The other day I was clearing out my garage and found one of my childhood VHS tapes. As a child, I was not really allowed to watch TV but my parents had brought me every single Disney movie that ever existed. They were piled high in the lounge at the side of the TV, and when I was good or especially on the weekends, we would watch movies with popcorn and yummy snacks.
The tape that I held in my hand was Aladdin, a story that inspired many Arabic movies. It is about a simple thief who found his fortune with a magic lamp and later became the prince of Agrabah.
Aladdin like many other Disney stories was the introduction for many of us as children to new and exotic cultures. Watching these movies we could be transported to distant lands and integrate our imaginations into new and never before thought of ideas.
A dramatic film like Arab movie scene. Source: Unsplash
My love of movies definitely starts here, with this VHS tape of an Arabian fable and many others like it. Even after all of these years holding Aladdin in my hands fills me with gladness and the urge to sing one of many of the theme songs. This film definitely introduced me to a whole new world; it was Aladdin that showed me the pyramids for the first time and beauty of the desert.
I know that I am not unique in this; most of us have a sweet spot for movies. Your favourite genre may not be animation; it could be poetic romances or sinister horrors. But all of us love to be transported or introduced to new ideas through the visuals of the film.
These days you never have to search too far to sate your appetite for an extraordinary movie. You can visit your local cinema box office and get your tickets for the latest blockbuster, visit an international film festival or stream a film from your favourite filmmaker and watch it on Netflix.
Movies help us to uncover our love for new things, they bring us together socially, lead our emotions, sparking not just new ideas but new conversations. Films educate us, stirring our imaginations and they visually give us insights into things we may never have known existed.
They can also help us learn a new language in context, supplementing Arabic lessons with film dialogue and subtitles.
Dramatic scenes from Arab films. Source: Unsplash.
My interest in movies has continued to grow over the years, maturing like a rare wine to include many genres of film, especially indie and world movies. There is nothing more authentic than hearing a movie in its native language. It was when I visited Egypt, to see the same pyramids that I had been introduced to in Aladdin. That I saw my first non-English speaking movie,
The subtitles sat at the bottom of the screen but I couldn’t take my eyes off the film. The Egyptian movie ‘The best of times’ by Hala Khalil, opened itself up like a beautifully wrapped gift, offering thought-provoking, raw and culturally rich scenes. My love for Arabic movies, culture and its traditions was cemented.
Arabic movies are defined as movies which are made by an Arab filmmaker. To be an Arab filmmaker the Arabic language should be your first language. These films are often about Arabic history and culture but can also take on other more international topics.
The countries in which Arabic is spoken as a first language covers the Middle East and parts of Africa. These countries are also known as the ‘Arab world’ and refer to 22 countries.
These countries in order of population are Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, Palestine, Mauritania, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Djibouti, Comoros, and Somalia.
Cinema and film were slow to arrive in the Arab world; it wasn’t accepted in Saudi Arabia until the 1960s but in Egypt, film flourished early on with some of its first screenings in the 1890s. Because of this, Egypt has developed a very strong film industry and roughly 75% of Arab movies celebrated today are created there. (Source: Wikipedia)
Although Egyptian movies dominate the Arabic filmmaking space, other countries within Arabia are now starting to create films and frequent international film festivals. This is very exciting as it is giving us the opportunity to see and experience the Arabic world through the eyes of new filmmakers whose experience may be different to that of an Egyptian Filmmaker.
This new artistic expression, from countries like Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq are highlighting new stories and landscapes, adding richness to the Arabian cinema.
The best Arabian movies for language learning. Source: Pixabay
You can learn Arabic online or in front of your TV by streaming Arabic films in the original language.
Some of the most famous Arabian films that have won awards at international film festivals or just have a huge following are as follows.
|West Beirut||Lebanon||Ziad Doueiri|
|Where Do We Go Now?||Lebanon||Nadine Labaki,|
|The Yacoubian Building||Egypt||Marwan Hamed|
West Beirut is a film about civil war, the loss of innocence and the coming of age of these 2 boys. The film stars 2 teenaged boys who are dedicated to finding film for an old camera. They decide to take an adventure through dangerous and prohibited parts of the country to find the film.
We see how their awareness grows as they are faced with the reality of survival in the midst of civil war. West Beirut is a Lebanese film which was released in 1998 and directed by Ziad Doueiri. It has won international acclaim as one of the best Lebanese films ever made.
Film Trailer: West Beirut
Where Do We Go Now? a film about civil war but this film takes a comic approach to a serious subject. The film is based in a village, with half Christian and half Muslim inhabitants. Tensions are high in the village due to religious differences. The film shows the attempts of the women in the village to calm and distract the men from their religious disagreements.
The film makes a stand to highlight how stupid war is and to show women’s empowerment. Where do we go now is a Lebanese film which was released in 2012 and directed by Nadine Labaki. It has won multiple awards at various international film festivals.
Film Trailer: Where Do We Go Now?
The Yacoubian Building is a film about modern Egyptian society. The film follows the lives of the people who are connected and living within the historic building which is in downtown Cairo. Set in the time of the first gulf war, the Yacoubian Building, weaves a thin thread carefully between each of the residents, to show how each of their lives, are intertwined and dependant on each other.
The Yacoubian Building is an Egyptian film released in 2006 and directed by Marwan Hamed. It is said to have had the biggest budget of all Egyptian movies ever made. It broke the record for box office returns in its first week and was Egypt’s official submission to the Academy Awards. This is a must-see film.
Film Trailer: The Yacoubian Building
Asmaa is a film about the perception of disease, empowerment and letting go of fear. The film follows Asmaa a woman suffering from AIDS, despite being up against ridicule and unkindness. Asmaa becomes determined to recover and regain her life. She brings hope to others suffering from AIDS and in her strength fights for basic human rights helping others overcome fear in the process.
Asmaa is the first film of its kind to show people suffering from AIDS with compassion and sympathy. It is an inspirational film released in 2011 and directed by Amr Salama. Asmaa was received at film festivals around the world with great esteem
Film Trailer: Asmaa
Since we started discussing an animation I wanted to end with an animation, this film is called
The Prophet is a Disney film about inspiration and enlightenment. The film follows Mustafa a poet who has been exiled due to the authorities being fearful about the power of his poems. He decides to return home with his maid and her daughter. The film is based on the classic book by Lebanese author Khalil Gibran, the prophet is one of the top-selling books of all time.
Uniquely each of the sections, within the movie has a different director. Although this isn’t an Arab filmmaker or director and is actually in English. It has an enchanting mix of Arabian and American Arabian writers, actors, cinematographers, directors, and producers to make it to my list.
Film Trailer: The Prophet
Watching these Arabian films has been an experience which has opened my eyes and heart to things that seem so familiar but yet are so completely unique to me at the same time. With each movie, I can see a reflection of my own life, of my thoughts, of my hopes and dreams. My emotions were awakened, on edge and pushed to the limit.
It is so important to support the artistic expression of different cultures around the world. Which expose us to new ways of seeing life, people and culture, effectively enriching our lives and leaving us forever changed.
So if you want to open your mind towards something new and have an expansive, thought-provoking Cinematic experience, look beyond movies made in your native language.
Grab your popcorn and enjoy!
Find Arabic courses London to help you enjoy these films in the original language.
You can also take online lessons.
You can also learn from Arab TV.
Explore how you can enhance your learning with Arabic songs.