Calgary Arab Film Festival seeks to enlighten and entertain


This weekend the Uptown Stage and Screen is set to become a buzz with activity, as people from all over gather at the Arab Film Festival.

The festival celebrates the cultures of countries in the Middle East. From Friday Oct. 21 to Sunday Oct. 23, the Uptown will be playing seven movies from different countries of Arab descent, including Palestine and Syria.

“We have movies that range from being able to delight to being substantial,” says Moness Rizkalla, the film festival’s executive director.

The Arab Film festival is an opportunity for people in the city to see not only films that they won’t regularly be able to see in theatres, but it’s also an opportunity for the Arab community in Calgary to show other people what their culture is like.

“It’s an outreach activity to Calgary at large,” says Rizkalla. “It’s a chance for people to come and take a peek at that part of the world.”

The Festival

This is Calgary’s third annual Arab Film Festival and it has become somewhat of a tradition. The movies playing this year, according to the Calgary Arab Film Festivals website, have a diverse range of genres and themes. Movies include the comedy Man Without a Cell Phone, a film about a Palestinian slacker trying to stop his father from destroying a cell phone tower so he can still call girls, and the drama Cairo Exit, a film about a girl in Egypt who must choose between her unborn baby and her family.


But this is the first year the festival will have a guest speaker. Mona Eltahawy is an award winning journalist who was in Egypt during the 18-day riot when the president of Egypt was overthrown. She is speaking in the evening on Saturday Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m.

“Her success makes her such a big presence in the Arab community, we are so happy to have her,” Rizkalla says.

Yousef Traya, the festival’s artistic director, has been tending to the growth and development of the festival since day one, but says the festival’s progress is thanks to Calgary.

“The festival is trying to build organically, meaning Calgarians can really build it by how they like it,” Traya says.

An Experience for Calgarians

The film festival has had the same main goal for the past three years — to create an opportunity for Calgarians to come together and appreciate Arab culture, and to provide a look into a world beyond what we see in the news on a daily basis, Traya says.

“It’s an outreach activity to Calgary at large,” said Rizkalla. “It’s a chance for people to come and take a peek at that part of the world,” – Moness Rizkalla, executive director of Arab Film Festival“It’s also a chance for Calgarians to take a look at some of their neighbours and get a better understanding of their culture and where it is they come from,” Rizkalla says.

Christopher Venus, communications head of the festival, says it’s a great chance for people who aren’t as aware of the Arab culture to learn about it.

“It is an education and appreciation of the Arab culture,” he says.

The festival starts on Friday Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. with a gala in the Uptown’s Marquee Room, which precedes its opening film at 9 p.m. The festival ends on Sunday Oct. 23 with the last film beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 per film, or $115 for a weekend pass granting you access to all seven films, Eltahawy’s speech and the opening gala.

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