Three to watch at the first Muslim International Film Festival in London

Attendees can look forward to films from Sudan, Jordan and the UK

Dammi, starring Riza Ahmed and directed by Yann Demange, is a short film that follows a young man trying to connect with his Arab roots. Photo: TIFF
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The first Muslim International Film Festival begins today in London. Launched by actor-producer Sajid Varda, the festival aims to champion “the narratives of international Muslim filmmakers and highlight their compelling stories”.

The festival will screen films from countries including the UK, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia and Sudan. Varda hopes the festival will help reclaim Muslim artistic identity in a world where words and phrases such as "Islam" and "Allahu akbar" are often demonised.

Speaking to The National in a previous interview, Varda said “the media loves to use Islam and Muslim as part of the headline, because again, it's just the way of stoking up fear, dividing communities, so this really is about how we reclaim our identity, which really has been taken away from us”.

Taking place at the Odeon Luxe West End in Leicester Square, the festival’s programme includes eight feature films, two sets of short films, plus panels and networking opportunities.

Here are three films that should not be missed.

Goodbye Julia

Set against the backdrop of the beginning of South Sudan's 2011 secession, Goodbye Julia has earned acclaim for its timely exploration of morality and reconciliation. The film is also the first from Sudan to be screened as part of Cannes Film Festival's official selection.

Directed by Sudanese filmmaker Mohamed Kordofani, it recently won the award for Best Feature Film and Best Screenplay at the eighth Critics Awards for Arab Films, which took place on the sidelines of the Cannes festival.

Goodbye Julia entered the running for the 2024 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film but was not shortlisted and has recently generated a surprising box office return during its current theatrical run in the Middle East, bringing in tens of thousands of ticket buyers during a limited release.

Inshallah A Boy

Jordanian filmmaker Amjad Al Rasheed's first feature, Inshallah A Boy was shown at last year’s Cannes Critics' Week, a sidebar that that runs alongside the main event. Running just over 90 minutes, the film is set in the Jordanian capital and follows Nawal as she fights for independence for herself and her daughter following the death of her husband.

The film, which won the Final Cut prize at the Venice Film Festival last year, stars Palestinian actress Mouna Hawa as the lead. It also features Haitham Al Omari, Salwa Nakkara, Yumna Marwan, Mohammad AI Jizawi and Eslam Al Awadi.

Al Rasheed previously told Variety that he grew up in a family mostly of women, where he listened to their stories “about separation, infidelity, mistreatment, sacrifice and even abuse,” which made him determined to use filmmaking “to highlight women’s struggles”.

Dammi and other short films

British filmmaker Yann Demange directs Riz Ahmed in Dammi, a 16-minute short film set in Paris about a man trying to reconnect with his Arab roots. It reflects on the director’s own experience of growing up in foster care and not being connected with his Algerian heritage.

Dammi will be screening in London as part of a short films programme named A Reckoning of Hearts, films grouped together for their similar themes of being Muslims in the West and grappling with their surroundings while understanding their identities.

Demange has previously directed films such as '71 and White Boy Rick. He was picked by Marvel and Disney to direct the next Blade film starring Mahershala Ali.

Other short films in the programme include The Call by Riffy Ahmed, Muna by Warda Mohamed, See You In The Dark by Asena Nour and Simo by Aziz Zoromba. The screenings will be followed by a Q&A conversation with filmmakers Asena Nour, Tammy Siddik, Riffy Ahmed and Harris Alvi.

Updated: May 30, 2024, 8:14 AM