Where to watch independent Arab films online: 7 options, from Netflix to Cinemoz

As more people spend time at home and online, many platforms are making Arab productions available to watch

Nadine Labaki in her film 'Where Do We Go Now?', which is on Netflix
Powered by automated translation

Independent Arab films are becoming increasingly easy for online viewers to access.

With cinemas closed and most people spending time at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, many organisations working with the film industry in the region have been making films available online, even hosting virtual Q&As and live sessions with directors.

For those looking to stream Arab films, here are six platforms to check out.

1. The Palestine Film Institute

Through its online platform, the Palestine Film Institute has been showing a feature by a Palestinian filmmaker every week since March, including films such as Ghost Hunting by Raed Andoni and Amer Shomali's The Wanted 18. Rashid Masharawi's Laila's Birthday is currently the film of the week. It tells the story of a judge who's forced to become a taxi driver when the government is unable to pay his salary. On the day of his daughter Laila's birthday, his wife insists that he come home early with a gift and a cake. While he sets out to come home on time for the special occasion, he's faced with the challenges of everyday life in Palestine.

2. Aflamuna

Led by Beirut DC, a cultural association for the development of independent Arab cinema, aflamuna, which is Arabic for "our films", is an initiative created by a group of Middle Eastern filmmakers and film institutions, as part of which a number of films have been made available.

"During these hard times – and hopefully long after they've passed – we will be bringing you some of the best, most thought-provoking and independently minded works of contemporary Arab cinema to enjoy for free on this website for a limited time," the team wrote on its website. Current films include 2017's I Used to Sleep on the Rooftop by Angie Obeid and I Want to See by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, among others. New films are released every 15 days.

3. Arab Fund for Arts and Culture

The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (Afac) has also launched an initiative offering an online selection of Afac-supported independent Arab films and music albums for free.

The initiative has featured films such as Nation Estate, a sci-fi short film by Palestinian director Larissa Sansour; The Wanted 18, an animation / documentary by Palestinian director and cartoonist Shomali; and My Love Awaits Me by the Sea, a poetic fantasy documentary by Palestinian filmmaker Mais Darwazah.

For its sixth and final week (May 7 to 13), the programme features six films including Atlal, Algerian filmmaker Djamel Kerkar's debut feature film recollecting a dark period of Algeria's history; Fidai, a documentary by Algerian filmmaker Damien Ounouri chronicling the life of his great uncle El Hadi and his involvement in the NLF; Crossing the Seventh Gate, a documentary by Moroccan director Ali Essafi that draws an intimate poetic portrait of late vanguard Moroccan filmmaker Ahmed Bouanani; among others. The full programme, including films, dates and links, can be found here.

4. International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) has made more than 300 films available to watch online for free, including documentaries from the Arab world. One of the featured films is the Egyptian documentary Happily Ever After directed by Ayman El Amir and Nada Riyadh. The movie follows the filmmaker's complicated love story amid the country's political events, asking the big question of whether she should stay or leave Egypt.

You can see IDFA's full list of films here.

5. Cinemoz

Cinemoz, a video-on-demand service from the Arab world, has an interesting selection of Arab films available, including films from Egypt's golden era of cinema, including those starring the likes of Abdel Halim Hafez, Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama, among others. Contemporary films include Asmaa starring Hend Sabri and the award-winning documentary film Gaza Surf Club. The platform also includes original series by its production arm, Moz Originals, such as Standup Baladi, a series of episodes with Lebanon's next generation of stand-up comedians, and Rabih TV, about a crew of four who are trying to put together a television series.

6. The Royal Film Commission Jordan

The Royal Film Commission Jordan has been making films by Jordanian and Arab filmmakers available through its Facebook page. The films are posted as links and, when possible, followed by a scheduled live Q&A session with the director. Films include Dalia Al Kury's powerful Privacy of Wounds, a documentary in which the Jordanian filmmaker reconstructs a prison cell in a Norwegian cellar where three former prisoners agree to be locked up to reveal their deepest feelings. The commission has most recently also launched a new series of conversations with figures from Arab cinema to discuss not just films, but about challenges facing filmmakers in the region.

7. Netflix

The streaming giant now has a growing selection of award-winning Arab films such as Wadjda by Saudi Arabia's first female director Haifaa Al Mansour, Omar by two-time Academy Award nominee Hany Abu-Assad, Where Do We Go Now? by Academy Award nominee Nadine Labaki, Very Big Shot by Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, and Exterior/Night by Ahmad Abdalla. If you haven't seen those, we recommend you do.