New Muslim Film Festival to 'Showcase Our Stories’

image caption, Riz Ahmed has starred in a short film called Dummy, which will be screened at the festival

A new film festival celebrating Muslim cinema in the UK will „showcase stories we don’t usually see”, its director has said.

Sajid Varda told BBC News that there is often a „negative portrayal” of Muslims in the mainstream media, „so this festival will often reclaim the words Muslim and Islam”.

The festival included films starring Oscar-winning actor Riz Ahmed and Informer’s Naban Rizwan.

It will run from May 30 to June 2.

image caption, In Camera Naban Rizwan plays a struggling actor

The festival will open with the London premiere of Hounds, a crime film set in Casablanca.

Directed by Kamal Lasrag, the film has already won several awards including Cannes.

There will also be a screening of Naqash Khalid’s Camera, in which Rizwan is a young actor caught up in auditions and repeated rejections.

Other highlights include French-Algerian director Yann Demange’s short film Tommy, in which Ahmed plays a man who returns to Paris to reunite with his estranged father.

image source, Muslim International Film Festival

image caption, In Dummy, Riz Ahmed’s character Mounir will be seen navigating his past experiences.

British star Ahmed is the first Muslim to be nominated for best actor at the Oscars – a ceremony criticized for its lack of diversity, leading to changes to the award’s rules.

He won an Academy Award in 2022 for his live-action short film The Long Goodbye.

image caption, Festival director Sajith Varda is an actor and producer

Festival director Varda says Muslims are portrayed in stereotypes in film and television.

„The world has changed a lot since 9/11,” he said.

„Muslims started to be equated with terrorists. That’s one of the associations we think of when we think of Muslims.

„This negative portrayal has a real impact on our community.”

The founder of UK Muslim Film, a charity dedicated to championing underrepresented talent and voices, has said he rarely sees films from the Muslim world at film festivals.

He said the festival aims to highlight these stories and help budding filmmakers.

„It’s about owning our story and showcasing beautiful stories from around the world, and helping mainstream audiences express our cultures and our faith,” she said.

„We have more in common than what separates us.”

image caption, Varda Mohammed on the sets of her short film Muna

Filmmaker Varda Mohammed, whose short film Moona will be screening at the film festival, said the UK’s diversity „should be reflected in what we consume”.

„We need access to films that challenge stereotypes and reaffirm the norms of Muslim narratives,” he told BBC News.

Muna follows a British-Somali teenage girl who navigates a chaotic period of mourning for her grandfather, a man she never really knew.

„I am very proud of this short film, it took some time to make but it was a really amazing experience,” said Mohammad.

He said he was positive about the outlook for the Muslim film.

„An incredible group of filmmakers just love the opportunity to create, and I hope we create a new generation of Muslim talent.”

’There’s a market for it’

Other program highlights include the London premiere of Hesitation Wound, which won an award at the Zurich Film Festival.

British Pakistani filmmaker Moin Hussain’s offbeat sci-fi film Sky Pearls will be screened, which tells the story of a directionless, alienated and lonely man working a night shift at a fast food restaurant.

Its frontman Faraz Ayub told BBC News that the festival aims to highlight talent „from all walks of life”.

„The need for a Muslim film festival is not so important,” he said. “The Muslim International Film Festival comes here because of the market.

„And, as a movie fan, it’s exciting to watch. Storytelling is a big part of Islamic culture.”

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