Film & Video List

One of the best ways to teach a visual generation about the Middle East is through film, both from and about the region. Films are specially equipped to capture the attention of audiences through their ability to touch a variety of senses. The sounds and sights and emotions of the Middle East can cross borders, exposing viewers to visceral and educational experiences. We highlight the best films for the classroom from the Middle East as well as documentaries and other films about the region and related topics:

Feature Films

The Swimmers (2022)

Based on a true story, it is most notably known for being the story of a Syrian refugee’s journey to compete at the Olympics. Syrian sisters Yusra and Sara tackle the trials and tribulations that come with the modern refugee experience.

Click here for the full Film Review.

Incendies: The Intricacies of Family Past, Hidden Truths, and Generational Wounds (2011)

“Childhood is a knife stuck in your throat.”

The notary read aloud Canadian Nawal Marwan’s last words encapsulated in her will. Marwan’s children sat opposite him. He attentively read the rest of the document, muddled in obscurities, disclosing Nawal’s final request for her children: to deliver two letters. She labeled the first envelope to the twins’ father, who they previously presumed dead, and the second to her long-lost son. As they coped with the sudden loss of their mother, the children tackled the unanticipated gain of two unknown family members, and their mother’s words stung true. Like a knife affixed to one’s throat, the family’s mysterious past lingers despite efforts to erase it, wounding generations years after its occurrence.

In Incendies, Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve transports viewers across two timelines, capturing the intricacies of the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and its lingering impact decades later as two siblings attempt to unveil their mother’s past. Jeanne, Nawal’s daughter, travels to her mother’s native country, initiating the investigation of her untold history. Her brother Simon eventually joins, and the two uncover startling revelations of their familial origins. As the film narrates Nawal’s storyline through flashbacks, the audience attempts to piece together the mystery alongside the siblings.

Click here for the full Film Review.

Taste of Cherry: An Iranian Man’s Quest for the Meaning of Life (1997)

Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry presents serene Iranian landscapes amid a protagonist’s grim ideation. The protagonist drives through Iran’s mountainous gravel roads, attempting to locate someone to bury him following his intended suicide in exchange for a generous fee. An affluent Mr. Badii recruits a few men, who embrace diverse social and ethnic backgrounds, to fulfill this earnest request. He drives them through the same arid streets of Tehran as the men offer their unsolicited response to the age-old question: what is the purpose of life? 

Click here for the full Film Review.

West Beirut: A Playful Outlook to Lebanon’s Civil War (1998)

Tarek Noueiri (Rami Doueiri) steps outside the classroom and unfastens the casement window. His French teacher’s words reverberate across the hallway: “Let us not forget that France created your country.” She continues pompously: “and gave you your borders, and taught you about peace.” The 15-year-old Lebanese schoolboy’s earlier mischiefs, singing the Lebanese national anthem through a megaphone as students recited Marseillaise, provoked the teacher’s fiery rant on French exceptionalism. Now ousted from the classroom, Tarek glares out the open window, a sly grin painted on his face. His visible indifference, however, abruptly fades away. In the street below, five gunmen with faces concealed with black and red ski masks stealthily prepare for an attack. Through the window, Tarek witnesses as they fired gunshots at a bus carrying Palestinians, ruthlessly murdering several inside the vehicle. “West Beirut” illustrates the violence that struck Beirut following this brutal attack through the eyes of three naive and innocent teens, offering a playful lens to an otherwise grave event in Lebanese history.

Click here for the full Film Review.

The Insult: The Entangled Web Between the Personal and Political

Yasser Salameh’s (Kamel El Basha) posture is tense, his hands fixated on his hips, and his eyes locked on the auto repair shop’s garage entrance. The shop’s radio blares right-wing rhetoric:

“So they don’t end up like the Palestinian refugee, wandering the world, ruining everything in his path!”

