The Venice Film Festival is rich with movies by Arab directors this year. For the first time, four films by Iranian directors will play at the festival, two of which will compete in the main Venezia 79 Competition for the prestigious Golden Lion Award. All eyes are on the debut of these original screenplays, for their artistic value and social impact. For context, three Iranian directors were arrested this summer, one of which, Jafar Panahi, is competing in the Venice Film Festival’s main competition. Attendees are staging a flash mob before Panahi’s film premiere in a display of solidarity with the directors, which will easily be one of the most significant moments in the film festival’s history.

The Arab directors showing at Venice Film Festival 2022 are all contributing captivating works filled with rich storytelling, from Soudade Kaadan’s film about female liberation to Richard Hami’s movie that grapples with justice and grief. Ahead, a look into each of the Middle Eastern movies before they show at the Venice Film Festival 2022.

Jafar Panahi | No Bears

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No Bears is the latest movie by the critically acclaimed filmmaker, Jafar Panahi. It will premiere on September 9th at Venice Film Festival, in the main competition for the festival’s Golden Lion Award. According to its IMDB page, No Bears centres around “two parallel love stories in which the partners are thwarted by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition, and the mechanics of power.” Controversy surrounds the film’s debut, as Panahi was imprisoned by the Iranian judiciary earlier this summer, weeks before Venice Film Festival announced it would be in the running for the official selection.

Watch the trailer here.

Soudade Kaadan | Nezouh

Nezouh is an allegorical drama for women’s liberation that was written and directed the Syrian filmmaker, Soudade Kaadan. The film follows the story of a 14-year-old girl and her family, whose roof is punctured by a shell in the midst of the Syrian conflict in Damascus. This hole in the roof exposes her, literally and figuratively, to the outside world and all of the prospects that lie outside the home. The film is personal to Kaadan, in her director’s statemtent for Venice Film Festival, she shares “it is only after the bombing started in our neighbourhood in Damascus that I left the house with my sister. Damascene society was conservative, even in liberal families. With the new wave of displacement, it became normal (for the first time) to see young Damascene women living alone and separating from their families.” The film is in the Orizzonti Extra category at the festival, where it will play on the 3rd of September.

Rachid Hami | pour la france (For My Country)

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Richard Hami’s film Pour La France grapples with tradegy and loss while telling the story of a family left to mourn after their loved one, Assia, dies unexpectedly during a hazing ritual at a military academy. Viewers will watch as Assia’s family seeks justice when the army refuses to take responsibility for his wrongful death. Pour La France will show on the 3rd of September in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti category.

Ahmed Yassin Aldaradji | Janain mualaqa (Hanging Gardens)

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Janain Mualaqa (Hanging Gardens) is a film that will show on the 9th of September in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti Extra category. The movie follows the story of a 12-year-old boy, As’ad, and his adult brother, Taha, who work a thankless job as rubbish collectors in Baghdad’s “Hanging Gardens.” As’ad’s fate changes one day when he stumbles across an American sex doll, which he exploits for profit alongside his friend his 14-year-old friend, Amir. The risk of the job heightens as the boys’ business grows, and eventually leads to a brutal punishment for their actions. “We’ve walked a fine line to convey the truth of As’ad’s story in its most intimate and poignant details,” Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji shared in his director’s statement, “the result bears witness to what it takes not just to survive but to live with meaning and integrity in present-day Iraq.”

Vahid Jalilvand | SHAB, DAKHELI, DIVAR (Beyond the Wall)

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Vahid Jalilvand’s film, Beyond the Wall, tells a moving story about a blind man whose suicide attempt is interrupted by his apartment’s concierge, who alerts him to the presence of a woman who has escaped police custody in the building. He learns that she is taking refuge in his apartment and is distressed over the disappearance of her four-year-old son, who she lost during detainment. The two form an emotional bond throughout the film, and the blind man finds his will to live by helping her. Beyond the Wall is playing at Venice Film Festival on the 8th of September in the Venezia 79 Competition.

Arian Vazirdaftari | BI ROYA (WITHOUT HER)

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Without Her is a film about stolen identity, directed by Arian Vazirdaftari. It centres around the story of an Iranian journalist, Roya, who is compromised when a woman enters her life on a mission to steal it. “In the course of the story, Roya loses her true identity and learns a simple, tragic lesson: either you alter yourself and adapt or you will be eliminated and replaced by those who do,” Vazirdaftari shared his director’s statement. The film is in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti Extra category and airs on the 6th of September.

Houman Seyyedi | JANG-E JAHANI SEVOM (World War III)

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Houman Seyedi is a decorated Iranian director, whose film, World War III, will show in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti category on September 6th. The film follows the story of a homeless day labourer, Shakib, who gets a second shot at life after being picked up as an actor in a movie based on WWII. Everything seems to be going his way until his old life catches up to him, forcing Shakib to reconcile with his past before he truly starts over.