Circle Cinema, Tulsa’s only nonprofit independent historic theater, offers many unique viewing experiences for its members and guests. Circle screens an array of films, from Hollywood blockbusters to local independent films. It also showcases documentaries, silent films, and special screenings that are followed by one-of-a-kind panel discussions. Circle Cinema truly offers moviegoers visual experiences you will not find anywhere else.
When it comes to film festivals, the theater goes above and beyond in providing a quality film-viewing experience. Circle Cinema hosts a variety of film festivals every year. The festivals aim to tell stories from different perspectives and through new approaches to reach audiences. Many of the festivals represent a wide range of topics, such as the Circle Cinema Film Fest, the Twisted Arts Film Fest, the Oklahoma Jewish Film Fest, and even the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. And the third year, the Arab Film Festival, curated by Mizna and supported by the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, returns to Circle Cinema for a four-day run.
Mizna’s Arab Film Fest is one of those experiences you can’t get anywhere else. From the excellent panels to the insightful Q&A’s (usually pre-recorded), and after-viewing parties, where music and fine cuisine are shared, this festival really stands out. Mizna offers films from indie Arab/SWANA (South West Asian + North African) directors. With their unique and diverse films heading to Tulsa, they are sure to leave viewers with a new sense of wonder as well as insight.
The local Mizna program is modeled after a similar program in the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., communities. The Twin Cities’ celebration is the largest and longest running Arab film festival in the Midwest. The annual event celebrated its 17th anniversary this year. See Mizna’s Twin Cities Arab Film Festival for more information.
During the first year of the Arab Film Festival in Tulsa, Moeb Soliman was the festival organizer. Soliman is an interdisciplinary artist with the Tulsa Artist Fellowship and a former program director for Mizna locally.
In an October 2021 interview with Soliman and Lana Barkawi, executive and artistic director for Mizna, about the Arab Film Fest, both said they wanted to produce an event that would have a great influence upon the community.
“I was looking for a project that I thought would be really unique and special that could make an impact in Tulsa,” said Soliman.
Soliman was the organizer of this year’s Arab Film Festival and was the former program director for Mizna. In that capacity, he was able to establish this new connection for Tulsa. He explained, “It seemed like a great partnership that could happen, and Circle Cinema obviously was the best and only place to do that.”
Barkawi, also a producer for the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, came to Tulsa for the first three days of the festival as part of Mizna’s venture to tour the festival.
“Over the years, the Arab Film Festival developed in Minneapolis, Minn. The cinematic program identified with audiences in its own community. Specifically, she reached out to representatives with the Arab, Southwest Asia, and North Africa (SWANA) community,” said Barkawi.
Hosting the film festival in Tulsa was the first time for Mizna to tour the program outside of the Twin Cities.
“Touring the festival was something we’ve often thought about, and we’ve done it in small ways within Minnesota, but this was a great opportunity to bring it to a brand-new state and an art-loving community in Tulsa,” said Barkawi.
And now, the Arab Film Fest has returned for the third year to present an excellent line up of films made by contemporary Arab and SWANA directors.
(The full article from the first Arab Film Fest can be read here.)
Nov. 9, 7 p.m.
The Arab Film Fest opens with the screening of the critically acclaimed Palestinian film, “Mediterranean Fever.”
This is the second film from Palestinian director Maha Haj. The film won the best screenplay award at the 75th Annual Cannes Film Fest last year. It is also the official submission of Palestine for the ‘Best International Feature Film’ category of the 95th Academy Awards in 2023.
It is a dark comedy that tells the story of two unlikely neighbors. Waleed, an aspiring writer, and Jalal, a petty crook, form an inseparable friendship that leads them both to dark encounters.
The screening will be followed by the opening party for the film fest featuring food from Tulsa’s own Shawkat Mediterranean Grill and music by Atomic Culture.
Nov. 8 at 8 p.m.
“The Dam” will be the main feature for the evening. From Beirut-born director, Ali Cherri, this is his first feature film. Shot in Sudan during the revolution, this film has been described as a political fable.
Nov. 11, 2 p.m.
Three films are scheduled beginning with “Desert PHOSfate” that is paired with the short film, “The Year of Balls.”
The “Desert PHOSfate” is a film by Sahrawi artist Mohamed Sleiman Labat. The film has been described as an experimental documentary. Without conforming to the conventional method of structuring a film, Labat uses indigenous ways to tell the story from a Sahrawi perspective. This is a special pay-what-you-can screening.
Nov. 11, 7 p.m.
The epic historical action film, “Kira & El Gin,” will be shown. Directed by prominent Egyptian filmmaker, Marwan Hamed, “Kira & El Gin” is a historical action film following the events of the 1919 revolution in Egypt, which was a countrywide revolution against the occupation of Egypt by the British. The two main characters of this film join forces to fight back against British colonialism.
Nov. 12, 2 p.m.
On the final day of the Arab Film Fest, three films have been selected to close the festival.
“Kash Kash”, a socio-political pigeon documentary will be the opening film. This is the first feature film from director Lea Najjar. “Kash Kash” occurs in a fractured Beirut dealing with civil unrest, government protest, and one of the biggest explosions of the 21st century that took place in 2020. Going from roof to roof, Najjar explores the tradition of “kash hamam,” the pigeon game of chance. In this traditional game, players have their own flock of pigeons while trying to lure in the flocks of other players.
Nov. 12, 3:30 p.m.
A closing party with music and food before the finale double feature will be held. “Les Chenilles” is the first of the double feature. This film follows two women who meet while working as waitresses in France. They are both immigrants from the Levant, the area along the eastern Mediterranean Sea that corresponds with modern day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The movie examines female solidarity as well as solace. The film is directed by sisters, Michelle Keserwany and Noel Keserwany. Both are Lebanese musicians, writers, and filmmakers who teamed together to bring this tale of friendship to the big screen.
Nov. 12, 4:30 p.m.
The last film of the festival is “Queens.” The movie is directed by Yasmine Benkiran, her first feature film. In this film, a convicted drug dealer breaks out of prison to rescue her daughter from the threat of being placed in a child protection center. As the pair hijack a truck, they are joined by a young mechanic who becomes their passenger on their road to freedom.
With an excellent line-up, Tulsa is in for a real cinematic experience. The four-day Arab Film Festival is a great opportunity for fans of cinema to diversify their viewing. Seeing films from other artists, from other countries, and from other walks of life different from our own is exactly what the moviegoing experience should be for everyone.
The film festival is an opportunity to explore new worlds told through the lens of directors with their vision presented on the big screen. This will be the third time that Mizna’s Arab Film Fest will be presented at Circle Cinema, and hopefully it will return for a fourth. The best way to ensure stories such as the ones presented during the festival are continued is by supporting them at the theater.
To buy a ticket, buy a pass, and come enjoy a festival that celebrates the works of the Arab and SWANA worlds. These films are all available through individually purchased tickets or through an all-access festival pass. Tickets can be purchased here.