Jaw clenched, Yasser eyes his boss as he speaks to the headstrong, Christian Lebanese shop owner, Tony Hanna (Adel Karam). The shop owner had insisted Yasser apologize for an earlier incident. Days before, while Yasser tended to his tasks as a construction worker, a faulty drainpipe on Tony’s balcony spritzed liquid waste on Yasser and his co-workers. Tony rejected the construction workers’ request to fix the hazardous pipe, refusing their entry into his property. However, Yasser and his team proceeded to mend the illegal fixture. An enraged Tony struck the drainpipe, wrecking the construction workers’ repair and prompting Yasser to insult him. Despite his stubborn resistance, Yasser’s boss urged his employee to comply with Tony’s wishes and apologize. Now, Yasser stands apprehensively outside the shop as he waits for his boss’s cue to step inside and ask for forgiveness. However, with lingering resentment, Tony shouts to Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, that he wished Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would have wiped out all Palestinians. Yasser, unable to bear the denigration, punches Tony in the heat of rage and fractures two ribs.

Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult” details the events following this hostile meeting. He traces the legal and social repercussions of what began as seemingly trivial, exemplifying the entangled web between personal sentiments and political affairs.

Click here for the full Film Review.

Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Street (2000, Morocco)
A group of children living on the street in Casablanca leave their gang, prompting retribution from the gang’s leader. After one of the children dies, the rest try to come up with the resources to give their friend a proper burial. DVD format, 99 minutes.

Amreeka (2009, United States)
A Palestinian single mom moves to Illinois with her teenaged son just at the outbreak of the 2003 war in Iraq. They struggle against anti-Muslim feeling, high school bullies, and culture shock to make a new home for themselves here. The story is told with warmth and gentle humor. See the trailer here. DVD format, 97 minutes.

Arabian Nights (1999)
A two-part American/British miniseries this is a Hollywood production of the classic literary work that teachers could use parts of this to give the students a sense of the story.
DVD format, 175 minutes 

The Band’s Visit (2007, Israel/Palestine)
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 bandmembers and Israeli residents imparts each individual with insights into his cultural identity and that of the others. DVD format, 87 minutes.

Baran (2001, Afghanistan)
In a building site in present-day Tehran, Lateef, a 17-year-old Turkish worker is irresistibly drawn to Rahmat, a young Afghan worker. The revelation of Rahmat’s secret changes both their lives. DVD format, 94 minutes.

Battle of Algiers (1966, Algeria)
An Academy Award nominee for best foreign film, this classic work looks into some of the violent repercussions of French colonization in North Africa as Algeria fights for its independence.  DVD format, 121 minutes.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (2011, Palestine)
Based on the young adult book of the same title, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is a feature film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A French girl in Jerusalem sends a note in a bottle which is found by a teen boy in Gaza. DVD format, 100 minutes.

Captain Abu Raed (2008, 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. DVD format, 102 minutes. (Jordan)

Children of Heaven (1997, Iran)
Children of Heaven is an Iranian film by Majid Majidi. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1998. This Iranian film tells the story of two Iranian children from a lower middle-class family who are struggling to keep their beleaguered parents from finding out that the boy has lost his sister’s only pair of shoes.   DVD format, 89 minutes.

The Circle (2001, Iran)
Jafar Panahi’s dramatic portrayal of the plight women endured in Iran before the easing of strict Muslim law. His vision of women scrambling through streets and dodging cops like fugitives in a police state is more of a nightmarish fable than a realist drama, but no less affecting for it. Panahi drifts through the stories of a handful of women recently released from prison with an easy grace and an angry sense of injustice that brings us full circle: back to prison, where a cell door shuts with a deafening clang that reverberates through the credits and beyond. DVD format, 90 minutes.

The Color of Paradise (1999, Iran)
The 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. DVD format, 90 minutes.

Laila’s Birthday (2008, Palestine)
Forced to change careers after government cuts, Palestinian judge Abu Laila becomes a cabbie. Abu’s wife, Um, dispatches him with the task of securing a birthday gift and a cake for Laila, their daughter. But in a day marked by gridlock, unruly passengers and surprises at every turn, Abu’s simple errand becomes a surreal adventure in the urban dysfunction of the West Bank. DVD format, 71 minutes.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Due to his knowledge of the native Bedouin tribes, British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence is sent to Arabia to find Prince Faisal and serve as a liaison between the Arabs and the British in their fight against the Turks. With the aid of native Sherif Ali, Lawrence rebels against the orders of his superior officer and strikes out on a daring camel journey across the harsh desert to attack a well-guarded Turkish port. This film is a Hollywood classic not without its flaws. It is useful for comparison to the documentary. DVD format, 227 minutes.

