Now Playing! Arab Film Festival Raises the Blinds on a Multifaceted World

Still from 'The Reports on Sarah and Saleem.'

Gregarious and multilingual, Ghazwan Alsharif enjoyed a comfortable yet somewhat constrained life until the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. His torturous journey from ordinary Iraqi to U.S. Army translator to suspected informant to Bay Area chef is the stuff that nightmares—and dreams—are made of. Local documentary filmmaker Erin Palmquist’s loose-limbed, free-flowing and endlessly unpredictable character portrait, From Baghdad to the Bay, screening Oct. 17 in San Francisco and Oct. 19 in Oakland in the Arab Film Festival (as well as Oct. 13-14 in Marin County at the Mill Valley Film Festival and Oct. 21 in Palo Alto in the United Nations Association Film Festival), movingly mirrors its subject’s persistence and generosity.

The Arab Film Festival raises the blinds on a multifaceted Arab world that’s largely invisible to Americans. Everyday life is complicated everywhere, but consider the Jerusalem couple in The Reports on Sarah and Saleem (Oct. 13) whose clandestine affair (he’s Palestinian, she’s Israeli, they’re both married) unexpectedly commands the unfriendly attention of the authorities. Muayad Alayan, who studied filmmaking here in the aughts, returns to present his award-winning dramatic thriller.

The opening night film, Lucien Bourjeily’s Heaven Without People, imagines a warm Lebanese family reunion over Easter lunch. The cheerfully benign setting is inevitably complicated by long-held grudges, political differences, a generation gap and the disappearance of the matriarch’s stash of cash. When trust disappears, suspicion moves in—in life as well as the movies.

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