Rye grad launches international film festival celebrating Muslim filmmakers

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By: Heidi Lee

As an aspiring filmmaker, Ryerson alumni Hirra Farooqi went to a lot of film festivals while she was interning for the documentary “The Secret Marathon”. She once stumbled across a film festival specifically for female filmmakers and that sparked an idea in her head.

“I realized there has never been a [international] platform for Muslim filmmakers to showcase their talent [and] creativity,” Farooqi said. 

This vision has been turned it into a reality with the help of Ryerson alumni and former RSU president Obaid Ullah Babar. On Jan. 6, the Muslim International Film Festival (MIFF) was officially launched. The film festival is expected to be held for the first time this December in Toronto. 

She described the upcoming film festival as “the first of its kind” to ensure Muslim creators and creatives can come together and showcase films that celebrate Muslim excellence. 

This film festival is also a way to showcase education through film and push boundaries through film for muslim filmmakers, she said. 

However, representation, platforms and opportunities for Muslim creators in the film and entertainment industry are still lacking. 

Awards season this year has already presented itself as being a predominantly white and male driven event. The majority of the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards identify as white, with four out of the five nominees for best director being white men. A Muslim director has yet to be nominated for an Academy Award. 

“I am hoping more Muslims will hear about it and be inspired to express themselves through film”

The BAFTA’s didn’t fall far behind, with Cynthia Erivo being the only actor of colour nominated for “Harriet”. Although Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” was nominated four times, Joon-ho is the only director of colour nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.

 Farooqi added that the audiences can have a hard time understanding Muslim narratives in films because they may not identify with the culture that is on screen.

But there is hope for the growth of representation with the recent win at the Golden Globes. Last week, Egyptian American stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef won for best performance by an actor in a comedy series at the Golden Globes, for “Ramy”. 

“Brotherhood”, a film by Montreal-based Tunisian-American filmmaker Meryam Joobeur,  was nominated for the 2020 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.

In previous years, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) had showcased films with storylines centered on Muslim characters, such as Minhal Baig’s coming-of-age film ‘Hala’, and Nijla Mu’min’s ‘Jinn’, both screened in 2019. 

“I am hoping more Muslims will hear about it and be more inspired to join the movement and just express themselves through film, creativity and art,” she said.  

Besides acting as a platform provider for Muslim filmmakers, Farooqi said she hopes MIFF could motivate people in the Muslim community to be more creative as there is not a strong focus on the arts in the community. 

For those in the community, she feels that people may not believe they have the power and ability to focus on the arts.

“A lot of us are from developing countries and [we have] so many things to focus on and work on to make sure that we are on an equal level of playing field,” said Farooqi. “When it comes to the world of arts [and] film … a lot of us don’t have time to focus on it.” 

Although it can be recognized  that there are other aspects of life one should focus on, she said providing opportunities to Muslim filmmakers on an international level is important and necessary. 

For Muslim creatives, a film festival showing the work of muslim filmmakers can also open the doors for Muslim actors, writers, animators and musicians to feel as though they have a place in the industry. 

“We want to see what our community has to offer and where we can go from there”

“[Opportunities] do exist,” she said. “It is just a matter of having someone to step up and bringing it all together to actually see that this community and platform should and does exist.”

While the MIFF team did consider having a theme for the film festival, they later rejected that idea as they do not want to limit filmmakers’ creativity. 

“We want to see what our community has to offer and where can we go from there.”

With short films and feature lengths having a large following of filmmakers, she hopes to see the rise in submission of documentary films, as she herself has held a strong interest in this genre and wishes to see it take off. 

According to their official Twitter, MIFF will be accepting submissions starting in February and the deadline is in July.

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