Le Grand Voyage (2004, France)
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, Le Grand Voyage evokes universal emotions. DVD format, 108 minutes 

The Lemon Tree (2006, Israel/Palestine)
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. DVD format, 108 minutes.

The Message: The Story of Islam (1976)
This must-see epic depicts the birth of Islam. In the 7th century Mohammed is visited by Angel Gabriel who urges him to lead the people of Mecca and worship God, but they’re exiled in Medina before returning to Mecca to take up arms against their oppressors and liberate their city in the name of God. This film shows the emergence and beliefs of the Muslim religion. DVD format. 177 minutes.

No One Knows about Persian Cats (2009, Iran)
The film follows two young musicians as they form a band and prepare to leave Iran shortly after being released a man named Nader, an underground music enthusiast and producer who helps them travel around Tehran and its surrounding areas in order to meet other underground musicians possibly interested in forming a band and later leaving the country. Includes original music from Iranian artists. DVD format, 106 minutes

Osama (2003, Afghanistan)
Osama is a powerful, challenging, and deeply rewarding film. A group of burqa-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 pre-pubescent 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. DVD format, 83 minutes.

Persepolis (2008)
An award-winning animated film, Persepolis is the story of Marjane, a young Iranian girl, during the time of Iranian Revolution. Persepolis is an eloquent coming-of-age story of a young girl trying to find her place in the world. It is in French with English subtitles. (Note that there is a brief sexual encounter in the story – but it is animated, not live-action. DVD format, 95 minutes.

The Salesman (2016, Iran)
The Salesman is a 2016 Iranian drama film about a married couple who are performing Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, when the wife is assaulted while at home alone one night. Her husband attempts to determine the identity of the attacker, while she struggles to cope with post-trauma stress. Farhadi chose Miller’s play as his story within a story based on shared themes. The film was shot in Tehran, beginning in 2015. The film premiered in competition in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards—Best Screenplay and Best Actor. The Salesman went on to receive more positive reviews, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. However, director Asghar Farhadi did not attend the ceremony in protest of the U.S. Executive Order 13769 (Trump travel ban).

Santa Claus in Baghdad (2008)
This is a beautiful short fictional story that can be compared with “The Gift of the Magi.”  Iraqis living during the bleak time of international sanctions just before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein try to find gifts for people that they love. DVD format, 35 minutes.

Turtles Can Fly (2004, Kurdistan/Iraq)
In a Kurdish refugee camp in 2003, residents await the U.S. invasion of Iraq, hoping for Saddam’s defeat but fearing a violent aftermath. Satellite organizes children into work gangs, disarming and selling land mines to arms dealers. Satellite falls for Agrin who comes to the camp with one-armed brother Hengov. As the invasion starts, Satellite looks for a satellite dish so the camp can watch the war. DVD format, 98 minutes.

The Wanted Eighteen (2014, Palestine/Israel)
This is a Canadian/Palestinian animated documentary about the efforts of Palestinians in Beit Sahour to start a small local dairy industry during the First Intifada, hiding a herd of 18 dairy cows from Israeli security forces when the dairy collective was deemed a threat to Israel’s national security.” DVD format, 75 minutes.

Wadjda (2012, Saudi Arabia)
A film by Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia tells the story of Wadjda, a 10-year-old fun-loving and enterprising girl living in Riyadh. Always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away, Wadjda defies traditional gender roles as she seeks out ways to get a bicycle in order to race her best friend, Abdullah. While Wadjda tries to hold on to her childhood and individuality, she becomes aware that the people in her life are dispirited by convention. Plucky Wadjda becomes a source of inspiration and strength.  View the trailer here. DVD format, 98 minutes.

The West Bank Story (2007)
The West Bank Story is a light-hearted approach to the Arab-Israeli issue. The musical comedy focuses on David, an Israeli soldier, and Fatima, a Palestinian fast food cashier – an unlikely couple who fall in love amidst the animosity of their families’ dueling falafel stands in the West Bank. DVD format, 21 minutes.

The White Balloon (1995, Iran)
It’s New Year’s Eve in Tehran, Iran, where it’s a tradition to buy or catch a fish. Seven-year-old Razieh yearns for a new goldfish for her family’s pond, but in 90 minutes all the shops will close for a week-long holiday. After she and her brother, Ali, convince their mother to give them the family’s last 500 tomans, they must make it to the market in time, ward off shady characters looking to prey on them and hang on to the money. Can be viewed through link above. VHS format and online, 85 minutes.

