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.
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:
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 …