Tiff 2023 opens with strong Arab representation

The Toronto International Film Festival will screen works from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine and Jordan

The premiere of the Saudi film Hajjan is among the festival highlights. Photo: Ithra
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The 48th Toronto International Film Festival opens on Thursday, bringing more than 200 Canadian and international films to audiences attending the 10-day event.

This year, nine titles from the Arab world will screen at the prestigious festival. Here's a list of which ones to look out for.

Yellow Bus

The film follows the tragic story of an Indian mother whose daughter dies from heat exhaustion after accidentally falling asleep inside a school bus.

Shot in the UAE, it is the directorial debut from New York University Abu Dhabi instructor Wendy Bednarz and the first original feature film from OSN. Starring Syrian actress Kinda Alloush (Nezouh, The Swimmers), the film will screen in the Discovery programme.


Abu Bakr Shawky’s debut feature Yomeddine made headlines when it had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. The Egyptian-Austrian director returns with Hajjan, a film that portrays the powerful relationship between a young racer and his camel.

The Saudi film is produced by the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture and will have its world premiere in the festival’s Discovery programme.

Producer Majed Z Samman said: “We wanted to show what camels are, to show what they signify to us and how respected they are in our region.”


From Saudi production house Telfaz11 comes Ali Kalthami’s debut feature.

The dark comedy follows the story of an exhausted driver in Riyadh, played by Mohammed Al Dokhi. Desperate to make more money to pay his father’s medical treatment, he becomes a bootlegger.

The highly-anticipated film, which is expected to be in theatres in December, gives audiences a glimpse into a rarely seen side of Saudi society. The film will have its world premiere in the festival’s Discovery programme.

Inshallah A Boy

Making its North American premiere, this is the debut feature by Jordanian filmmaker Amjad Al Rasheed.

Starring Palestinian actress Mouna Hawa (A Gaza Weekend), the film tells the story of a woman who risks destitution after the sudden passing of her husband.

Desperate to provide a good life for her daughter, she is faced with a difficult choice that challenges her beliefs and morality. Inshallah A Boy made history in May when it became the first feature from Jordan to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The film screens in Tiff’s Centrepiece programme, previously called Contemporary World Cinema.

Four Daughters

Oscar-nominated Tunisian Director Kaouther Ben Hania (The Man Who Sold His Skin) makes her first appearance at Tiff with Four Daughters, after the film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, co-winning the Golden Eye for Best Documentary.

The film tells the real-life story of Olfa Hamrouni, a Tunisian woman who became demonised in 2016 after her two daughters ran away to join ISIS in Libya.

The film powerfully blends documentary storytelling style with drama, starring Tunisian-Egyptian actress Hend Sabry in the role of Olfa and her two younger daughters portraying themselves. Four Daughters screens in the Special Presentations programme.

The Teacher

Following on the heels of her Oscar-nominated and Bafta-winning short The Present, British-Palestinian director Farah Nabulsi returns with her debut feature The Teacher.

The Teacher follows a Palestinian schoolteacher, starring Saleh Bakri (Costa Brava Lebanon, Wajib), who struggles to reconcile his risky commitment to political resistance with the chance of a new relationship with a volunteer worker played by acclaimed British actress Imogen Poots (The Father).

The film will have its world premiere in the Discovery programme.

Bye Bye Tiberias

After exploring her grandparents’ relationship in her directorial debut Their Algeria, Palestinian-Algerian director Lina Soualem returns with another intimate family portrait with Bye Bye Tiberias.

Daughter to French actor Zinedine Soualem and Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (Ramy, Succession, Gaza Mon Amour), Soualem dives into the story of Abbass, who has left her grandmother, mother and seven sisters to pursue a career as an actress.

The film, which had its world premiere on Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, follows Soualem and her mother as she returns to the family’s ancestral village in Palestine. The film screens in the Tiff Docs programme.


Another Saudi debut feature, but this time from Saudi actor, writer and director Meshal Al Jaser (Arabian Alien).

Naga, a satirical thriller, follows the story of a young woman stranded in the desert who races against time to get home before a curfew imposed by her strict father.

The film screens as part of Tiff’s Midnight Madness programme.

The Mother of All Lies

Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El Moudir’s documentary hybrid The Mother of All Lies masterfully uses figurines to visually represent family, friends and neighbours in a story that uncovers personal and political history for the director.

El Moudir spent almost a decade creating her own archive to make the film, set in Casablanca. The Mother of All Lies won the Best Director prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year.

Other notable films from the region include Achilles by Iranian filmmaker Farhad Delaram. Oscar-nominated Egyptian filmmaker Karim Amer (The Square, The Great Hack) will also have the world premiere of Defiant, a documentary on how Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs is fighting disinformation amid the Russian invasion.

This year, Oscar-nominated and Cannes Jury Prize-winning director and actress Nadine Labaki is among the 2023 Platform jury members, alongside Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins and 2022 Platform Prize-winning filmmaker Anthony Shim. Labaki will also speak as part of the festival’s Industry Conference.

Tiff opens on Thursday with the international premiere of Hayao Miyazaki’s new, and supposed last, film The Boy and the Heron – making history as the first time an animated film opens the festival.

The festival will close with Thom Zimny’s Netflix documentary Sly about the life of action film icon Sylvester Stallone. Spike Lee will also be honoured at the event for his contributions to the cinema world with the Ebert Director Award.

The Toronto International Film Festival 2023 runs until September 17 in Toronto

Updated: September 07, 2023, 4:33 AM