Documentaries and Special Productions

5 Broken Cameras (2011, Palestine/Israel)
5 Broken Cameras is a first-hand account of life and non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village surrounded by Israeli settlements. Shot by Palestinian farmer, Emad Burnat, who bought is first camera in 2005 to record the birth of his youngest son, Gibreel, the film was co-directed by Burnat and Guy Davidi, an Israeli filmmaker. Structured in chapters around the destruction of each one of Burnat’s cameras the filmmakers’ collaboration follows one family’s evolution over five years of village upheaval. DVD format, 90 minutes.

Allah Made Me Funny (2009)
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. DVD format, 82 minutes.

Arab World Series (1997)
Dated but comprehensive, this is a set of 5 different videos on the following subjects, hosted by Bill Moyers: The Arabs: Who They Are, Who They Are Not; The Historic Memory; The Image of God; The Bonds of Arab; and Arabs and the West. VHS format, 150 minutes.

(The Boys from) Baghdad High (2007, Iraq)
This documentary views the Iraq war through the eyes of four Iraqi teens as they enter their senior year of high school. Filmed by the boys themselves, the documentary follows their friendships during the entire academic year and offers unique insight into ordinary adolescent Iraqi lives.” DVD format, 86 minutes.

Circle within the Square (2000)
The great 16th century architect Mimar Sinan rose from humble beginnings to become chief architect to the Ottoman ruler Suleyman the Magnificent. This film traces the development of Sinan’s unique Islamic style in the context of his times – and highlights some of the 500 known buildings he designed during his amazing career. The famous domed structure of his masterpiece – the Selimiye Mosque in the Turkish town of Edirne – is recognized throughout the world as the solution to the classic architectural puzzle of the Circle within the Square. DVD and VHS format. 52 minutes 

Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain (2007)
Cities of Light tells a story about the triumphs, shortcomings, achievements, 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. Highlighting the contributions of this period in art, technology, and science, the film tells the story of harmony between religions and its eventual dissolution. Check out the Internet site for lesson plans and rich information: DVD format, 116 minutes.

Crossing Borders (2010)
Crossing Borders chronicles the journey of four American and four Moroccan students as they travel through Morocco and discuss stereotypes, perceptions, and realities between Islam and the West. Their story undermines the “clash of civilizations” concept that their cultures are inherently incompatible, as ordinary American and Moroccan students develop significant and meaningful relationships throughout their journey. DVD format, 72 minutes.

Crusades (2002)
BBC/TV production in association with A&E Network; producers/directors, Alan Ereira and David Wallace, 4 videocassettes or 2 DVDs. Amateur historian and Monty Python funny man Terry Jones chronicles the Crusades with witty and accurate dialog, reenactments, and hands-on exploration. Episodes included “Pilgrims in Arms”, “Jerusalem”, “Jihad”, and “Destruction”. DVD format, 200 minutes.

Desperate Hours (2001)
This production by Shenandoah Films describes how Turks aided Jews during the Holocaust.
DVD format.

Encounter Point (2006)
A documentary film that follows a former Israeli settler, a Palestinian ex-prisoner, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother who risk their lives and public standing to promote a nonviolent end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. DVD format, 85 minutes.

Glass House (2009, Iran)
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 their various social problems. Rent or buy to stream from Amazon.

The Glories of Islamic Art (2005)
Three 45-minute videos with beautiful cinematography and descriptions of the place of art within the Muslim tradition. Part 1: The Umayyads and Their Capital Damascus,” Part 2: “The Ottomans and Their Capital Istanbul,” Part 3: “Two Islamic Regimes in Cairo.” DVD format.

The Hidden Art of Islam (2014, PBS)
Explore the tradition of figurative art at the heart of Islam with host Rageh Omaar. Muslim belief and tradition specifies that there should be no depictions of God or the Prophet Muhammad. In religious contexts, this constraint on what artists can depict extends to human figures and other living creatures as well. These prohibitions have inspired a rich visual culture based on calligraphy, Arabesque floral designs, and geometry, all of which feature strongly in the art and design found throughout Islam, including in mosques and the Koran. Link above provides preview with access to complete video. 56 minutes.

