Spotlight on Arab Women Filmmakers: Women’s Film Week in Amman

In March 2013, the Cultures of Resistance Network team had the privilege of attending the International Women’s Film Week Festival in Amman, Jordan, where we were honored to meet with a number of incredible young Arab women filmmakers. Given the limited views of the Arab world that typically reach the United States and Europe, we were thrilled to get a bottom-up, grassroots perspective on the region thanks to these inspiring women.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Women’s Film Week takes place annually in Amman to examine progress and bring attention to challenges in safeguarding women’s rights. The festival—a UN Women initiative, organized in partnership with the Arab Film Festival, the Aat Network, and the Royal Film Commission—aims to raise awareness on gender issues and human rights, stimulating critical engagement and fostering an activist audience.

In 2013, twenty films from around the world were screened in Amman in the course of the weeklong festival. Here are some of our favorites.

Resisting Patriarchy: "Horizon"

In 2013, one of the most acclaimed screenings was that of the Jordanian short film “Horizon,” directed by Zain Duraie and produced by Ossama Bawardi. “Horizon” guides us into the troubled yet ambitious soul of Faten, a mother and a housewife, who seems to be trapped in her endless routine of household chores. Although this seems to be the norm for women of her socio-economic background, she feels unfulfilled. Faten’s husband decides to take their children out of school to help him earn a living. Appalled by his decision, she tries her utmost to resist it.

Although, according to the Ministry of Education, the literacy rate in Jordan is improving, the illiteracy rate among women was almost three times that of men at the end of 2012. “Horizon” addresses the everyday plight of women who can neither write nor read. “The development of Jordan and the Middle East depends on empowering women to make self-actualizing choices,” said director Zain Duraie in an interview with the CoR Network team.

One of the unique facets of the tight-knit Arab film scene is that it allows young artists to work directly with the directors that influenced them. Indeed, "Horizon" director Duraie credits her commitment to political art to her mentor, Annemarie Jacir, a Palestinian filmmmaker who was also present in Amman.  

Visions of Palestine: "When I Saw You" and "Kingdom of Women"

Jacir's film “When I Saw You” follows a Palestinian boy separated from his father during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In “When I Saw You,” we are faced with world that is alive with change, brimming with reawakened energy, new styles, music and an infectious sense of hope. In Jordan, a different kind of change is underway, as tens of thousands of refugees pour across the border from Palestine as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Placed in “temporary” refugee camps made up of tents and prefab houses, 11-year-old Tarek and his mother are among the refugees waiting to return to Palestine, l ike the generation before them who arrived in 1948.

Struggling to adjust to life in Harir camp and longing to be reunited with his father, Tarek searches a way out, and discovers a new hope emerging with the times. Eventually his free spirit and curious nature lead him to a group of people on a journey that will change their lives:

The 2013 Women's Film Week featured a number of films that dealt with Palestinian refugee women. “Kingdom of Women: Ein el Hilweh,” directed by Lebanese Dahna Abourahme, for example, tells the story of the women of Ein El Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon between 1982 and 1984. After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the camp was destroyed and its men imprisoned. The film documents the community and organizing spirit of the women while their men were held captive:

Remembering Syria: "Damascus, My First Kiss"

Along with the plight of the Palestinians, the crisis in Syria loomed over the festival. Syrian refugees, international visitors and Jordanians were reminded of a more peaceful Syria with the documentary “Damascus, My First Kiss,” directed by Lina Alabed. The documentary explores the actual role and margin of freedom a woman has in a male-dominated society where different religions and minorities live together. In an interview, Alabed conveyed how inspired she was “by the prospect of inquiring into Syrian women’s sexual consciousness and their relation to their bodies.” (Note: the subtitles in the following excerpt are in French.)

The mission of the Arab Film Festival is to enhance public understanding of Arab culture and to provide alternative representations of Arabs that contradict the stereotypical images frequently encountered in the American mass media, as well as to empower the artists who participate, especially women, to challenge all forms of oppression in their countries. To learn more about upcoming events, visit the Arab Film Festival's website.

Another inspiring new outlet for women filmmakers in the Middle East is the Aat Network, a collective of women artists, educators, activists and supporting men, who believe in the importance of art in the empowerment and wellbeing of women. To learn more about these up-and-coming filmmakers, visit the Aat Network's website.