Kicking off tonight and going through the weekend, the Mizna Arab Film Festival brings the best current, independent Arab cinema to a wide audience here in MPLS + STPL. It’s not only a great yearly exercise in self-representation brought to us by Mizna—the only journal of Arab American literature in the U.S. and forum for Arab American literature, film, and art—the film selections are just great entertainment for film fans.
In addition to the movie screenings, there’s panel discussions, a block party on Sunday, and a free kickoff party tonight! To help spread the word and get you excited for the films, we sent Mizna’s Executive and Artistic Director Lana S. Barkawi a Quick Q+A.
Secrets of the City: If someone has never been to this or other film festivals, why should they go to the to the Mizna Arab Film Festival? What’s the draw of these films, especially in this current political moment?
Lana S. Barkawi: First, expect to see great films—comedies, dramas, documentaries, and shorts that do what you want cinema to do, transport you into another world that is both new and in which you find connections to your own life and experience.
Now more than ever, “Arab” and “Muslim” have become shorthand for a people who are unknowable. Our stories are continually told by others—by the 24 hour news cycle and Hollywood. We are the ultimate Other, the ultimate bogeyman. This festival allows people a chance to see Arab filmmakers telling Arab stories, bringing our humanity to the foreground. The community is multi-dimensional and these films reflect that.
Also, expect to see many films made by women filmmakers and with women protagonists driving the story—another thing that you won’t get from Hollywood!
What’s it like for a literary journal to curate a film festival, especially after 11 years? Seamless? Complimentary? Stressful?
Mizna’s two long-running flagship programs are the literary journal (Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America) and the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival—so Mizna is very much both of those programs. We also present classes and other visual art and performance art projects, always with the goal of presenting current Arab creative work on its own terms.
What’s it like to produce the Arab Film Fest for the 11th time? It’s thrilling to get to bring these incredible films to a Twin Cities audience who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see them. In moving to an annual schedule a few years ago, we’ve been able to get a little more momentum and institutional memory propelling us from year to year. So there is stress of course in putting on a big festival like this, but there’s a lot of love and dedication from the team, including the stellar volunteer film festival screening committee. And in the end, it’s just magical to experience the festival with our audience—watching the filmmakers’ artistry in the theater and building community in the lobby.
Which movies are you specifically interested in seeing? And which panel discussions would you recommend?
You can’t go wrong with any segment of the festival, but some that are very special are the midday segments on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday at 1 PM, we have a segment of short Iraqi films, including a number from local Iraqi filmmakers who have gone through the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project’s Iraqi Voices film program. They will be discussing their films afterward.
On Sunday at 11:30 AM, we have a segment titled “Media & the Distorted Present” with some very strong short films, including a short Palestinian film called In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain by Larissa Sarsour. She’s a multimedia artist whose work drew attention in 2011 when she was removed from a short list of artists in France who were line for a prestigious award because of the political nature of her piece. This latest short film of hers is must-see, and it’s exciting for us to continue to blur the categories of films you expect to see in a theater and films you expect to see in an art gallery.
Also, the world lost a major filmmaker this year when Egyptian director Mohamed Khan passed away. He is legendary and his films work on multiple levels—seeming straightforward and entertaining on the surface, but actually exploring themes of class and the role of women in society. There will be a discussion after that film with scholars Sonali Pahwa and Mohannad Ghawanmeh.
The artist discussions after both screenings of the documentary film Yallah! Underground should be wonderful, though only the second is open to the public (the first is exclusive to high school students). The artists are all local folks whose work joins art and activism in one way or another.
And we’re very much looking forward to the discussion after the beautiful Syrian film Queens of Syria, which includes local filmmaker Andrea Shaker speaking about her short film “on silence” and a Syrian activist Mazen Halabi.
How crazy are you going to get at the opening party?
Well, given that the dope local DJ Egyptoknuckles (aka Ali Elabbady) has just come on to perform, I’ve got to think it’ll be lit—as the young people say. We’re definitely going to celebrate the films and the community!
We’ll have a write-up in tomorrow’s newsletter for the Dear Gaza block party and some film picks, but be sure to get tickets for the whole thing ahead of time and stop in to the festival tonight, too.
Amy Jo and TOOTH make up the righteously talented screen printing twosome Who Made Who. The duo “first bonded over a love of vintage catalogs, spicy food, and noisy Rock & Roll” and it certainly comes through in their work.