Hidden Wars of Desert Storm (2000)
This rather shocking films critiques U. S. policies during and after the First (1990) Gulf War.
DVD, 60 minutes.

I Will Not Be Sad in This World (2001)
Portrait of a 94-year-old Armenian woman’s life from the genocide through her childhood in a Lebanese orphanage through her life in America. VHS and DVD formats available, 56 minutes.

In My Own Skin: The Complexity of Living as an Arab in America (2001)
This short film sheds light on the complexities of the Arab American experience through candid interviews with five young Arab women living in New York in the months after September 11th. DVD format, 16 minutes.

Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (2010)
Over six years, Gallup conducted thousands of interviews with Muslims in more than 35 predominantly Muslim countries. This film encapsulates the findings, with a focus on such topics as gender, prejudice, terrorism, and democracy, and challenges popular notions that Muslims and the West are “on a collision course.” DVD format, 55 minutes.

Inside Mecca (2003)
This National Geographic special takes you on a journey through the Muslim pilgrimage and its rituals.
 The video follows three pilgrims as they join some two million other Muslims on their hajj (“sacred journey”) to the city of Mecca, and explores key Islamic sites and ancient rituals that take place there. Also integrated into this documentary is an extensive history of Mecca’s position as the central city of Islam. 60 minutes. Available online through link above.

Iraq in Fragments (2007)
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. DVD format, 94 minutes.

The Iron Wall (2006)
The Iron Wall documentary covers the issue of the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and their impact on the two-state solution. While the name suggests that the film is devoted to the separation wall, its primary focus is on the settlements and their impact on Palestinian life and the prospects for peace. 52 minutes. Can be found online through 3rd party sources.

Islam: A Pictorial Essay in Four Parts (1999)
This documentary, though dated, is a comprehensive overview of Islam through four sections: “The Doctrine,” “The Life of the Prophet and the Faith,” “The History and Culture,” “The Arts and Sciences.”
DVD format, 90 min.

Islam: Empire of Faith (2001)
Gardner Films production in Association with PBS and Devillier Donegan Enterprises; produced and directed by Robert Gardner; Jonathan Grupper, series writer. Narrated by Ben Kingsley, this PBS program tells the story of Islamic power and faith in its first 1,000 years.  Historical reenactments, Islamic art, artifacts, and architecture, and interviews with scholars are used. 180 minutes. VHS and DVD formats and available online. 180 minutes.

Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World (2011)
This film takes audiences on an epic journey across nine countries and over 1,400 years of history. It explores themes such as the Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water and presents the stories behind many great masterworks of Islamic Art and Architecture. Narrated by Susan Sarandon. DVD format, 90 minutes.

Jerusalem (2013)
After a year of research and preparation, the giant screen film JERUSALEM advanced into production with an unprecedented aerial shoot throughout Israel and the West Bank. Available in select museums, science centers, and other cultural institutions, the film takes audiences on a spectacular tour of the Holy Land and the city once believed to lie at the centre of the world. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. App. 50 minutes.

Lawrence of Arabia: The Battle for the Arab World (2004)
Courage, guilt, betrayal and triumph; the story of T.E. Lawrence has it all. How one man inspired an Arab army but could not prevent their betrayal. Filmed in England and the Middle East, this two-hour PBS epic charts the real-life story of a twentieth century hero. VHS and DVD format, 120 minutes.

Muhammad: Legacy of the Prophet (2002)
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. DVD format, 120 minutes.

Muslims: An In-Depth Look at What It Means to Be a Muslim in the 21st Century (2003)
This Frontline film describes the lives of Muslims in a post-9/11 world Filmed in Egypt, Malaysia, Iran, Turkey, Nigeria and the United States, “Muslims” explores the influence of culture and politics on religion, and provides a deeper understanding of the political forces at work among Muslims around the world. The film concentrates on political debates over the role of Islam in these countries. A teachers’ guide, numerous video clips, and more are available online. DVD format.

On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly (2009)
This documentary follows Monem Salam as he enrolls in an open-minded flying school, where he soon draws the attention of the FBI, which confirms his family’s fears. DVD format, 57 minutes.

Our Summer in Tehran (2009)
This documentary is about Justine Shapiro’s (director/producer) and her son’s summer in Tehran with 3 Iranian families, all from very different backgrounds. iTtunes streaming: Click here.

