2016: French focus during Arab film days

Did you know that France is perhaps the most important country for Arab cinema, outside the Arab world itself? Without France, many of the best Arab films would never have been realized. This year, the French role in Arab cinema is highlighted through a special collaboration with the Institut Français de Norvège (Oslo), and screening of no less than six films produced or co-produced by France.

Arab-French co-productions
France and the Arab world are closely connected, due to a long history of colonialism, and 200 years of still ongoing migration between the regions. This deep connection is also evident in the world of cinema. As there are no Arab countries, except for Egypt, that has a functioning film industry, over 90 percent of all Arab films that are made, need co-producers from other regions to realize their projects. When looking at what countries the films are from in this year’s festival, only two films are produced by one country. The rest are produced by two or more. The most frequently reoccurring country on the list, outside the Arab world, is France. Through different funds, like the Images de la Diversité, the French government provides financial support to films from the Arab world. In addition, several of the directors of especially the North-African films are themselves living in France, or have been living and training in France. These three factors, the common history, the cultural policy through the French financial support and the filmmakers’ connection to the country make them a natural partner in Arab film production.

Cultural diversity gives positive results
Ever since the beginning of the Arab Film Days, Institut Français d’Oslo has been important to collaborate with. Films that are co-produced by France have been a common sight on the program, simply because some of the best Arab films are French co-productions. This year, the cooperation have increased by not only showing films set in North-Africa that are co-produced by France, but also films set in France, made by directors who have grown up or have parents from North Africa. Taken together, this program shows how it no longer makes sense to have strong boundaries when talking about where a film is from. Our opening film As I Open My Eyes is set in Tunisia, and made by a Tunisian director. However, several of the actors have their education from France, it co-produced by France and Belgium and several French crew members participated. And another of this year’s films, Fatima, is set in France, but made by a Moroccan-born director, with Moroccan actors and co-produced by Morocco and the fund Images de la Diversité. These types of cooperation are examples of how cultural diversity is yielding positive results and highlights the importance of cultural politics. None of these films would be made by France or Tunisia alone. But thanks to the cooperation both were realized and have been huge successes and premiered at the film festivals in Cannes and Venice.

Panel debates and conversations
In addition to screening films, there will also be hosted discussions and debates in collaboration with the association Alumni Sciences Po and PRIO. As part of the 2016 Institut Français d’Oslo focus on “Borders” there will be a discussion about how stereotypes affect our societies with Tunisian academic Riadh Ben Khalifa at the University of Oslo the 12th of April. You can read more about the event here. During the festival, there will also be a discussion on the role of film in combating stereotypes of immigrants, with Justine Coté from the Images de la Diversité and Norwegian director Erik Poppe. In addition to this, a discussion connected to the screenings of Mariam will be hosted, to discuss if Norway has anything to learn from the French model of integration.

The festival is named Arab film days, and several of similar festivals around the world has a requirement that their films must be purely Arab, meaning not co-produced by any country outside the Arab world. Some disagree with this view, and argues that rather than building fences, one should build bridges and welcome cultural diversity and exchange between the Arab world and other countries. Only four of the films on this year's program are purely Arab, and some of the rest are results of the cooperation with the Institut Français d’Oslo on the cooperation and influence between France and the Arab world.

The films included in this year’s French-Arab program are: As I Open My EyesFatimaMadame CourageHediSand Storm and Mariam