We’ve been a big fan of theirs for some time now, and in anticipation of the closing artist reception for their current A Way To Go: Amy Jo & TOOTH this Saturday, September 24th from 6-10 PM at the very cool Hamilton Ink Spot, we sent Amy Jo some quick questions so our readers can also get in on the love.
Secrets of the City: Why makes screen prints so appealing? The flat aesthetic? The flexibility of the medium? The price point?
Amy Jo: “People love flat things.” I think Andy Warhol said that. There is an element of craft to screen printing by hand that a machine just can’t duplicate.
A digital print might look nice and be a bit cheaper, but if you want something that cost the blood, sweat, and tears of an artist, buy a screen print.
Is it fair to say that MPLS + STPL has a big screen printing scene? Do you see yourself as a part of it? How did you get into it?
The Twin Cities has a huge design community and along with that I think comes a shared love of screen printing. There is something very charming about screen printing. It’s tedious and kind of clunky, but also very beautiful.
I started screen printing posters in 2001 for First Ave, Triple Rock, The Dinkytowner, and showing prints at Hair Police and the Hexagon Bar. TOOTH relocated to MPLS in 2007 and shortly after that, Who Made Who was born.
Is Who Made Who an AC/DC reference?
Busted. “Who Made Who, ain’t nobody told you?” (Although we are #teamBonScott). It made sense for us to have a name that references both rock and roll and maker culture.
A Way to Go is a collection of art prints, test prints, and rare screenprints by Amy Jo & TOOTH. Join us for an artist talk and a letterpress make and take of an exclusive new design.
On Saturday, all throughout the country and including Minnesota, reproductive rights and justice organizations will be holding a series of free music and cultural events called All Access; the events aim to highlight that the majority of Americans support abortion rights and the importance of access to reproductive health.
The hometown installment of All Access combines pro-choice orgs and an incredible showcase of musical talent—Villa Rosa, DJ Shannon Blowtorch, Sarah White, The Lioness, ZuluZuluu—assembled and hosted by promoter Amber ACE Cleveland, who’s also responsible for the very cool For The Love events we’ve highlighted. We sent some quick questions to Cleveland about the upcoming All Access event.
Secrets of the City: How does this show connect to the larger All Access programming that’s happening? Are they at the same time? Can people follow along with other cities on social or the web?
Amber ACE Cleveland: The All Access events will unite reproductive rights and justice supporters across the country to demand abortion access for everyone who needs it. All Access isn’t just a concert, it’s a powerful cultural event that brings together people of all ages, ethnicities, racial and gender identities to expand our access to abortion and celebrate our collective power. On September 10, 2016, music and cultural events will take place simultaneously in over thirty cities across the country. Together we stand in support of abortion access for everyone.
The biggest names in music and comedy will join forces with the country’s leading artists and creative voices to share their stories about why access to abortion benefits people. Folks can follow any city by going to allaccess2016.com.
Secrets: We’re excited to spread the word about the lineup, but also the important cause. How will the event “show how access to abortion benefits women, their families and ultimately, the country”?
AAC: Organizers from all across the social justice spectrum will be present and speaking at this event about the intersections between race, sexuality, immigrant status and reproductive justice. We recognize that abortion access is a reproductive justice issue. Reproductive justice being when ALL people are free to make decisions about their reproductive lives free from coercion. Individuals accessing abortion don’t make their decision without taking into account the intersection of the many identities they hold, whether it be their socio-economic identity, racial identity, or gender identity. The intention is to showcase the importance of reproductive justice and that all the social issues we are fighting—racial, economic, environmental, etc.—all directly tie into one’s decision about when to start and grow a family. Our hope is that these conversations and this framework will give us the tools to realize our needs.
Secrets: The lineup is some of best musical talent you can catch in MPLS + STPL, but how much of the lineup was selected to represent women of color and how much was to put together a lit show?
AAC: When I was approached to help curate the event for the organizations they stressed that the performers should highlight woman of color. Traditionally women of color are left out of these spaces even though these organizations do a lot of labor for social and racial movements. The lineup is suppose to be a visual representation of the reproductive justice movement, which is rooted in the spirit of creating a space for women of color. After working through the process and availability the line up evolved into this final iteration. As a female promoter in the Twin Cities my eye is often drawn to female acts, and as a social justice worker, my priority is as an ally for the POC community and to utilize my privilege in order to highlight their talents. Now, was the lineup put together to have a lit show, that’s the goal of every show producer, isn’t it?