Human Stories at Malmö’s Arab Women Film Festival



I finished my studies at NYU in December and returned home to Sweden. So this year I had the privilege of being in town for Malmö’s Arab Women Film Festival. The festival aims to increase tolerance and gender equality by showing some of the many diverse stories about, and by, Arab women—stories which are often entirely excluded from Western media’s war-focused Middle Eastern coverage.

Opening night, MAWFF screened Turkish filmmaker Andaç Haznedaroglu’s The Guest Aleppo-Istanbul. Her film was unarguably a very timely choice given that it portrays two Syrian refugees — the hairdresser Meryem (Saba Mubarak) and her young neighbor Lena (Rawan Iskeif) — fleeing from the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The feature reminded me of something an acting teacher of mine once conveyed, namely the fundamental difference in moving towards something versus moving away from something. In The Guest Aleppo-Istanbul, Meryem and Lena have to leave, but they have nowhere to go. It is not hard to understand that Lena’s relatives in Germany become the beacon of hope they cling on to as they are robbed of their belongings and sleep on cardboard boxes in a Turkish park. The incredibly strong ending includes orange life vests and leaves the viewer with no answers about how to handle the atrocities, but with an insight into the realities of millions of civilians who struggle to survive behind the front lines.

The second day took another route with a package of short films with female directed pieces from Iraq, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Mariakenzi Lahlou’s The Calling stood out as an abstract and philosophical short about a woman who is trapped in an ancient citadel together with a glass blower. The filmmaker herself was present in Malmö and explained her struggles with artistic censorship. She also explained the metaphor of glass, how it is made out of grainy sand and can be turned into something colorful and beautiful. Glass can also take two states: when cold it is hard and fragile, but when hot it is in malleable fusion. This means that when the delicate glass breaks, it can be melted and shaped anew, and Lahlou’s film played on similar hopeful notes.  

Gaza By Her, a documentary short by Palestinian Riham Al Ghazali closed my festival weekend. The short is a celebration of women in Gaza and portrays a singer, a fashion designer, an activist, and a mother who all continue to work for a brighter future, even when the electricity shuts down and the fabric runs out. Gaza By Her in many ways summarized my experience of AWFF: these are stories by and about Arab women who keep working for change and which all showed at the universal needs of hope, love, and safety.

Although there are many cultural differences and though none of the films gave solutions of how to solve the many international conflicts today, all of the films contributed to the audience’s empathic knowledge about the lives of others. I believe that that is the strongest takeaway from cinematic storytelling like this: Arab, American, Swede, woman, man, child — we are all human. Unfortunately, these days we need to be continuously reminded of this obvious face.

© Malin J. Jornvi (3/20/18) FF2 Media

Featured Photo: The Arab Women Film Festival header.

Middle Photo: Meryem (Saba Mubarak) and Lena (Rawan Iskeif) in The Guest Aleppo-Istanbul.

Bottom Photo: View of Gaza in Gaza By Her.

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