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Film and Fiction of the Middle East. Learning about Culture from Within. Using Fiction and Film for Understanding. Visual learners need stimulating visual input to stay engaged Fiction and film engage emotions Engage a variety of learning styles

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film and fiction of the middle east

Film and Fiction of the Middle East

Learning about Culture from Within

using fiction and film for understanding
Using Fiction and Film for Understanding
  • Visual learners need stimulating visual input to stay engaged
  • Fiction and film engage emotions
  • Engage a variety of learning styles
  • Info about culture, social tensions, aspirations and aesthetics of people in the region—different kind of human, street-level data than nightly news
  • Films, even documentaries, are not representative! Nor are books or blogs.
  • Student activities beyond discussion: response videos, character diaries/self portraits, dialogue sessions, journals, blogs.
what makes the cut
What Makes the Cut?
  • Have to have artistic merit, be accessible, and be both useful and appropriate for the classroom
  • Included both films about the Middle East and about Muslims, since the crisis in understanding affects both
  • Take place in the Middle East, or feature Middle Eastern or Muslim Americans
the 99
The 99

Naif Al-Mutawa, who was trained as a clinical psychologist, created a comic book series called The 99, with superheroes based on the 99 names/qualities of God. The series is coming to television in animation in the U.S. Was lauded by President Obama for spreading a message of tolerance among Muslim youth.

amreeka us
Amreeka (US)

A Palestinian single mom moves to Illinois with her teenaged son just at the outbreak of the war in Iraq. In writer-director Cherien Dabis’s feature film debut, they struggle against anti-Muslim feeling, high school bullies, and culture shock to make a new home for themselves here. Told with warmth and gentle humor.

See trailer here or at other online film sites; the film is available through the official website and will be in general release in January 2011.

the band s visit israel
The Band’s Visit (Israel)

A band comprised of members of the Egyptian police force head to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center, only to find themselves lost in the wrong town. As the days roll on, the co-mingling of Egyptian band members and Israeli residents gives each individual insights into his cultural identity and that of the others.

captain abu raed jordan
Captain Abu Raed (Jordan)

Captain Abu Raed is a story of friendship, inspiration and heroism set in contemporary Jordan. Abu Raed is a lonely janitor at Amman’s International Airport. Never having realized his dreams of seeing the world, he experiences it vicariously through books and brief encounters with travelers. When he finds a pilot’s hat, it transforms him into a storyteller who recharges the neighborhood children’s capacity to dream.

Available to screen on Netflix and for purchase for personal use on Amazon and other retailers.

children of heaven iran
Children of Heaven (Iran)

Children of Heaven is a 1997 Iranian film by Majid Majidi. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1998. A brother loses his sister’s shoes, and they must share a single pair of shoes to attend school so their parents don’t find out.

the color of paradise iran
The Color of Paradise (Iran)

Noted Iranian director Majid Majidi’s Color of Paradise is a fable of a child's innocence and a complex look at faith and humanity. Visually magnificent and wrenchingly moving, the film tells the story of a boy whose inability to see the world only enhances his ability to feel its powerful forces.

le grande voyage
Le Grande Voyage
  • Reda, a young secular French Moroccan, is about to take his college entrance exams when his father insists that he drive him across Europe and the Middle East on the hajj. An Islamic road movie about family, culture, and the generation gap. Available on Netflix and for purchase.
laila s birthday
Laila’s Birthday

Caught up in a morass of red tape while trying to work in Palestine, dignified judge Abu Laila (Mohammed Bakri) resorts to driving a taxi to make a living. On his daughter Laila's seventh birthday, his only goal is to get home early with a present and a cake. But he's confronted with numerous absurd difficulties as he navigates passengers through the occupied territory. Filmmaker Rashid Masharawi grew up in the Gaza Strip's Shati refugee camp.

Available to watch instantly on Netflix, or on Amazon, etc. for personal viewing.

the lemon tree israel
The Lemon Tree (Israel)
  • Salma, a Palestinian widow, barely makes ends meet caring for her beloved lemon grove. When the Israeli defense minister moves in next door, the security forces decide to uproot the trees to protect his home. Salma and a young lawyer go to court to prevent it. The tentative relationship between Salma and the minister’s wife develops slowly.
osama afghanistan
Osama (Afghanistan)

Osama is a powerful, challenging, and deeply rewarding film about how Afghan women fought back against oppressive Taliban rule. A group of burka-clad women—widows who've lost their sons to the war—protest the Taliban rule that they may not leave their homes without an accompanying male relative. Desperate and on the verge of starvation, a mother gives her young daughter a boy's haircut and sends her to work in a shop. The terrified girl fears that the Taliban will murder her if they find out. With some guided discussion, this film may give teenagers a grasp of both life under the Taliban regime and the resilience of women.

santa claus in baghdad
Santa Claus in Baghdad

Based on the short story by Elsa Marston, this 25-minute film explores the difficulties faced by an educated, middle-class family under the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.


