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Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival Challenges Stereotypes

Apr. 11, 2017
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With headlines full of conflict, “alternative facts” going viral and shrill political rhetoric in the air, stories that move us to pause, reflect and learn about our world are as important ever. Hearing other people’s stories is one way toward glimpsing reality through the fog of ignorance and lies, and no storytelling medium is more accessible than movies.

Beginning next week, the Third Annual Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival, held at four venues around the city, will screen six films focused on Muslim life and history. 

“The current political environment motivated us to look at films with certain themes,” says Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, the group responsible for organizing the festival. Refugees and displacement—whether in Syria, Palestine or New York—is the subject or backdrop for several of this year’s films. Four of the six titles dramatize or document contemporary situations. Two look back on historical events. 

Prince Among Slaves is about an African Muslim prince brought as a slave to America,” Najeeb says. “Over 30 percent of slaves brought to the Americas were of Muslim heritage. Many people think we’re newcomers but that’s not historically correct. Muslims helped build America.”

The other historical film, Sultan and the Saint, depicts the legendary encounter in Egypt between the Muslim military hero Saladin, who defeated the Roman Catholic Crusaders, and St. Francis of Assisi, the humane Catholic saint. 

Each screening will be followed by a panel discussion or talkback with the audience. “The festival has an educational and an artistic component,” Najeeb says. “For the Muslim community, the festival brings a kind of pride. It’s one of the only citywide Muslim film festivals in the country. It’s an opportunity to show films on issues of importance to the Muslim community to the broader community in Milwaukee.” 

Salam Neighbor (documentary)

7 p.m., April 17, UWM Union Cinema

American filmmakers Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple capture life at a U.N. camp for Syrian refugees. 

3000 Nights (contemporary fiction)

7 p.m., April 19, Oriental Theatre

7 p.m., April 28, Times Cinema

A female Palestinian teacher is imprisoned by Israeli authorities in this film by director Mai Masri.

Sultan and the Saint (historical fiction)

7 p.m., April 26, Cardinal Stritch University

Jeremy Irons narrates this Crusader-era story; Alexander McPherson stars as St. Francis of Assisi. 

Prince Among Slaves (documentary)

7 p.m., May 1, UWM Union Cinema

Mos Def narrates this account by indie filmmaker Andrea Kalin on an African Muslim ruler captured and sold into slavery.

Men in the Arena (documentary)

7 p.m., May 3, Times Cinema

7 p.m., May 4, Oriental Theatre

For two Somali teenagers, playing soccer on the world stage is their only ticket out a war-wracked country.

Refugee Kids (documentary)

3 p.m., May 7, UWM Union Cinema

Iraqi, Egyptian and West African children find shelter in a New York City summer camp for refugees.

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