Launched by the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition in 2015, The Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival shares films from around the world to encourage reflection and meaningful discussion about Muslims and their experiences.
The festival kicks off its sixth year of programming at the Oriental Theater (in person with COVID protocols) with eight films that transcend countries, languages and cultures while highlighting the common humanity found in all of us.
Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and founder of the Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival says that excitement is brimming for this year’s rendition, and that is partly due to the cancellation of last year’s festival.
“We probably have more directors and producers that are showing up in person this year than we have ever had. And I think it’s for the same reason, that it’s finally an in-person festival and they’re excited to be out,” says Najeeb.
Najeeb also explains that after the 2020 rendition of the festival was forced to cancel, the festival was not able to showcase many of the films they wanted to.
“By the time this film festival rolled around a lot of these films are now out so we could not use any of them,” she notes.
Because of this, the 2021 edition of the festival will feature a whole new batch of films for Milwaukee audiences. Here are four notable ones that will be at the festival:
City of Ali — Thursday, October 21 @ 6:45 p.m.
The opening night film documents what transpired the week that famed boxer Muhammad Ali died. The film highlights some of the tension happening in 2016 in the middle of a bitter presidential election, when there was a proposed Muslim ban. It also shows how people came together to celebrate Ali’s life during a tumultuous time.
Najeeb says that it was important to include the film so that people can see Ali as someone who was able to transcend any kind of single definition of self.
“In the current state of affairs where many Muslim children are constantly being told ‘You are this, you are that,’ we want them to really see that here is a Muslim, here is an American Muslim, and look at the impact he had,” says Najeeb.
The Mauritanian Saturday, October 23 @ 7:15 p.m
The film looks into the ramifications that the American response to 9/11 had on a variety of people., highlighting the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. He captured by American authorities on suspicions that he was connected with 9/11 and detained in Guantanamo Bay, where he spent 14 years behind bars without being formally charged.
Najeeb says the film was included because of how it examines what life was like for various people after 9/11 — a story that she feels is largely ignored.
“There is no right place where torture and lack of legal representation should be allowed,” says Najeeb. “But it’s a very important story to tell and the film is true to fact.”
The Present — Saturday, October 23 @ 4 p.m
This short film follows Yusef, who on the day of his wedding anniversary, sets out to the west bank with his daughter to buy his wife a gift. Just on his quest to go shopping Yusef encounters soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints.
Najeeb says that it is a profound film that show the realities of what it is like to be a Palestinian living under Israeli rule.
“People are sometimes projecting that this is a Muslim-Jewish issue, it is not, it is a those-that-believe-in-human-rights-for-all issue,” says Najeeb.
The Dissident Sunday — October 24 @ 4 p.m
Oscar-winning filmmaker Bryan Fogel, who made “Icarus,” investigates the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The film breaks new ground with access to key sources including Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, Turkish police and prosecutors, and the young Saudi dissident with whom Khashoggi was working.
Najeeb describes this as an incredibly powerful film that keeps you on the edge of your seat as the investigation into this murder blossoms into something much larger.
“We have heard that a lot of places have refused to show the film because of pressure, but our little festival has decided that freedom of speech is very important to us and we are going to show the film,” Najeeb says.