A second season of the first online Arab soap, Shankaboot, was out yesterday on Youtube.
 Driven by the online boom in the region, especially with efforts to increase Arabic content on social networks and search engines, Lebanese Batoota Films co-operated with the BBC World Service Trust, to fund a Lebanese four-minute episode soap. See the trailer for the series here or click on the image to see the first season’s first episode.

west bank story
West Bank Story
  • There are not many musical comedies about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—but here’s one! David, an Israeli soldier, and Fatima, a Palestinian fast food cashier are an unlikely couple who fall in love amidst the animosity of their families’ dueling falafel stands in the West Bank.
allah made me funny
Allah Made Me Funny

Allah Made Me Funny follows three acclaimed comedians on stage and off as they lift the veil to reveal the humorous truth of what it's really like to be Muslim in America. Mo Amer, Azhar Usman, and Preacher Moss poke fun at themselves, their communities, government, human nature and the tricky predicament of living in post-9/11 America.

See trailer by clicking on image, or go to Streaming of this and other UPF films available without cost at courtesy Unity Productions Foundation. There’s also a dialogue guide here.

cities of light
Cities of Light

Cities of Light tells of the triumphs and shortcomings, achievements and ultimate failures of a centuries-long period when Muslims, Christians, and Jews inhabited the same far corner of Western Europe and built a society that lit the Dark Ages.

The history of Islamic Spain demonstrates that when religious diversity is accommodated within a social and political system, problems and tensions may still exist, but can successfully manage them, generally to the benefit of all. But when a power system or religious movement rejects complexity and insists on a imposing a single-minded orthodoxy, then everyone loses something.

glass house
Glass House
  • Iranian girls struggling with drug abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence and more try to put their lives together in a Tehran halfway house. A gritty documentary that gives insight into Iran’s underclass, but also into Iranians’ own struggles to combat the problems of their society. Available on Netflix to watch instantly.
inside islam what a billion muslims really think
Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think
  • An educator’s guide is available for this new UPF film, based on extensive Gallup polling of Muslims around the world. The surprising findings will overturn stereotypes and lead viewers to understand Muslims based on “facts, not fear.”
a land called paradise
A Land Called Paradise
  • In December 2007, over 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they wished they could say to the world. Their comments were compiled by young filmmaker Lena Khan into a 5-minute film set to Kareem Salama's country song "A Land Called Paradise. Viewable at LinkTV at For a lesson plan using the film, contact us at TeachMideast.
iraq in fragments
Iraq in Fragments

Iraq In Fragments offers a series of intimate, passionately-felt portraits: A fatherless 11-year-old is apprenticed to the domineering owner of a Baghdad garage; Sadr followers in two Shiite cities rally for regional elections while enforcing Islamic law at the point of a gun; a family of Kurdish farmers welcomes the US presence, which has allowed them a measure of freedom previously denied. American director James Longley spent more than two years filming in Iraq to create this stunningly photographed, poetically rendered documentary of the war-torn country as seen through the eyes of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Available for purchase on the film’s site.

muhammad legacy of a prophet
Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet

Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, travels in the footsteps of the prophet to the Arabian desert and the holy city of Mecca where much of Muhammad’s story unfolded. But the film does not just stay in the past. Much of its story is told through the observations of contemporary American Muslims, including a fireman at the World Trade Center on September 11, a second generation Arab-American family building a community based on Islamic principles, a Congressional Chief of Staff working for justice, and a refugee fleeing religious persecution, whose experiences in some way echo Muhammad’s life. Classroom resources are available.

our summer in tehran
Our Summer in Tehran

This new film by Justine Shapiro, creator of Promises, follows her and her young son Mateo as they spend the summer with 3 Iranian families: a religious family with ties to the government; a cosmopolitan, secular family; and a single mom who is an actress. Filmed in 2007, this documentary gives us an unprecedented look into Iran’s middle class. Educators’ guide available. Purchase the film here.


Promises is a 2001 documentary film that examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspectives of seven children living in the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Israeli neighborhoods of Jerusalem. A study guide has been created by a team of educators, writers, and the filmmakers is available here.

other film guides
Other Film Guides
  • TeachMideast’s film page—constantly updated
  • Saudi Aramco World’s Suggestions for Viewing
  • Austin film series: 7 great films, old and new
  • Suite101’s film recommendations and reviews