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In August, the Arab Film Festival Australia will return to Riverside for their 14th Edition before touring to Melbourne and Canberra. Getting bigger and better every year, AFFA is a highlight of the annual calendar at Riverside. We found a bit more about the festival from the festival Co-Director Fadia Abboud. Fadia is also a film maker and passionate about the voice of women in film.

What got you into film and television?

It’s a very long, personal story – the short of it is I had a big change of direction in life and had a lot of downtime which I spent watching films on my own during the daytime in a cinema. Then I took up a Saturday course in filmmaking and went from there.

How many films would you see a month? What kind of films do you like to watch? What is your favourite film and is it important to see film to be a better film maker?

Sometimes lots, depends if its Arab Film Festival time then I see loads. Like everyone, I wish I had more time to watch more stuff. Because there is so much overload with choice I try and be very selective about what I watch. And If I’ve seen something amazing, I don’t want to dive into watching something else straight after – it’s important to give films time to sink in. I can watch all kinds of films, except horror, but I’m about to watch Get Out. I hear that has a good story (about racism) which I’m fascinated to see how they combine horror, comedy and a story. I find it hard to watch the blockbusters unless it’s something that touches on my childhood, like the last Ghostbusters with the female leads. My favourite film is Caramel by Lebanese Director Nadine Labaki – we screened it at AFFA in 2008. Before that it was another Lebanese film called West Beirut by Ziad Doueiri. Both these films showed me a side of our culture on screen that I hadn’t seen before that really moved me and made me want to be a filmmaker. To be a good filmmaker I think it’s important to have life experiences just as much as it is to watch films and learn from them.

Your career has included you fulfilling many different roles in the film making world including writing, directing and editing. Do you like jumping around or would you prefer to focus on just one job? Or do you see them all as part of the same role as a film maker? Is it important to be flexible as a film maker?

I think you have to be flexible these days, especially when you start off and are able to shoot and edit your own film – that makes it cheap and manageable! The less people you have to rely on the better. I edited all my early films and art pieces. Also I’ve found the proper story is created in the edit – you can turn it into a different film if you like. I love to have the ability to experiment with things in the edit but in saying that having an editor at that point when you’ve been so attached to the material is really important to give the story clarity. I also started writing my own work because they were the stories I wanted to tell – many first time filmmakers write and direct their own work, until you find the right collaborators. As a film maker there are many challenges to not only creating work but getting it distributed.

What advice would you have for young people keen to pursue a career in the film industry?

Find your people – filmmakers, editors, shooters, sound designers – find the creatives that you need and want to work with – they could be in your area, not everyone lives in the city. Also consider community projects that you can produce films in, video documentation of a project that you can be artistic – there are many other contexts for filmmaking that you can consider while you get the skills to produce your own stories.

Where did the idea for an Arab film festival film come from?

The Arab Film Festival has been around since 2001 – it was initiated by Information Cultural Exchange (ICE) and a bunch of community arts organisations that were associated with East Of Somewhere – an art exhibition at Casula Powerhouse. I was not involved then, I was volunteering and my first ever film was screened at the first ever Arab Film Festival at The Roxy in Parramatta. That year all the local films screened were made by women!

On the Arab Film Festival website, it states that “AFFA aims to address the contemporary reality and frequent misrepresentation of Arab peoples and cultures by reflecting the complexity and diversity of the Arab experience”. Why film? Why not another art form? What is unique about film that other art forms couldn’t achieve?

There are other art forms addressing misrepresentations but film has a wide reach – film is where we have been badly represented by non-Arabs (have been for a long time, thanks Hollywood!). Film is essentially propaganda and we have the right to control our own image, tell our own stories and change the perception of who we are. Films are not only a political tool, our festival exists for enjoyment too. Our community and others want to see an Arab romantic comedy or thriller that happens to be set in Lebanon or Egypt. But the sheer act of enjoying an Arab film in Sydney is a sign of resisting the dominant and mainstream culture of representation. There is a film festival for practically every culture, community and cause these days – I think its excellent and obviously there is an appetite for screen culture.

What should audiences expect from this year’s upcoming Arab Film Festival?

We actually have a wonderful romantic comedy from Lebanon, and many strong stories about women. There are a couple of creative documentaries and always a bunch of shorts that will make you laugh and probably cry.

As with many film festivals one of the largest audiences are people who see themselves on the screen. However, film festivals also attract other audiences. Why should non-Arab audiences look at attending the Arab Film Festival?

If you’ve never been to the Arab world, don’t know any Arabs but love our food, come find out something more than our cuisine. We make great art and have a tradition of storytelling that works through the films to produce at times magical screen stories.

Is it just film or are there other opportunities for people to be involved with the festival?

They can donate to the HABIBI campaign and help keep us afloat year to year. LOL! Or you can come to the Festival courtyard throughout the 4 days and buy Knafeh from the Bearded Bakers who are spunky boys with beards that dance and sing and feed the masses. That in itself is an unforgettable Arab experience.

Are Arab stories being told more on film and television in Australia than when the festival first started? Why do you think this is?

Yes, finally, yes! But only very slowly. In feature films we have George Basha and his hits Combination and Convict. On TV we’ve had East West 101, The Principal and Here Come the Habibs (which I co-directed an episode of Season 2) – so I think Australia is slowing embracing new faces on TV. And, by the ratings, it seems people want more and hopefully networks are backing more Arab Australian stories.

The Arab Film Festival Australia will be at Riverside 17 – 20 August.
Visit the website for details.

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