NFMLA Fishmonger NFMLA’s InFocus: Middle Eastern & Arab Cinema Program
A still from "Fishmonger" courtesy of NFMLA

A pathetic Irish fishmonger who makes a sex pact with an ancient fish creature, a diagnosed psychopath, and a perfume seller who wears way too much cologne were among the highlights of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles’ InFocus: Middle Eastern & Arab Cinema Program.

The December event showcased an international lineup of films by talented emerging Middle Eastern and Arab filmmakers across multiple short film programs.

The day’s programming began with December Shorts. The collection of shorts is presented as part of NFMLA’s ongoing monthly program, made up of a mix of films across genres including drama, dark comedy, supernatural elements, documentary, hybrid documentary, and mockumentary.

Next, the event showed a collection of shorts curated in partnership with The Arab Film and Media Institute (AFMI). Learning into absurdism and humor, the selected films included stories about the pursuit of love, poetic satire, unlikely friendships, and sibling rivalry.

The night concluded with InFocus: Middle Eastern Cinema, a block of short films from Middle Eastern filmmakers. Telling stories about history, conflicted feelings, familial expectations, social critique, grief, and examinations of gendered expectations. This selection includes the world premiere of writer-director Lee Peterkin’s short “Ten Years.”

NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming. 

NFMLA InFocus: Middle Eastern & Arab Cinema Program

Here is some information on the filmmakers and their films, as well as their video interviews with NFMLA Board Chair Danny De Lillo.

“Amend” directed by Jianna Maarten Saada

About Jianna: A writer/director who earned degrees at both Columbia University’s Creative Writing program & American Film Institute’s Directing MFA (AFI), Jianna was the recipient of the Blue Mountain Center residency, Holleigh Bernson Memorial scholarship, and was a Sundance Episodic Lab fellow. Her 2018 short film “Sin Cielo” was a Top 10 pick at AFI Fest and is now streaming on HBO Max.

About “Amend”: Rachael lives an isolated existence, haunted by an unspeakable past. But when a young boy upends her tightly controlled world, she’s forced to face her own demons.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Belinda Gosbee, writer and producer  of “Amend”:

“Patient” directed by Lori Felker

About Lori: Lori is a filmmaker, teacher, and programmer. Her films study the ineloquent, frustrating, chaotic qualities of human interaction. She eschews any particular style or genre in favor of letting content and concerns guide form. She loves every facet of filmmaking and has worked as cinematographer, editor, and/or actor for various artists and directors and has programmed for the Chicago Underground Film Festival and Slamdance. She is the recipient a Fulbright (Berlin) Fellowship and a Wexner Center Residency. She lives in Chicago and is an Assistant Professor at DePaul University.

About “Patient”: Fiction, reality, the private, and the performed overlap on a routine but emotional day at a medical center.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Lori Felker director of “Patient”

“Fishmonger” directed by Neil Ferron

About Neil: Neil Ferron is an LA-based writer/director.  His first feature screenplay, Fishmonger — a supernatural dark comedy about Irish tentacle sex and vulnerability — won the Grand Prize of the Slamdance Screenplay Competition in 2021.  His AFI thesis, a short film version of “Fishmonger,” received a Cannes Lions’ Young Directors Award in 2023 before world-premiering at Fantastic Fest.

About “Fishmonger”: In this supernatural dark comedy, a pathetic Irish fishmonger must survive a sex pact with an ancient fish creature in order to save his mother’s soul from burning in hell.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Neil Ferron, director of “Fishmonger”:

Also Read: Alpha-Male Hyperbole, Gender Fluidity, and Confronting White Privilege Highlight NFMLA’s DocuSlate Program

“Eitr” directed by ​​Fateema Al-Hamaydeh Miller

About Fateema: Fateema is a Queer Palestinian/Canadian filmmaker whose work explores themes of fragmented identity, isolation and connection through “oh no, should I laugh?” comedy. She is passionate about creating nuanced representation of Arabs and Muslims for the screen. Her short film “Eitr” was one of 8 world-wide recipients of the InsideOut RE:Focus Fund and had its world premier at OutFest LA. Fateema is a Women in the Director’s Chair alumni and a current resident at the Canadian Film Centre Norman Jewison Directors’ Lab.

About “Eitr”: A closeted Arab wholesale perfume seller, attempting to mask his identity with excessive amounts of cologne, is knocked off center when a charming customer sees through his act.

Watch the NFMLA interview with ​​Fateema Al-Hamaydeh Miller, director of “Eitr”:

“Gallery” directed by Karim Amin

About Karim: Karim is a 26-year-old Egyptian American filmmaker who focuses on discussing social problems locally and globally throughout his movies. After emigrating from Egypt at the age of 17, his ultimate goal was studying filmmaking and cinema history in order to reflect his own side of many stories into his craft. He began making short films and sketches at age 20, developing his own technique inspired by classic German cinema, self expressionism and chiaroscuro cinematography.

