Bodies over time: Vancouver’s MENA Film Festival highlights diversity and diaspora in its fifth edition

As the MENA Film Festival approaches its fifth year of production, many of its films focus on the theme of time, shedding light on diasporic bodies as they navigate the passage of time through uniquely experimental cinematic perspectives.

The film festival highlights a wide breadth of experimental and traditional styles in filmmaking by Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – otherwise known as Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA) – community members. Vancouver plays host to the festival with artists, both local and international, young and established, sharing new and diverse perspectives and giving voice to the lived experience of the MENA/SWANA diasporic community. Showcasing 42 films representing 25 countries, the fifth edition of Vancouver’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Film Festival launches Jan. 27 and runs till Feb. 1.

Arman Kazemi, of Iranian heritage, founded the festival with a group of like-minded individuals after noticing the lack of designated space for MENA/SWANA films.

“Why do we have to wait around for an institution to platform us? Why can’t we do it in our own way in our own voices?” says Kazemi.

Past, present, and future

Sarah Trad, the programming director, describes this year’s theme as an exploration of the body through space and time.

“We had been thinking about how the passage of time worked with our anniversary. And that’s one of the factors that led us to the theme of this year’s festival, which is MENA/SWANA bodies through past, present and future,” she says.

A still from Beizar Aradini’s film, A Kurdish Melody: Past & Present. | Photo courtesy of MENA Film Festival.

Kazemi adds that the films often work to embody the children of a diaspora at various times in their lives, whether that be the past, present, or future. For example, the short film, A Kurdish Melody: Past & Present, by filmmaker Beizar Aradini explores the intergenerational history and narratives of Nashville’s Kurdish community. The short documentary features footage from home movies of Kurdish families in Nashville, reflecting the diversity of the region and its diaspora.

The festival’s theme of time is also represented through a variety of screening lengths and an emphasis on short films which conceptually take up less time.

“We have a huge slate of short films, responding to the same time theme in different ways,” says Trad.

The body through time

Trad says that some of this year’s films often highlight how various obstacles and rules are put on the body and its natural state, “whether that’s lawmaking, forced migration, or gender norms.”

Listed, by Arab-Canadian filmmaker Leila Almaway, documents the story of Faizal Karim, a Vancouver man who was mistakenly placed on Canada’s No Fly List due to his name and physical appearance.

Listed follows the theme of bodies over time as it navigates “external obstacles or rules put on the body and its natural state,” such as racial presumptions, says Trad. The film explores the negative implications of one’s physical form in a highly contentious area such as the airport.

“The subject matter of the films are as diverse as the communities that we represent,” says Trad.

A still from Leila Almaway’s film, Listed. | Photo courtesy of MENA Film Festival.

With many countries represented at the MENA Film Festival, Kazemi hopes that this can be a space to platform visibility and bridge various audiences together.

“MENA is giving folks who identify with these regions a place to celebrate, to feel community, to feel at home, as well as for folks in the larger community to get access to films that they might otherwise not see on screen,” says Kazemi.

The MENA Film Festival looks to capture the complexities of migration and the diasporic flow of bodies across thousands of miles, and allows audiences to explore the evolving narratives of cultural heritage and identity in a globalized world.

“Our generation has come to a time where we can start to both honour the identities that we’ve been handed down in the traditions and culture that we’ve been bequeathed from our parents, but also start to interrogate it and to deconstruct it,” says Kazemi.

For more information about the festival, visit: