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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Three-month schedule of Arab films underway at local colleges

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The non-profit organization Mizna, located at 2644 University Ave. W., suite #115, is a forum for Arab-American film, literature, and art. Mizna will be screening films about Arab and Arab American culture in five different locations over the next three months. This film festival tour, as they’re calling it, is the first of its kind for the organization. Mizna has been sponsoring film festivals since 2003, but their films haven’t traveled to multiple venues before.

The following films will be shown: “Tramontane” at Concordia College on Feb. 8; “As I Open My Eyes” at Hamline University on Feb. 23; “Mariam” (and a selection of other short films) at the College of St. Catherine on Mar. 9; “The Preacher” at Metropolitan State University on Mar. 23. All shows begin at 7pm. On Apr. 14-15, a touring mini-fest will be held at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in out-state Minnesota.

Sponsors for the film series include the Knight Foundation, the Legacy Amendment, and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Michelle Baroody is Mizna’s film festival director and curator, and a Ph.D. student in cultural studies and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. “Ours is one of the longest-running Arab films festivals in the country,” she said. “Since 2003, our films have been a gateway through which community members enter to get involved in other programs at Mizna (writing activities, Arabic language classes, and drumming.)”

She continued, “We have a core of supporters for our film festival, but we look forward to bringing our films to more audiences in different venues this year. We’re calling this festival a tour because we’ll be traveling throughout St. Paul and beyond.

Students may attend films at all location for free, regardless of which school the student attends; there is a sliding scale for others including low income and seniors. Reservations are strongly suggested, even for free student tickets, and can be made online at www.mizna.org. People are encouraged to arrive half an hour early, as tickets in the past have sold out. For more information, email Jordan@mizna.org.

“So much of life feels political for Americans since the 2016 presidential election,” commented Baroody, whose father is Syrian American. “In truth, that’s how it’s always been for Arab-Americans—at least since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. There’s an undeniable stigma against Arabs, Arab-Americans, and Muslims in this country now, and fear and confusion get perpetuated in the media. You can’t ignore that something isn’t right in the world. At Mizna, we want the community to know that people of Arab origin are much more than bombers, belly dancers, and billionaires.”

Mizna is committed to presenting compelling Arab expression, creativity, and artistry. Their mission states that “For our community—so often written and spoken about—we are claiming a space to tell our stories and present our art. Mizna offers Arab and non-Arab audiences the chance to engage with cutting-edge Arab art in all its power, beauty, complexity, and humanity.”

Baroody concluded, “Art brings different perspectives and different audiences together. Of the various media that we work with, film may be the easiest to connect with. But film, narrative, and stories—these are all things we can have a cathartic connection to.”

The film festival is one of Mizna’s two anchor programs. The other is their semi-annual literary journal by the same name. Since 1999, Mizna has published the only journal of Arab-American literature in the country. Featuring celebrated and emerging voices, the award-winning journal contains a breadth of stories and ideas. Subscriptions can be purchased through the organization’s website. The most recent issue of Mizna can also be found at Moon Palace Books, Boneshaker Books, Subtext Books, Common Good Books, May Day Books, and the University of Minnesota Book Store.

Photo right: Mizna Executive Director Lana Barkawi said, “We live in a society that paints Arabs, Arab Americans, and Muslims in broad, stereotypic strokes. Mizna exists so that people can see us expressed on the screen and on the page in our full humanity.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Mizna Executive Director Lana Barkawi explained, “The Arab and Arab American population isn’t large in Minnesota when compared to Michigan, New York, or Texas. But we’re here, perhaps 60,000 of us, though the census data aren’t exacting. The subscriber base for our journal is upwards of 600, and more than 1,500 people attended our fall Arab Film Series held at St. Anthony Main Theater. We’re reaching people.”

When asked to translate the meaning of the word mizna to English, Barkawi said, “It is a poetic term that refers to a desert cloud, one that holds the promise of rain and relief.”