The BFI announces The Time is New: Selections from Contemporary Arab Cinema showcase

Aug 6, 2021

The BFI announces full details of a new season that will showcase exciting and daring filmmaker talent from the Middle East; The Time is New: Selections from Contemporary Arab Cinema, will run at BFI Southbank from 27 August – 5 October, with selected titles also available on BFI Player Subscription.

The season presents films made from 2019-2021 that challenge the stereotypical, weave personal narratives into broader questions and show the lyricism, humanity and poetry of everyday Arab life. It is programmed by Youssef Shazli and Alia Ayman, co-founders of Cairo-based Zawya, Egypt’s leading arthouse cinema and distributor.

Across fiction, documentary, shorts and genre-defying films, The Time is New will bring emerging and important Arab filmmaker voices to the UK, including a number of female directors. One of these is Egyptian filmmaker Ayten Amin, whose award-winning second feature Souad (2021), will launch the season when it is released by the BFI in cinemas UK-wide on 27 August. An engrossing portrait of Middle Eastern ‘Generation Z’, which was selected for Cannes 2020 and the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals this year, it looks at conflicting identities and the devastating power of social media. The Man Who Sold His Skin (Kaouther Ben Hania, 2020) is an Oscar-nominated film about a Syrian refugee in Lebanon who allows his back to become a canvas for a famous tattoo artist and You Will Die at Twenty (Amjad Abu Alala, 2019) is the story of a young man haunted by a prophecy that his life will end as soon as he turns 20. A screening of You Will Die at Twenty on 23 September will be followed by a pre-recorded Q&A with the director Amjad Abu Alala.

The theme of cinema itself plays a role in the season, with stories including an intimate and personal exploration of Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine and her family in Let’s Talk (Marianne Khoury, 2019); a screening on 13 September will include a pre-recorded Q&A with director Marianne Khoury. Talking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari, 2019) is a documentary following Sudanese filmmakers as they attempt to take over a run-down cinema and revive their beloved Sundanese film club. There is also the return of long absent director Elia Suleiman with It Must be Heaven (2019), starring himself as a silent protagonist who leaves Palestine to visit Paris and New York to find producers for his next film.

The Narrative Encounters: Shorts Programme highlights the work of a diverse group of filmmakers at different stages in their careers, who all have a singular approach to questions that are at once political, intimate and formal. From the humorous to the somewhat tragic, these films offer a glimpse into the distinct cinematic preoccupations of some of the most promising voices in Arab cinema today. Films included in the programme are: The Trap (Nada Riyadh, 2019), I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face (Sameh Alaa, 2020), Aziza (Soudade Kaadan, 2019), The Bath (Anissa Daoud, 2020), Drought (Remi Itani, 2020) and Maradona’s Legs (Firas Khoury, 2019).

The Time is New: Selections from Contemporary Arab Cinema is at BFI Southbank and in cultural partnership with The Arab British Centre and Zawya Cinema and on BFI Player from 27 August – 5 October. Tickets on sale now at

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