinian activist Leila Abdennabi. Sunday’s closing film, “Wajib,” is a Palestinian film from Palestinian American director Annemarie Jacir. The festival also includes a number of films about Syria, and a discussion about Syria and Palestine.

Perhaps the festival’s biggest surprise: More than half of the films were made by women.

All films will be shown at the Film Society’s Screen 3 in the St. Anthony Main Theatre. Go here for the complete schedule, details and tickets. Follow the hotlinks for details and trailers.

And congratulations to Mizna on its 2018 Sally Award, which will be presented on Monday, Oct. 15, at the Ordway. The St. Paul-based Arab American arts organization, publisher of the only Arab American journal in existence (“Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America”), was founded in 1999. Ever since, it has worked to diversify the Twin Cities’ artistic and intellectual life and create spaces where Arab voices can be heard.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 27) and tomorrow at Hopkins Center for the Arts: Pen Pals with Timothy Egan. A few tickets remain to see the National Book Award-winning author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter discuss his life and writing. His latest: “The Immortal Irishman.” Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m. FMI and tickets ($40-50).

Friday and Saturday at the Walker: “Time for Ilhan.” Norah Shapiro’s film traces the rise of the Somali-American politician from Minneapolis – and current DFL-endorsed candidate for Congress – from community organizer to the Minnesota House of Representatives. 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday in the Cinema. FMI and tickets ($10/8).

Sunday at Christ Church Lutheran: Dedication recital for the new Christ Church organ. The architecturally significant church designed by Eliel Saarinen (and the former home of the chamber ensemble Accordo, until they outgrew it) now has an organ fit for a National Historic Landmark. A work of art designed and custom-built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders in Lake City, Iowa, the organ will make its debut in the accomplished hands of internationally acclaimed organist Martin Jean of Yale University. The recital will be followed by a reception. 4 p.m. Free and open to the public.

Olga Tokarczuk
Olga Tokarczuk
Sunday at Open Book: Olga Tokarczuk. The first Polish author to win the Man Booker International Prize, Tokarczuk has twice received Poland’s highest literary award, the Nike. “Flights,” her Man Booker winner, translated into English by Jennifer Croft, explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, and a body in motion, not only through space but also through time. 4 p.m. in the Target Performance Hall. FMI. Free and open to the public.

Sunday at the Dakota: A Celebration of and by T. Mychael Rambo. In late July, the Emmy-winning actor, singer, Twin Cities theater favorite and beloved local personality T. Mychael Rambo was carjacked, robbed and pistol-whipped by a group of teenagers in St. Paul he had stopped to help. Now he’s hosting a benefit for Save Our Sons and The Circle of Peace Movement, organizations that mentor and support at-risk African-American youth. A portion of the proceeds will go to Rambo’s own recovery costs, but “the lion’s share goes to these organizations,” he told the MN Spokesman-Recorder. “The reality is our young people need more help than me.” Performers are a Who’s Who of area talent: Jamecia Bennett, Aimee K. Bryant, Julius Collins, Ginger Commodore, Brittany Delany, Debbie Duncan, Keno Evol, Pavielle French, Tonia Hughes, Patricia Lacy, Thomasina Petrus and Robert Robinson, plus a great band. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($40).

Coming up

The 26th annual Sally Awards – named for Sally Ordway Irvine, whose initiative, vision and commitment inspired the creation of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts – will take place at the Ordway on Monday, Oct. 15. The winners have already been announced: the Washburn Blackbox Acting Program, led by Crystal Spring; the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop; Chinese musical prodigy and pipa master Gao Hong; dancer and creator of “Rooted: Hip Hop Choreographers’ Evening” Maia Maiden; and Mizna, the Arab-American arts organization. So the evening will be less surprise, more celebration, with the opportunity to learn about the winners’ important contributions to our vibrant cultural scene. Doors at 6:30 p.m., ceremony at 7. It’s free, but please RSVP.

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