About “Gallery”: Stepping into a special art gallery with different exhibitions that showcase the unsettling, unseen, and unspoken. Present inside the gallery, the audience experiences unique art in every exhibit, reflecting what most people prefer to avoid.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Karim Amin, director of “Gallery”:

“Lâl” directed by Burak Can Sen 

About Burak: Born in Istanbul in 1995, Burak Can Sen received his BFA in filmmaking from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. Burak worked in advertising agencies as a videographer and editor. His short film “Groggy” was an official selection of the Marmaris International Film Festival. Burak began working for Turkish Television. In 2021, He moved to Los Angeles to pursue an MFA in filmmaking. 

About “Lâl”: After a horrific incident in an Istanbul park, a young couple argues about how to handle it, only to have disparities between their genders and upbringings erupt, pushing them to reveal their true identities.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Burak Can Sen, director of “Lâl”:

“Untangling” directed by Meredith Vuchnich

About Meredith: Meredith Vuchnich is a Writers Guild and Canadian Screen Award-winning screenwriter-producer-director of feature films and TV. Vuchnich co-wrote and executive produced the film Beans with director Tracey Deer, which won best motion picture at the 2021 Canadian Screen Awards. Vuchnich was recognized on the 2020 Variety 10 Screenwriters to Watch List and has written and produced for many TV shows, including CBC’s Moonshine. After earning her MA from Northwestern University, she honed her craft as a theatre director-writer-actor before attending the Canadian Film Centre’s TV Program. In 2023, she wrote and directed the short film “Untangling.”

About “Untangling”: As a mom tries to untangle her kid’s curly hair, the world changes around them. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Meredith Vuchnich, director of “Untangling”:

“Psycho Baby” directed by Charlotte Kennett

About Charlotte: Charlotte Kennett is a director, writer, and producer with a penchant for curious dark comedies. An obvious film nerd, her visual style is commanding, meticulous, and cinematically ambitious: queer, bold, emotional, and intentional. With a background in both performance and videography, Charlotte has helmed music videos for Sony and Columbia Records. From a small mountain town of 2,000 people, Charlotte has a unique ability to share normally unseen humanity. She is determined to create more LGBTQ+ representation in the media.

About “Psycho Baby”: When Andra, a diagnosed psychopath, receives a love letter from Sadie, an undiagnosed love addict, her natural state is shaken as she confronts the dull prospect of romance.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Charlotte Kennett, director of “Psycho Baby”:

“Ten Years” directed by Lee Peterkin

About Lee: Lee, an American filmmaker with Palestinian roots, grew up in New York and exhibited a passion for storytelling at a young age. After studying theater and film, he sold his first screenplay right out of college. He has since worked professionally as a writer, director, editor, and cinematographer. His appetite for raw, absurd, drama, and tragic-comedy can be seen across his music videos, short films, and commercials. He is currently focused on directing his first feature film.

About “Ten Years”: A woman desperately invites guests while setting up a 10th birthday party for her daughter, but nobody is coming, not even her daughter.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Lee Peterkin, director of “Ten Years”:

“Four Nights and a Fire” directed by Alex Nystrom

About Alex: Alex Nystrom currently lives and works as a filmmaker in Los Angeles. His short film “Four Nights and a Fire” has played several festivals including Palm Springs International ShortFest 2023. He is currently developing a psychological horror feature film script based off his short film through Native American Media Alliance’s Feature Film Writing Lab 2023.

About “Four Nights and a Fire”: A young Ojibwe photographer stubbornly takes on the responsibility of keeping a sacred fire alive for four consecutive days and nights in mourning of his father. His father’s spirit tries to reach him from the other side.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Alex Nystrom, director of “Four Nights and a Fire”:

“When I Grow Up” directed by Melika Jamshidabadi

About Melika: Melika is an Iranian-American filmmaker.

About “When I Grow Up”: Growing up as a girl in the Middle East not only entails being deprived of the same aspirations as girls in other countries, but it also exposes the harsh reality that the simple act of reaching adulthood is uncertain.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Melika Jamshidabadi, director of “ When I Grow Up”:

The Sidewalk Artist” directed by Brandon Rivera and David Velez

About Brandon: Brandon Rivera is a writer & director based in Fort Worth, Texas. Through his and Velez’s collective of Latino filmmakers, WATCHALE, he aims to tell stories that accurately represent his Tejano culture and community while pushing the boundaries of narrative and documentary film. His goal is to ultimately create films that showcase the beauty of everyday life through unconventional and comedic means. 

About David: David is a writer & director originally from Mexico who grew up in the border-town of El Paso, Texas, and is now based in Dallas. He focuses on telling stories that elevate the small, mundane moments that everyday people live through. David is passionate about exploring the idea of Latino Surrealism through cinema and telling silly jokes along the way. Fun Fact: He learned English through watching “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” over fifty times as a kid.  

About “The Sidewalk Artist”: A documentary film crew follows a contractor who leaves his mark on concrete sites throughout a North Texas town. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Brandon Rivera and David Velez, directors of “The Sidewalk Artist”:

Main Image: A still from “Fishmonger” courtesy of NFMLA