A still from "Detroit Unleaded." Image Credit:

This year’s DIFF is putting a spotlight on the experiences of the Arab diaspora with movies such as “Detroit Unleaded” and “It’s about to Rain”, which look at the lives of Arab communities across the Western world.

“Detroit Unleaded” is set in the US city, while “It’s about to Rain” is set in Italy. Other films with a similar focus, like “Snackbar” and “My Brother the Devil” are set in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

“It’s a trend that’s been growing throughout the past 10 years, throughout the lifetime of DIFF,” says Antonia Carver, the director of the Arabian Nights programme. The trend is driven by increased interest in the Arab world and the improvement in the quality of Arab films, she added.

“Detroit Unleaded” is director Rola Nashef’s debut feature film. The story follows Lebanese-American Sami, who takes over his family’s gas station after his father is killed during an armed robbery. Sami, who had wanted to go to college, is resigned to a life in the gas station until he meets Najlah, in what has been described as the first Arab-American romantic dramedy.

“It’s about how we sometimes create boxes of who we are, but at times we can transcend those boxes,” says Nashef.

The movie is focused on the Arab-American and African-American cultures of Detroit, but Nashef says the film is accessible to wide range of audiences, and that comes from the characters she’s created. “It’s like going to a party and meeting all these great people and you think about them the next day,” she says. “It’s a character-driven piece…they’re at the core of the film,” she adds. “It’s a very authentic portrayal and very authentic performance from the actors.”

“Sta Per Piovere” (It’s about to Rain) is an Arabic-Italian movie about an Algerian family that is kicked out of Italy, where their children were born, after the father loses his job. The children, who do not have Italian citizenship, are then faced with a choice: to follow their parents back to Algeria or to find a way to stay in Italy.

“The film is political in a way,” says Haider Rashed, the film’s Iraqi-Italian director. “There are one million second generation immigrants [in Italy]. We need now to change the [citizenship] law.”

But the story is really one of identity and “not knowing where or what is home,” says Rashed. “It’s an issue for a lot of people.”

“It’s about to Rain” is Rashed’s third film, and all his movies have tackled the issues of identity and belonging, issues that he has had to deal with personally. Making these films “has helped me in understanding that home can be nowhere or everywhere… I’m not lacking something, I have something more.”

Although the storylines revolve around very specific circumstances, Carver says that they are made with “great integrity and honesty.”

“There are themes of family, belonging and identity that are absolutely universal,” she says.

DIFF is particularly suited for the exhibition of these movies, Carver says, because the festival has “an unusually global mandate.”

“In Dubai, where there are over 200 nationalities, these films are particularly relatable,” she says.

That is something that’s evident in the audience’s interactions with the director and cast after the movie is screened, Carver says.

Rashed points out that even audiences that may not be particularly interested in immigration experiences can still enjoy “It’s about to Rain.”

“Its good drama, good story, great performances. It’s really a good 90 minutes of film,” he says.