My Top 25 Picks of Arab Films for Dubai International Film Festival 2013

It's that time of the year where I share with you my top picks for the Dubai International Film Festival which starts on 6th December 2013. 

Since this is the 10th anniversary of the festival and the theme this year is "A Tribute to Arab Cinema", I decided to share more than one list.

My first list is focused on Arab films only. This year's edition of the festival will screen more than 100 Arab films, so here are my top 25 (I didn't review the short films, so my list features full feature films/documentaries only). I will start wih the festival opening film, Omar followed by the rest added in alphabetical order. 

Have a look and see you at the festival.  


Omar is accustomed to dodging surveillance bullets to cross the separation wall to visit his secret love Nadia. But occupied Palestine knows neither simple love nor clear-cut war. On the other side of the wall, the sensitive young baker Omar becomes a freedom fighter who must face painful choices about life and manhood. 

When Omar is captured afer a deadly act of resistance, he falls into a cat-and-mouse game with the military police. Suspicion and betrayal jeapordize his longtime trust with accomplices and childhood friends Amjad and Tarek, Nadia’s militant brother. Omar’s feelings quickly become as torn apart as the Palestinian landscape. But it’s soon evident that everything he does is for his love of Nadia. 

Schedule and ticket details.  

1001 Apples

In 1988, the Iraqi Ba’ath party murdered and buried 182,000 Kurds in 350 mass graves. One of very few survivors, Faraj climbed out from amongst the dead and was taken to the USA by Human Rights Watch.

To raise awareness of the genocidal massacres, he formed the Iraqi Mass Graves Survivors’ group. This artistic and deeply moving film follows his return to Kurdistan, where, with four other survivors, he distributes 1,001 red apples and cloves as symbols of reconciliation and peace for families who had lost dear ones in the massacre.

Schedule and ticke details

Adios Carmen 

1975. Ten-year-old Amar lives in a village in northern Morocco with his violent uncle, waiting for the unlikely return of his mother, who has left for Belgium.

He finds a friend in Carmen, his neighbour, who is a Spanish exile and who works as an usher at the village cinema. Carmen helps him discover a world previously unknown to him. 

Schedule and ticket details.

Birds of September

A glass van roams the streets of Beirut. The van houses a camera that explores the city from behind the glass. Through its journey, it becomes a mobile confessional, capturing moments from peoples’ lives, all the while searching for something or someone. The confessions are candid, blunt and intimate.

Schedule and ticket details.

Bloody Beans

A group of children are on the sidelines. As the French Army fires at the Organisation of the Secret Army (OAS), the children loot the French Army: oil, chocolate, semolina, sugar, and even a prisoner of war, who is condemned to eat beans. Bloody Beans recounts the end of the French colonisation of Algeria through the eyes of the children. 

Schedule and ticket details.

The Brain That Sings 

The Brain That Sings follows the journey of two autistic boys in the UAE – 19-year-old Mohammed and six-year-old Khalifa – and their progress over three months of music therapy. The film explores the cultural stigma associated with having a special needs child in the Arab world, and the issues the families face when they plan out the future of their children. 

Schedule and ticket details.

Factory Girl

Hiyam, a young factory worker, lives in a lower-middle-class neighbourhood, along with her co-workers. She is clearly under the spell of Salah, the factory's new supervisor, who has expressed his admiration for her. She believes love can transcend the class differences between them.

However, when a pregnancy test is discovered in the factory premises, her immediate family and close friends accuse her of sinning. Hiyam decides not to defend herself and pays an enormous price in a society that fails to accept independent women.

Factory Girl examines the changes that take place in her life over the four seasons of the year. From falling in love to facing heartbreak, her life comes around a full circle by the end of the year. 

Schedule and ticket details.

Guardians of Time Lost 

Between commitment and chaos, between courage and fear, between ideology and deviation and between chivalry and violence lies the street. They are a group of marginalised young men, known as the thugs of Al Lija and they reflect the chaos that characterises their neighbourhood in Beirut.

Schedule and ticket details.


When director Philippe Aractingi is forced to leave his motherland for the third time, the realisation dawns on him: his ancestors have been fleeing wars for five generations. Exploring his roots, Aractingi goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of Israel and the Lebanese Civil War.

Experimenting with a radical new film-making style, he interlaces directed scenes and archive images with video-filmed personal diaries, family photos and super 8 reels.

Schedule and ticket details.

Ladder to Damascus

Shot in Damascus months after the outbreak of the 2011 insurgency, under a shroud of secrecy and at great risk to the crew, Ladder to Damascus is a searing drama that weaves fiction and documentary with elements of the fantastical.

In a century-old home in the centre of the city, twelve young Syrians from across the country rent rooms, having moved to the capital in pursuit of studies or professional ambition after the insurgency broke out in the countryside.

Huddled within the confines of the elegant house as the uprising gradually erupts in the city, they can no longer ignore the calls for freedom. Conceived as a huis clos, Ladder to Damascus is a captivating window into the psyche of ordinary Syrians grappling with a historic upheaval. 

Schedule and ticket details.

The Mice Room 

Six different characters in Alexandria struggle with their fears. Amr visits his father on his death bed, trying to catch up on lost time. Moussa spends his day struggling to cross a street. Dahlia is lost in her worries about her wedding day. A young girl watches as her grandmother grows increasingly lifeless. After her husband’s death, Rawya is unable to sleep early, discovering an exciting life at night. Maha is set to leave the country and everything she knows behind. Each character shares the same feelings of fear, but never meets the others. 

Schedule and ticket details.

