MICHAEL BALL, Web Editor—Ten years have passed since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings shook the Middle East and North Africa with cries for democracy and freedom. This year, Denison’s inaugural Middle East Film Festival seeks to explore the legacy of these uprisings through film.

Five films will be screened across the next four weeks. The first film, Obscure, takes viewers through the memories of a Syrian child named Ahmad who wishes to forget that he is Syrian. Before the film, a virtual Q&A session will be held with Syrian film director Soudade Kaadan. The kickoff screening will take place on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. in Herrick Auditorium, or can be accessed virtually via the Zoom link http://tiny.cc/menafilmfestival or with meeting ID 971 9273 1304 and passcode 249912.

The event is organized by Dr. Hanada Al-Masri, professor of Arabic and the director of the Middle East and North African Studies department, and Dr. Isis Nusair, professor of Women and Gender Studies and International Studies. Dr. Al-Masri noted that as 2021 “marks the [tenth] anniversary” of the Arab Spring, she and her colleague Dr. Nusair “want[ed] to commemorate the voices of the ordinary people who swept the streets across the Arab world demanding freedom, dignity, and social justice.”

The film festival aims to “open conversations about the Middle East and the changes that shaped” the diverse countries, and help Denison students “learn about the youth in the [region], their aspirations, and their unique experiences.” Dr. Al-Masri said she hopes that “students will approach this film festival from the perspective of international knowledge [and come] with the attitude of ‘we don’t know’ but are willing to learn and engage globally and empathetically… with the people of the Middle East.”

Dr. Nusair founded the Human Rights Film Festival within the International Studies department at Denison in 2006. She wrote that after screening tens of films exploring human
rights around the world and in the United States, “films are still being used by faculty when teaching about these issues.” While prior festivals included discussions with professors at Denison or neighboring universities, this first MENA film festival will host some of the producers, directors and actors themselves.

Dr. Nusair hopes that the films will challenge “knowledge about the MENA region [that] is oftentimes misconstrued and filtered through Islamophobic, colonialist and Orientalist eyes. Engaging with these films will offer our students a first hand opportunity at thinking more critically about the region and its people.”