The Amman International Film Festival has returned for the third time — but Jordan’s premier cinematic event is still all about firsts.
Debut films by Arab and international talents make up the core of the festival’s programming. This has been a focus and a distinctive characteristic of the event since its inception in 2020. However, as the festival emerges from the challenges of the pandemic, it breaks free from the restrictions that hampered previous years to deliver a charged and bustling programme.
It started on Wednesday and runs until July 27; the festival will be screening 49 films, most of which are led by first-time directors. The programme includes recent international festival favourites such as Darin J Sallam’s Farha and Al Hadi Ulad-Mohand’s Life Suits Me Well, alongside a range of fresh documentary and narrative titles.
The festival launched with a ceremony at Al-Hussein Cultural Centre in Ras Al Ain. More than 100 filmmakers, actors, producers and industry professionals from around the region flew in for the event. Stars on the red carpet included Lebanese actor and writer George Khabbaz, Tunisian actor Dhafer L’Abidine, Jordanian actress Saba Mubarak, AlRawabi School for Girls stars Noor Taher and Rakeen Saad and Lebanese actress Carmen Lebbos. Prince Ali bin Al Hussein and his wife, Princess Rym al-Ali, the festival’s president, were also present.
“Third time lucky they say,” Princess Rym said in her opening speech. “We are indeed very fortunate to have received the immense support that has made this festival not only exist but also grow.”
“This year’s films are diverse and tackle different topics, I will not go into their details, but I would like to refer here to a saying by the famous French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godord: ‘Every film is the result of the society that produced it.’ During the seven days of the festival, we will witness a confirmation of this saying especially through the eyes of the Arab filmmakers. May the festival begin!”
The festival opened with Peace by Chocolate. The debut feature of Canadian filmmaker Jonathan Keijser, the film tells the story of a Syrian refugee in a small Canadian town who is caught between his desire to pursue a medical career and his chocolatier father’s expectation to help in the family business.
The film stars the late Syrian director and actor Hatem Ali in one of his final performances.
While the opening film screened at Al-Hussein Cultural Centre, the rest of the films in the festival’s program will be showing at three locations: the open-air theatre at the Royal Film Commission — Jordan in Jabal Amman, as well as Taj Cinemas in Abdoun and Drive-in Cinema in the Abdali District, specially built for the festival. Most screenings are followed by a discussion with the filmmakers.
For the second consecutive year, the festival is hosting the special non-competitive section Franco-Arab Rendez-Vous. Four French-Arab co-productions will be screening as part of the festival, including Bonne Mere, The River, You Resemble Me, and Mariner of the Mountains.
The festival will also host the renowned Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah in the First and Latest segment, highlighting his journey from his debut film Summer Thefts to his most recent works.
The Amman Film Industry Days launched in tandem with the festival, presenting a series of workshops, seminars and discussions with directors and film professionals. The segment also provides three pitching platforms for Jordanian and Arab projects in development or post-production. An independent jury will select the winning projects to receive cash and in-kind awards. The winners will be announced in a ceremony on July 26.
The festival will conclude with the Black Iris Awards ceremony. Three juries, made up of international film experts, will select the winning titles in categories including Arab feature-length narrative, Arab feature-length documentary and Arab short narrative.