For someone about to launch a film festival Mohannad Ghawanmeh seem remarkably calm. The curator of the 10th Mizna Twin Cities Arab Film Festival says the movies are all here, and everything seems set.
He is however brimming over with expectant excitement. The festival is marking its decade point tomorrow night with a gala opening screening of the Lebanese film “OK Enough Goodbye” at the Walker Art Center.
It’s just one of the signs that the festival has arrived.
“The Walker Arts Center’s willingness, I would like to say eagerness, to collaborate with us on delivering this opening with us at the Walker is indicative,” said Ghawanmeh.
The rest of the festival (Thursday through Sunday) is presented at it’s traditional home at the Heights Theater in Columbia Heights. On Saturday night Ghawanmeh will screen another of his prize catches this year.
“I am really excited about the indication of renown if you will, or heft, in our having secured the US premier of “Horses of God,” It was easily the best reviewed Arab film in the most recent edition of Cannes,” he said. “It is really heartening to know that a festival such as ours will be the first festival in the US to screen this film.”
“I am also really enthusiastic about our screening of three films by local representatives,” he continued. There is‘Sirocco’ by Hisham Bizri. There is also a short abstract film “Home, Not Home” which draws on the situation in Gaza by Andrea Shaker, who teaches at the College of St Benedict. Finally there is journalist Jacob Wheeler with the documentary “The People and the Olive.” All three will be at the Walker opening and at the presentation of their films.
While Mohannad Ghawanmeh has not curated all of the Twin Cities Arab Film Festivals, he is known for his connection with it. He’s been hearing from the local Arab community that they are looking forward to the event.
“The excitement is palpable,” he said. “I have had people, young Arabs, while going about in the Twin Cities saying ‘Oh, I can’t wait for the film festival to arrive, I am so looking forward to it.’ I think that many of them recognize that this isn’t their parents Arab cultural event, that the Arab film festival is run by a progressive, artistically mindful, politically engaged and a rather hip organization that speaks to them as well as their parents generation.”
There are only half a dozen similar festivals in North America and few have the scope of the Twin Cities event. Ghawanmeh puts the success down to hard work, and high standards. he thinks the event has a good reputation amongst film fans in the larger Twin Cities community. He says the festival has a reputation for being “really selective and that the films that get into our festival are not simply promotional vehicles for Arab Americans, but are veritable appreciable and notable works of art.”
Ghawanmeh is particularly pleased about one more film, a surprise screening of a short as part of the last bill on Sunday night.
“We have wrapped it in that sort of paper,” laughs Ghawanmeh, who says he cannot reveal what it is because of contractual restriction. However he says he agreed to show it because he believes it is so good.
“It may be my favorite Arab short of all time,” he said. “It’s a stunning piece of elegiac cinema, it really is. It’s breathtakingly shot and subtly harrowing.”
And when someone like Mohannad Ghawanmeh says that, you sit up and take notice.