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First Muslim International Film Festival taking place in London | Ents & Arts News

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The first Muslim International Film Festival is taking place in London this week to champion “narratives of international Muslim filmmakers and highlight their compelling stories”.

The programme includes eight feature films, two sets of short films, as well as panels and networking opportunities.

Festival director Sajid Varda told Sky News it’s about changing depictions of Islam and Muslims.

“For many years, as Muslim, we’ve never really seen ourselves reflected back on TV and film,” he said, speaking at the festival’s opening in London’s Leicester Square.

“Many of the stories that have Muslim characters are very cartoonish, very tropey. It’s always those four key tropes: Muslims are terrorists, Muslim men are misogynists, Muslim women are oppressed, and Islam is a threat to the West.

“And it seems there’s no other original ideas apart from the odd individual or show. It’s about how we platform these other wonderful, rich stories.”

BAFTA and Oscar-winner Asif Kapadia
Image:
BAFTA and Oscar-winner Asif Kapadia

BAFTA and Oscar-winner Asif Kapadia whose documentaries include Senna, Maradona and now Federer, told Sky News the industry has a long way to go.

“The only way you can see yourself on screen sometimes is if you make the film and put people that look like you up on the screen and they’re just as valid as anyone else’s stories. So that’s why it’s special,” he told Sky News.

Attendees at the festival's gala opening
Image:
Attendees at the festival’s gala opening

“It is more challenging if you are not from public school. It is more challenging if you didn’t go to Oxbridge. It is more challenging if you don’t come from money. It is more challenging if you don’t have family in the business who can give you a job.

“All of that is a struggle. And if you don’t come from a community that is typically in the media then it’s going to be harder to step into it.

“Once you step into it you might not see lots of people that look like you or come from where you came from or have your experience.”

Among the films screened at the festival is Jordanian filmmaker Amjad al Rasheed’s first feature, Inshallah A Boy, which follows a young woman’s fight for independence following the death of her husband.

Hounds. Pic: Muslim International Film Festival
Image:
Hounds. Pic: Muslim International Film Festival

Kamal Lazraq’s gritty debut Hounds opened the festival on Thursday. Set in Casablanca, the film follows the misadventures of a father and son caught up in a kidnapping gone wrong.

Sudanese filmmaker Mohamed Kordofani’s Goodbye Julia explores morality and reconciliation set against the backdrop of South Sudan’s 2011 succession.

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Riffy Ahmed, director of The Call, said festivals are key for newcomers to the industry.

“It’s really great to see more filmmakers in spaces like this that can represent our voices and also showcase some of the great talents that are around here.”

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Elham Ehsas, whose film Yello was nominated for a BAFTA, told Sky News he fell into the industry by accident after a chance audition but he has found space to tell stories from his ancestral home in Afghanistan.

“It was never an option to do what I ended up doing,” he said.

“I think at some point my family thought I was going through a phase when I was making films, but now Alhamdulillah (praise to God), I’ve got to a stage where things are really good and I’m lucky enough to tell stories from my homeland and slowly getting better and better at telling stories.”

The Muslim International Film Festival runs until Sunday.



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