When you delve into the world of Arab cinema, courtesy of Dubai International Film Festival (Diff), you get a much different perspective of how Arabs are portrayed in popular culture. From the Saudi comedy Tash Ma Tash, to the works of Egyptian comedian Tarek Al Ganainy, the spectrum of Arab acting spans far and wide.
Diff held a press conference to promote the Arab Stars of Tomorrow, where Palestinian rising star Maria Zreik voiced her displeasure at roles Arabs have in western film.
“I feel that Arabs in film are shown as, I don’t want to say terrorists, but as the bad guys,” Zreik’s solemn tone seemingly saying it all. “I am seeking to collaborate and work [in films] but I belong to the Arab world more than I do Hollywood.”
Playing a detained Syrian woman in the aptly titled film Detained directed by Hajar Alnaim, we were curious on how Zreik approached the role playing one of the stereotypes she feared. So, we sat down with her after the conference, while she elaborated.
“For the first time I played a Syrian girl, it was such a challenge for me because the accent is completely different, I had someone with me on set helping me with the accent,” she said. “Only last year, I went to New York and had an intensive programme at the William Esper studio where I had six weeks of an intensive acting programme.”
Zreik expressed her happiness at a Saudi filmmaker being able to talk about the Syrian crisis in a previously typically restricted structure.
“I really enjoyed working on this film, also the director, she’s Saudi and we all know that in Saudi Arabia, the scene there is conservative, so for a woman to go and speak her mind and make a film about the situation in Syria, it’s such a privilege to work with her and she deserves the best,” she said.
Moving on to her work in The Promise, she talked about her time working with the prolific Palestinian actor, Ali Sulaiman.
“He’s amazing. We acted together in The Promise, he was my father in the film, and I really look up to him very much,” she said.
— The Young Journalist Award (YJA) at Diff is a training programme for high school and university students who are aspiring writers and reporters. Seven students are competing at the festival this year. One winner will secure a monthlong internship with Gulf News.