In the spotlight: Meet the 20 Arab filmmakers and actors who shone in 2020

These regional cinematic stars all made an impact with their work in a challenging year

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While the pandemic may have shuttered cinemas and put productions on ice around the world, it has also been a history-making 12 months for filmmakers from the Arab world.

Sameh Alaa's short film I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face, which became the first Egyptian film to be nominated for the Palme d'Or, won the top prize at Cannes this year, while filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala's You Will Die at Twenty became the first film to be officially submitted by Sudan for Oscars consideration.

Here, we take a look at some of the regional filmmakers and actors who rightly found themselves in the spotlight this year, thanks to their work.

This is the first in The National's series of 50 Arab stars, including writers, artists and musicians, of 2020.

Ahmed Malek

The Egyptian actor rose to international fame this year after landing his first English-speaking role in The Furnace, an Australian Western film which had its world premiere at Venice Film Festival in September.

Amjad Abu Alala

The Sudanese filmmaker made history this year when his award-winning film,You Will Die at Twenty, became Sudan's first film to be submitted to the Academy Awards ahead of the 2021 ceremony.

Ameen Nayfeh

The Palestinian director stepped into the spotlight this year with his debut feature film, 200 Metres. Written by Nayfeh over the course of seven years, the film has so far won awards at Venice and El Gouna film festivals. It has also been selected as Jordan's official submission for the Academy Awards. Nayfeh's work was closely tied with the efforts of his producer, May Odeh, who won the Variety Middle East and North African Region Talent Award at El Gouna Film Festival in October.

Amir El-Masry

Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry receives the Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film (Limbo) at the closing ceremony of the 42nd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) in Cairo on December 11, 2020. / AFP / Mahmoud KHALED
Amir El-Masry receives the Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film at the Cairo International Film Festival. AFP

Not only did the Egyptian-British actor play the lead role in the British film Limbo, which screened at film festivals internationally, but El-Masry was also recognised for his performance. This year, he was named a Breakthrough talent by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta), as well as scoring a nomination for a British Independent Film Award.

Amr Salama

The Egyptian filmmaker co-directed the first Egyptian Netflix original series, Paranormal, a project he had been pursuing for years. The show has been selected by Variety as one of the best international television shows in 2020.

Hana Al Omair

The Saudi Arabian filmmaker directed and co-wrote Saudi Arabia's first Netflix original series, Whispers. Al Omair also received a production grant ($500,000) from the Red Sea International Film Festival this year, to help make Sharshaf, a feature film she has penned.

Jimmy Keyrouz

Jimmy Keyrouz, right, with actor Julian Farhat, on set of 'Broken Keys'. Jimmy Keyrouz
Jimmy Keyrouz, right, with actor Julian Farhat, on set of 'Broken Keys'. Jimmy Keyrouz

The Lebanese director's feature film Broken Keys, based on his Academy Award-winning short Nocturne in Black, was selected by Cannes this year and has also been chosen as Lebanon's official submission to the Oscars.

Kaouther Ben Hania

The Tunisian director's film The Man Who Sold His Skin had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Best Actor award, and then nabbed the El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Narrative Film. The film has also been selected as Tunisia's official submission for the 2021 Academy Awards.

Khansa Batma

The Moroccan musician has been recognised for her role in Ismael El Iraki's Zanka Contact, winning Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival this year.

Mayye Zayed

The Egyptian director has been applauded for her debut documentary feature, Lift Like a Girl, which was one of only two Arab films to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was also recognised at the Cairo International Film Festival where it won three awards: the Bronze Pyramid, the Youssef Cherif Rizkallah Award and the Isis Award for Best Egyptian Film to show the economic and social emancipation of women.

Morad Mostafa

The Egyptian director's short film Henet Ward was selected at a number of international film festivals and won numerous awards, including the Special Jury Award for Best Live-Action Short at the Palm Springs International ShortFest. His second short, What We Don't Know About Mariam, has been selected for the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France next year.

Sameh Alaa

Sameh Alaa has risen to the top this year with his film I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face, a simple yet powerful short which won the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The film made history when it became the first ever Egyptian movie nominated for the prize.

Tarzan and Arab Nasser

The twin brothers and co-directors from Gaza this year released a new film, Gaza Mon Amour, which will represent Palestine in the race for the 2021 Oscars. The film, which had its world premiere at Venice, went on to win the Netpac award at Toronto International Film Festival.

Waleed Zuaiter

The Palestinian-American actor starred in Baghdad Centrala new show set in Iraq that came out earlier this year. The Oscar-nominated producer also started a new production company called Flip Narrative that aims to address regional misrepresentation in film and TV.

Waleed Elgadi

The Sudanese-British actor stars in the new Netflix film Mosul directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Elgadi is also the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab Artist in Residence in 2020.

Yahya Mahayni

Little is known about Syrian actor Yahya Mahayni, who plays the leading role in The Man Who Sold His Skin, but the actor's performance won him the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Youssef Kerkour

The Moroccan-British actor was Bafta-nominated this year for Best Male Performance in a Comedy Programme thanks to his performance in TV series, Home. "If a guy like me can get hired to play a very sweet, cuddly Syrian refugee, then it means the industry is changing a little bit – but there is so much more to do," he told The National earlier this year.

Zain Duraie

The Jordanian filmmaker's short film Give Up the Ghost premiered at Venice in 2019, winning the El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Short Film and the Vimeo Staff Pick Award at the Palm Springs International ShortFest this year.

Zeina Durra

The Egyptian writer and director's latest romance, the Egypt-set Luxor, has received good reviews internationally. The film screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.