Stories and Beginnings, the theme for the fourth Amman International Film Festival, neatly encapsulates the event’s spirit.
Among the myriad annual film festivals taking place in the region, sprawling from Carthage to Jeddah, the AIFF has managed to hone and maintain its unique identity, particularly through its dedication to debut works by Arab and international talents.
The festival marked its opening on Tuesday in a ceremony at Al Hussein Cultural Centre that included traditional Jordanian bagpipe ensembles and rock interpretations of Arab folk songs by local band Octave.
Several leading figures in Arab cinema and television attended the event, including celebrated Egyptian filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah, Egyptian actress Bushra Rozza, Lebanese actor Georges Khabbaz, Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar, Jordanian actress Rakeen Saad and Lebanese actress Rita Harb.
The opening film of the event, which runs until Tuesday, was A Gaza Weekend, an offbeat comedy about a British-Israeli couple who escape to Gaza after a deadly virus begins spreading in Israel, making the besieged Palestinian exclave one of the most secure places in the region.
Now in its fourth year, the festival is presenting 56 films from 19 countries. These include feature narratives, documentaries and short titles. The films are all screening in Jordan for the first time. Eleven titles will be marking their debut in the Arab world, whereas five will be making their global premiere. Screenings will be held at Taj Cinemas, a drive-in cinema, the Rainbow Theatre and The Royal Film Commission.
Films will also be competing for the Black Iris Award in several categories, including Best Arab Feature Narrative, Best Arab Feature Documentary and Best Arab Short Film. A fourth category has been added this year. Besides the staple documentary award, titles will also be competing for the Fipresci Award, held in conjunction with the International Federation of Film Critics.
Eight films are competing in the feature-length category, such as Hanging Gardens by Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji, The Last Queen by Adila Bendimerad and Damien Ounouri, Queens by Yasmine Benkiran and Rat Hole by Mohamed El Samman.
The feature-length documentary competition includes The Tedious Tour of M by Hend Bakr, Anxious in Beirut by Zakaria Jaber, and Baghdad on Fire by Karrar Al-Azzawi. Furthermore, eighteen films will be in the running for the Iris Award for Best Arab Short Film, including 8.8.88, directed by Ahmad Alsamar; The Moped and the Goldfinch by Amir Bensaifi; and So Cool, directed by Marilyne Naaman.
Besides the Black Iris trophy, winning films will also be given a monetary prize ranging from $1,000 to $15,000.
In the First and Latest segment, dedicated to celebrating the oeuvre of established Arab filmmakers, the festival will be hosting Mai Masri, a Palestinian filmmaker born in Amman. Masri has been credited with directing and producing more than 15 films. Her earliest work is the 1987 documentary Wild Flowers: Women of South Lebanon, and one of her latest works is the 2015 drama 3000 Nights, which won several prizes across the international film festival circuit.
A section is also dedicated to screening films from other parts of the world. Highlights include the Nicaraguan film Daughter of Rage, directed by Laura Baumeister; the Spanish Hafreiat by Alex Sarda; and the Iranian movie A Tale of Shemroon by Emad Aleebrahim-Dehkordi.
The Franco-Arab Rendez-Vous segment of the festival is also being reprised for the third year. The section is dedicated to French films, or those that have been produced in collaboration with French and Arab talents. This year, there will also be a spotlight on Jordanian short films, which will feature two titles, including Murad Abu Eisheh’s A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea and Kroka by Samer Z M Battikhi.
A full list of the films screening at the fourth AIFF can be found on the festival’s official website.
In her opening statement, Princess Rym Ali, president of the AIFF, enumerated the films that spearheaded cinema in the region. “Some say the first film [in the region] was produced in Egypt in 1927. It was called Layla and it was a feature film. Then there was the Innocent Suspect in Syria in 1928, then The Adventures of Elias Mabruk in Lebanon.”
Princess Rym added that the films presented at the festival carry on the heritage of these trailblazing movies, reflecting upon the concerns and joys of the Arab world.
“[While] the beginning of Arab cinema has had a strong impact on people in the region, it has only spread across the world in the last few decades,” she said. “As Arab cinema develops and spreads, more people know and share our concerns and joys. In the fourth edition of the Amman International Film Festival, we look forward to hearing the new voices that will tell our story.
“I would like to tell filmmakers that their role is very important and their voices matter today more than ever.”