The Arab Film Festival is the oldest and largest festival of its kind in the United States. This year we celebrated 20 rewarding years of bringing Arab cinema and culture to communities in California. In honor of our anniversary, we kicked off this year’s festival in San Francisco by announcing the launch of the Arab Film and Media Institute (AFMI), the only all-encompassing Film Institute dedicated to Arab and Arab American-filmmakers in the United States.
Now more than ever, the stories and experiences of Arabs in the United States need to be told,” said Executive Director, Serge Bakalian. “These past few years of heightened anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments make it an urgent imperative to create spaces for our storytellers to share their experiences. AFMI will not only nurture new talent, it will also bring the Arab experience to the American classroom, through its education program.”
As a group, Arab-Americans are so underrepresented in filmmaking that too often they don’t even warrant their own category or mention in film and media diversity reports. When Arabs are represented, however, they fall victim to negative media bias and are inaccurately portrayed or dehumanized. Many Arab-American children grow up never seeing a positive Arab character on screen, while the recent US presidential election has been stoking the flames of Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment, contributing to the exponential increase in attacks on the community.
The Arab Film Festival was born in 1996 out of a desire to share the variety of Arab experiences. From its very small and humble beginnings, AFF has grown into a powerful force for good in the San Francisco Bay Area and California, through its Los Angeles and San Diego editions. It continues to present the best contemporary films that provide insight into the beauty, complexity and diversity of the Arab world alongside realistic perspectives on Arab people, culture, art, history and politics. It has also achieved international standing and is now considered one of the most important Arab film festivals outside the Arab world.
And yet so much more needs to be done. We need to hear from Arab and Arab -American artists and filmmakers to counteract divisiveness and prejudice with art and empathy. “There is so much talent within the community,” added Deana Nassar, AFF’s Artistic Director. “Our goal is to nurture this talent by becoming a springboard for Arab filmmakers and giving them an opportunity to tell their stories.”
This is why, with unanimous vote, the Arab Film Festival Board voted to create the first Film Institute in North America dedicated to nurture and grow Arab-American filmmaking talent in the US.
The Arab Film and Media Institute (AFMI) will be constituted of four main programs:
- The Arab Film Festival, with expanded curated screening, short film programs, and special events.
- An educational program, providing school curriculum to high schools and colleges to fight stereotypes and foster understanding of Arab experiences.
- Training and Support for Filmmakers, including a Filmmaker in Residence program, master classes and fiscal sponsorship
- AFMI Original Content, including digital streaming and distribution.
AFF has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for the institute. The campaign, which will run until December 3rd, aims to raise $30,000 to help cover the first phase of the institute’s development. To contribute to the campaign, please visit http://arabfilminstitute.org/donate.