Middle East Film Festival showcases ‘sophistication’ of Arab culture

Courtesy Photo / Grace Sterenberg
Poster from the Middle East Film Festival

Courtesy Photo / Grace Sterenberg Poster from the Middle East Film Festival

Grace Sterenberg

Grand Valley State University students got a taste of Arab culture at the annual Middle East Film Festival last Wednesday through Friday.

Started four years ago by professor Majd Al-Mallah, director of the Middle East Studies Program, the event featured a keynote speaker, three films and a musical performance from Salaam. Al-Mallah’s hope was to expose students to Arabic life and culture as well as give Arab students a little reminder of home.

The three-day event began Wednesday afternoon with keynote speaker Moustafa Bayoumi, professor of English at Brooklyn College, who discussed his book, “How Does it Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America Today.” The book tells the story of six young Arab Americans and the challenges they face, especially following the events on Sept. 11. Bayoumi answered audience questions and signed copies of his book after the presentation.

Each film featured at the festival focused on a different aspect of Arab culture, and each took place in several countries throughout. The titles of the films were “Amreeka” by Cherien Dabis, “Monsieur Ibrahim” by Francois Dupeyron and “Edge of Heaven” by Fatih Akin. Before each screening, the films were introduced and discussed by various professors, and there was a reception afterward with Middle Eastern food and time for discussion of the films.

Ahmad Shiber, an exchange student from Jerusalem, said he enjoyed the event because it brought back memories of being home and liked that it showed different aspects of Arab culture.

“It’s important for people to come and see that there is more to Arab culture than camels and desert,” he said. “I love events like this because it shows the sophistication of our culture. The movies and the music are not too different from Western culture, and I wish more students could come see how they can relate.”

The last act of the event brought the most excitement from the crowd when the Salaam band took the stage. The ensemble consisted of Amir and Dena Elsaffar and Tim Moore. Playing songs from various Middle Eastern countries, including Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Iraq, the group had the audience singing and dancing along and took requests whenever possible.

Percussionist Moore, who is also Dena’s husband, said he loves to see the merging of cultures when he comes to events such as the Middle East Film Festival. The group has known Al-Mallah for many years and said they like to see cultural offerings available to students through such events.

Visit www.wgvu.org and search “GVSU’s Middle East Film Festival” to hear some of Salaam Band’s music and an interview with the members.

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