The Mulberry House

Sara returns to Yemen after several years. Arriving at the heart of an emerging revolution, she redefines her place in Yemeni society, as well as her relationship with her father and grandfather. In a unique examination of the uprisings in Yemen, The Mulberry House shifts the focus from events on the street to the impact of the revolution on the lives of one family. 

Schedule and ticket details.

The Mummy: The Night of the Counting Years

The Mummy: The Night of the Counting Years had its world premiere at Venice in 1970, and has topped the list of DIFF’s 100 greatest Arab films, published in the newly-released book, "Cinema of Passion".

The film is based on a true event: the 1881 discovery of the Deir al-Bahari cache, a complex of ancient Egyptian monuments. Wanis (Ahmed Maraei) is a young man torn between his loyalty to his late father (who sold artifacts to Cairo merchants), and the moral duty to reveal the location of the tombstone to archaeologist Kamal (Mohammed Khairy). It is a discovery that results in betrayal and even murder.

Schedule and ticket details.  

My Love Awaits Me By The Sea 

My Love Awaits Me By The Sea follows the director’s journey as she returns to Palestine, exploring it through the poems and drawings of Palestinian artist Hasan Horani – a lover she never met. Horani drowned in the Jaffa Sea in 2003.

The film explores the idea of escaping home, the need to believe in dreams and the Palestinians’ persistence to hang on to their homeland, despite all the years of struggle. 

Schedule and ticket details.

Palestine Radio

Two Palestinian brothers – Samy and Milad (aka Stereo) – plan on immigrating to Canada after the Israeli air force bombs their family home. Milad used to be a wedding singer but when his wife dies in the attack, he becomes disillusioned with his life in Palestine. The bombing also leaves Samy mute and deaf. The two set about earning money for their travel by buying a secondhand sound system that they rent out for events in Ramallah.

Schedule and ticket details

Red Blue Yellow 

Najat Makki is a pioneering Emirati female artist, recognised not only for her talent but also for the role she plays in society. Makki has become a legacy and her life is a rich journey that is as colourful as her paintings. Yet, there are countless stories of hers that are just waiting to be told. 

Schedule and ticket details.

The River 

In Algerian, “el oued, l’oued” means along the river. From its sources in the peaks of the Atlas of Blida to the mouth in the Mediterranean, a few kilometres from the capital Algiers, the film explores and tries to present a different Algeria. 

Schedule and ticket details.

Rock the Casbah   

With a powerhouse Arab cast, Rock the Casbah is a family drama set one summer in Tangiers. A family comes together for three days, following the death of the family patriarch. Swapping their swimsuits for djellabias, emotions run particularly high, when the youngest daughter Sofia, arrives from New York. Sofia, an actress in the United States, has settled into a new life, away from her family.

As the order once maintained by the deceased father breaks down and unravels, the women of the family are forced to face certain harsh truths.

Schedule and ticket details.  

Searching for Saris 

Saris was a Palestinian village in the Jerusalem area that was ethnically cleansed in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel. Today, it is inhabited by Israelis. Searching for Saris is a journey that is physical and metaphoric. It is a search of the legacy of Palestinian dispossession in 1948, and its still unfolding chapters.

Schedule and ticket details.

The Shebabs of Yarmouk  

The Shebabs are a group of teenagers, who have known each other since they were boys and girls. Now on the eve of adulthood, they are faced with tough choices – between breaking free and sticking to the group, between revolt and a well-ordered life. These are tough choices, especially from the perspective of Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.

Sheherazade's Diary

Filmed during and after a 10-month drama therapy/theatre project set up in 2012 by director Zeina Daccache, this gripping and tragi-comic documentary features women inmates who challenge societies that oppress women.

Through their unprecedented theatre initiative, entitled Scheherazade in Baabda, these “murderers of husbands, adulterers and drug felons” reveal their stories – tales of domestic violence, traumatic childhoods, failed marriages, forlorn romances and deprivation of motherhood.

The women of Baabda Prison share their personal stories and in doing so, hold up a mirror on Lebanese society.

Schedule and ticket details.

The Square

The Square is an immersive experience, transporting viewers to the ongoing roller coaster that is the Egyptian Revolution – but behind the news. The young revolutionaries in the film are armed with nothing but cameras, social media and videos posted on YouTube and a resolute determination to liberate their nation.

The Square was first released as an unfinished cut at Sundance in January 2013, where it received the Audience Award for Worldwide Cinema Documentary. It is a live developing story of the quintessential struggle for freedom and democracy and the peoples’ fight for their rights against institutional powers. 

Schedule and ticket details.  


Malika, the leader of an all-female punk rock band Traitors, has a strong vision of the world, her hometown of Tangier and her place in it. When she needs money to save her family from eviction and to realise her ambition for the band, Malika agrees to a fast cash proposition: a smuggling run over the mountains with Amal, a burnt-out young drug mule, as her companion.

Sean Gullette’s gripping directorial debut is a development of his short film, also titled Traitors (2009), and features the fast-rising young star Chaimae Ben Acha. 

Schedule and ticket details.  

Underground on the Surface

Oka, Ortega, and Wezza are three festival stars. However, success as they perceive it, evades them, as they fail to meet the approval of the upper crust of society. They are torn between their desire to be accepted by the top echelon and their wish to rebel against mainstream values, to create a truly revolutionary underground music genre. 

Schedule and ticket details.  


It was in the extraordinary city of Suez that the Egyptian revolution was born. Ahmed Nour, the 30-year-old Suez-born film-maker, invites audiences to share his perception of five special periods of his life, each portrayed as a wave.

Using the director’s voice-over, animation techniques, and a poetic style of sound and cinematography, Waves attempts to capture the essence of the generation of the Egyptian revolution. 

Schedule and ticket details.