5 Emerging Arab Filmmakers Making Arab Cinema History

These are the names to keep an eye on

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What makes Arab cinema great? It goes beyond the timeless classics of its golden age. There’s a new generation of Arab filmmakers worthy of praise, constantly striving to perfect their craft and take Arab narratives to global heights. And in that, they have succeeded.

The last few years saw an unprecedented number of Arab films at the receiving end of international premieres, snagging awards at the world’s most prominent film festivals. Time after time, Arab directors are making history, and they’re doing it with apt portrayals of what Middle Eastern and North African societies are really like, defying the cultural stereotypes that for decades were perpetuated by Hollywood. 

For that, we want to celebrate them, so from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite emerging Arab filmmakers to keep an eye on.

Sameh Alaa

Alaa’s film I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face made history last year becoming the first Egyptian film to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. The film also snagged awards at Moscow Film Festival and El Gouna Film Festival. The 15-minute short follows a young man named Adam as he tries to reconcile with his girlfriend after 82 days of separation. The Egyptian filmmaker, who lives between Cairo and Brussels, is known for his improvisational style in directing and his focus on personal experiences and feelings in narratives. With only four short films under his belt, Alaa is definitely one to watch.

Abdelhamid Bouchnak

Bouchnak is the man behind Tunisia’s first horror movie Dachra. The film sees a journalism student and his friends trapped in an isolated village whilst attempting to solve a decades-old criminal case. Son of Tunisian singer Lotfi Bouchnak, he is best known for Nouba, a TV series, which aired during Ramadan, depicting stories of love and the art of traditional mezwed in 90’s Tunisia.

Ameen Nayfeh

Nayef, who grew up between Jordan and Palestine, saw his debut feature 200 Meters premiere in the 77th Venice Film Festival. The film was also selected as Jordan’s 93rd Academy Awards submission. The 2020 film follows the story of a married couple who find themselves living in two Palestinian villages that are only 200 metres apart, but separated by the apartheid wall. The Palestinian director was catapulted to fame after snagging five honours at El Gouna Film Festival, and he’s only getting started.

Hana Al Omair

The Saudi filmmaker directed and co-wrote Netflix’s first Saudi thriller Whispers, which explores the issue of feuds in a family that is experiencing the death of the family patriarch. Al Omair received a grant from the Red Sea International Film Festival last year and her 2019 short film Swan Song won the Golden Palm Tree Award for best actor in the Saudi Film Festival. She is now working on an upcoming feature film titled Sharshaf.

Amjad Abu Alala

The list would not be complete without a mention of Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala. His feature debut You Will Die at Twenty has had its fair share of history-making moments since its release. The film won the Luigi De Laurentiis Award at Venice Film Festival, the Golden Star at El Gouna Film Festival, and Best Screen Play at Carthage Film Festival. It was also Sudan’s first ever Oscars submission. The film explores the life struggles of Muzamil after discovering a sheikh’s prophecy dooming him to die at the age of 20. Alala has previously worked on several short films including Studio (2012) and Apple Pies (2013) yet his first feature film was his big breakthrough. We can’t wait to see what the Sudanese director has up his sleeve. 

Shahad Ameen

If you haven’t yet watched Ameen’s drama Scales, you’re definitely missing out. The Saudi film snagged the Verona Film Club Award and was submitted to represent the Kingdom at the upcoming Academy Awards. Ameen tells the story of a young woman named Hayat who grew up in a small fishing village where female children are typically sacrificed to mysterious mermaids. Ameen is also behind critically-acclaimed short film Eye & Mermaid and is already making waves in the Saudi film scene.

 

Main image: Amjad Abu Alala’s ‘You Will Die At Twenty’

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