Indie in Sharjah: SFP6 returns

The sixth edition of Sharjah Arts Foundation’s annual film festival, which runs from 8 to 17 December, features more than 50 films from around the world – a range of independent cinema and experimental filmmaking that “foregrounds the transformative role of cinema in our culture and community”.

It also brings an impressive range of indie and more experimental films to the country, films that would probably not otherwise get a showing – which is of course what you’d hope for from a festival like this, and what past SPFs have always delivered.

Some 30 of the films this time are in the SFP6 Competition section for the Sharjah Film Platform Awards. All UAE premieres, these films will be followed by Q&A sessions with the directors.

SFP6 also offers a series of screenings that highlight noteworthy films produced in and around the region; and while it’s always good to see new work in the competition section, it’s a real pleasure to have the chance to pick up on commercial distributions and festival favourites that are unlikely to make the multiplexes.

Highly recommended: Rachid Hami’s semi-autobiographical For My Country

This year the Out of Competition section includes Amjad Al Rasheed’s highly regarded feature Inshallah a Boy (2023), a tale of familial in-fighting and quirky legal traditions that was the first film from Jordan to be selected for Cannes. That show on 15 December, and Sonia Ben Slama’s poignant documentary Machtat (also 2023) shows on the following evening – machtat are traditional musicians who play at wedding ceremonies in Tunisia; reality is much more complex and painful than the sunny promises the music evokes.

Three others we’d recommend:

  • Goodbye Julia (dir Mohamed Kordofani, 2023), screening on the opening evening. This powerful film, the first Sudanese feature to show at Cannes (in the Un Certain Regard section), brings together two women in a complex relationship that also represents a metaphor for reconciliation between northern and southern Sudanese communities.
  • For My Country (dir Rachid Hami, 2022) showing on 10 December. A deeply personal story about a family in mourning amidst a quest for honour and recognition after the death of Aissa, a young officer of Algerian origin, who loses his life during a fresher initiation ritual at the prestigious French military academy at Saint-Cyr. The director’s own brother died in a similar hazing ritual at Saint-Cyr …
  • Animalia (dir Sofia Alaoui, 2023) screening on 16 December. Something completely different: a genre-bending sci-fi tale of an unidentified meteorological phenomenon that upends the life of a pregnant woman. It owes more to Terrence Malick than say Roland Emmerich, taking things in much more of a mystical direction and including commentary on religion, social class and the place of women in contemporary Morocco.
The very watchable Oumaïma Barid in Sofia Alaoui’s almost-SF feature Animalia

The Director in Focus section for SFP6 honours the late Safi Faye, the first woman from Sub-Saharan Africa to direct a commercially distributed feature film (Kaddu Beykat, 1975 – known internationally as Letter From My Village and showing on 10 December. Still above). A genuine pioneer, Faye was driven by a desire to speak about and for her community, focussing in particular on the role and struggles of women in rural Africa. Also showing are Fad’jal (Newcomer, Work!) on 12 December and Man Sa Yay (I, Your Mother) on 14 December.

In parallel with the film screenings is a series of public programmes that this year focuses on ideas of solidarity and resistance. Featuring regional and international filmmakers, the panel sessions and talks will touch on the Nakba and the Palestinian experience of rupture, African cinema and the postcolonial condition as well as the ways in which cinema can convey the spirit of defiance in the face of oppression.

The talks programme is at Sharjah Institute of Theatrical Arts in Al Mureijah Square. Download the full details here.

The accompanying SFP Industry Hub for industry professionals again has a Pitching Forum, a feature scriptwriting competition with an open call; the Script Lab, a professional scriptwriting course; and an annual initiative to support regional and international film distribution.

SFP6 screenings take place in Mirage City Cinema, SAF’s open-air theatre in Al Mureijah Square, and VOX Cinemas at City Centre Al Zahia. Films are booked individually at AED 15 each (there doesn’t seem to be a multi-screening pass). Schedules are here – they’re listed by film title but actually organised in screening sequence, which isn’t immediately obvious and doesn’t give you a simple calendar grid into which you can fit your selection, but it’s well worth persevering …

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