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UK-based Arab film festival to go digital due to COVID-19 pandemic

'SAFAR From Home' to feature films from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia

LONDON: The SAFAR Film Festival, the only dedicated biennial pan-Arab film festival in the UK, is to take place digitally in September, the Arab British Centre has announced.

The changes come in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which has forced multiple cultural events in the UK and elsewhere to be cancelled or postponed.

Scheduled to take place from Sept. 13-20, this year’s edition, titled “SAFAR From Home,” will be the fifth edition of the festival and will offer five free screenings, available to UK viewers, and five live events, available worldwide, featuring leading figures from the filmmaking industry across the Arab world.

The move to take the festival digital was funded in part by the Council of Arab Ambassadors and the British Film Institute’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Curated by Rabih El-Khoury, the festival will explore Arab cinema through the theme of journeys (‘Safar’ is the word for journey in Arabic).

It will feature films from Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia, with additional panel discussions on topics such as migration and life in the Arab diaspora.

On Sept. 20, the Arab British Centre will also host a panel of festival guests to discuss the growth of SAFAR since 2012 and the evolution of Arab cinema over the past eight years. 

El-Khoury said: “In a year when travel became impossible, we wanted to offer viewers the chance to travel to the Arab world and beyond through their screens at home. And while this program is an invitation to imaginary journeys, the truth around the protagonists of these films is far from being a fictitious one.

“They defy their harsh realities. They question bewildering surroundings. They face unconceivable challenges. They lead quite impossible journeys. Yet through courage, resilience, but also a lot of inspiration, they give a sense of meaning to their journeys,” he added.

Amani Hassan, the program director and also the acting executive director of the Arab British Centre, said: “We are very happy to announce the ‘SAFAR From Home’ initiative today. Following the difficult decision to postpone the in-person festival until 2021, we’re marking what would have been the landmark fifth edition with this alternative, virtual edition as a way to bring our audiences together and support the industry during this unprecedented time. 

“Since quickly pivoting our programs online in March, we’ve seen the thirst of people to connect with their culture, and with culture in general, and we hope that despite the physical distance, this program will offer SAFAR’s usual, unique space to appreciate, reflect upon, and celebrate the cinema and filmmakers of the Arab world.” 

The film and events program will be announced shortly alongside the festival’s new website. Information about the program can be found by emailing the organizers at www.safarfilmfestival.co.uk.

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