From Small Screen to Silver Screen: The BBC’s Arabic Festival

Sylvia Smith

A clear online programme ensures hassle-free navigation of the 25 films and 15 events that form part of this year’s week-long BBC Arabic Festival.

The BBC Arabic Festival shows the broad sweep of contemporary life in the Arab world through the prism of war and its inevitable concomitant disruption and mass migration. The realities of political and social occupation as well as religious extremism are also highlighted.

However you look at it this burgeoning festival is going to touch on a subject that’s likely to change your view of the people who inhabit the region. 

With an almost equal mix of diaspora filmmakers and those still living in their home countries, you might criticise the festival for trying to be everything to everybody, but in reality the screenings, live talks, panel discussions and special events are all carefully curated to give factual documentaries as well feature films an equal billing. 

The focus according to festival director, Sheyma Buali is to allow audiences to witness original stories from the places behind the headlines.

“Our films are made by independent filmmakers who have, at times, risked a lot in order to tell these stories,” she explains. “The filmmakers will be here on our stage to explain their film making experiences and context in which they were made.”

She hopes that audiences will engage with the film makers, ask questions, learn more, and judge how the headlines we read on a daily basis reflect the experiences of people blessed with great tenacity.

Underpinned by the expertise of BBC’s Arabic Service, which celebrates 80 years of broadcasting front line stories this year, the films delve into the stories behind the headlines.


There will be a digital journalism day, a series of short films from Syria, dramatic cinematic reflections from around the Arab world and full length feature films.

The festival promises a surprise appearance by Wonho Chung the Korean-Vietnamese comedian who hosts the festival’s closing ceremony and music from Lekhfa, a group of experimental, indie musicians from Egypt.

The words “few venues to screen films, little or no state funding, and censors to worry about” ring true for many film makers in the Arab world. The festival is
a means of countering these disadvantages and drawing in new audiences.

The festival runs from 20th – 26th April and all films are shown at the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House in central London. Tickets are free and can be obtained online.

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