Muslim International Film Festival makes history in October debut

New festival seeks to celebrate Muslim excellence

I am Rohingya won the Audience Choice Award at MIFF.
Screenshot from the film.

The Muslim International Film Festival (MIFF) had its inaugural debut in Toronto on Oct. 30. The festival, a celebration of Muslim excellence in the filmmaking industry, was a compilation of eight short films and two feature films presented at the Ontario Place Drive-In.

MIFF was launched and founded by Ryerson alumni Hirra Farooqi and Obaid Babar, who are both passionate advocates for creating a space for Muslim filmmakers in the artistic community.

On their website, the founders ask, “How many times have you scrolled through Netflix and found a story that pertains to Muslims, is created by Muslims or brings to light the Muslim narrative?”

The MIFF was crafted to showcase Muslim stories written by Muslim creators—an authentic experience missing from the renowned Toronto filmmaking scene, despite the city’s rising community of BIPOC creators.

Framing their mission with the positive rhetoric of “Muslim Excellence” is a new term that holds immense power, especially for young creators without mainstream Muslim representation to look up to.

After the screenings, the Audience Choice Awards went to short film Out of Context: Volume 1 and feature film I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts.

Directed by Arshad Mohamad, Out of Context is a comedy web-series that showcases wild, unexplained scenarios and scenes, all without context. The short-form storytelling experiment is refreshingly different and indicates why we need diverse voices in filmmaking.

In a more visceral screening, I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts forces the audience to grapple with the harrowing reality of the ongoing genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The Rohingya are described by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world.”

The film follows the experience of 14 refugee youth with no prior acting experience who perform on stage, leading up to the opening night of their performance. In a metatheatrical journey, the child performers and audience explore the rehearsal process of recreating horrific realities, calling into question if, when, and how trauma should be presented as art.

The films presented were diverse in their subject matter and tone, delving into multiple different genres and important international themes. There was even a psychological thriller called The Mask of Noor, which was centred around a teenager who is the suspect of a robbery in India.

Moreover, Amritsar, a short film situated in the 1947 partition, bridges cultural divide with its story about a Sikh officer helping a newly brought Muslim prisoner, who happened to be his childhood friend. This film showed how the MIFF was able to highlight bold, daring, and necessary works of art through a multitude of distinct, varied performances.

According to MIFF’s Instagram page, the festival was also able to donate $1,000 on behalf of attendees to their charity partners, the International Development Relief Foundation, and $200 to the Marathon of Afghanistan “to ensure that Afghan men and women have the access and freedom to run in their home country.”

Organizers are hopeful for another festival next year to continue developing a legacy for Muslims in the arts. 

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