Persepolis Recreated (2004)
This DVD/book combination shows how the city of Persepolis looked in the time of the ancient Persian Empire before the destruction of the city by Alexander the Great. Difficult to find but distributed by NEJ International Pictures; may be available at school libraries. DVD format.

Persian Rug: Home Is Where the Carpet Is (1998)
Documentary on the making and meaning of Persian carpets. Difficult to find but may be available at school libraries. VHS format. 30 minutes

The Poot (2009)
A film festival favorite and winner of the 2010 Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short, this documentary provides a more recent look at the art of traditional and handmade Iranian carpets. Unfortunately, it also is difficult to track down. DVD format, 44 minutes.

Prince Among Slaves (2007)
This is a true story of an African, Muslim slave brought to the U.S. and then discovered to be a prince. Unity Productions Foundations explores a variety of issues related to Islam and Muslims. UPF’s website also offers classroom activities and the opportunity to be part of the innovative 20,000 Dialogues project. DVD format, 60 minutes.

Promises (2001)
Academy Award nominee, 2 Emmy Awards. One of the filmmakers travels to Palestinian communities and settlements in the West Bank-places he had never ventured before-and to the familiar neighborhoods of Jerusalem. He meets seven Palestinian and Israeli children between the ages of nine and thirteen. Promises explores the Middle East conflict through their eyes. A study guide has been created by a team of educators, writers, and the filmmakers is available on their website. DVD PURCHASE:

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006)
Documentary featuring author and Hollywood film consultant Dr. Jack Shaheen about the pattern of Arab stereotyping in the Hollywood film industry, from its beginning to the present. Be sure you preview it in advance to be sure some of the film clips aren’t too violent for your school’s regulations. DVD format, 50 minutes.

Return to Homs (2013)
War turns Syrian soccer star Abdul Basset Saroot into a protest leader and singer who initially favors his country’s peaceful liberation from Assad. However, the army’s violent crackdown on civilian protests changes his mind. DVD format, 94 minutes.

Salaam Dunk (2011)
A terrific documentary about the first girls’ basketball team at the American University in Iraq. While the situation in Sulaymaniyah has changed so you can’t use this as up-to-date current events, these girls find validation in the game/athletics.  You do get from the interviews what it means to live in and to try to escape a war zone.  This will particularly appeal to kids for whom life seems to have insurmountable obstacles preventing a safe/normal life and who then can find, on a court/field, a time where all that matters is the game.

Secrets of Lost Empires: Pyramid and Obelisk (2007)
This Nova special intersperces a documentary style with an animated story telling of the building of the great pyramid at Giza. A separate documentary explores the obelisk. DVD format, 120 minutes.

Silk, Scents & Spice (2001)
UNESCO; Keremedia DVD Productions. This documentary examines how three key trade routes have affected history through providing avenues not only for the transport of goods, but also of ideas, religions, and armies. Grades 5 and up. Above link contains brief clip; complete video can be found at select libraries. DVD format, 75 minutes.

The Square (2013)
Egyptian revolutionaries battle their leaders and regime to build a new society. Available through Netflix, 108 minutes.

Suleyman the Magnifcent (1987)
A National Gallery of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art production, this film is narrated by Ian McKellan and gives a contextualized portrait of the reign of Suleyman. DVD format, 59 minutes. Available in select university library collections.

Talking through Walls (2009)
Talking Through Walls: How the Struggle to Build a Mosque Unites a Community takes viewers into the life and struggle of Zia Rahman, a determined but ailing man, who sets out to build a mosque in his suburban community. The hour long film was broadcast on select PBS stations in 2007 and 2008. DVD format, 57 minutes.

Three Faiths, One God: Judaism, Christianity, Islam (2005)
An acclaimed PBS production, this documentary compares the similarities and differences in religious beliefs and practices of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Examines how people of goodwill in the Abrahamic faith communities are coming to terms with historical conflicts that impact their lives today, and tearing down barriers to understanding and respect.  DVD format, 116 minutes.

Topkapi Palace – The Royal Residence of the Ottoman Sultans  (Original production: 1991)
The “Topkapi Palace” series represents the widest-ranging project of its kind ever to be taken. It was in 1990 that all the doors of the Topkapi Palace were opened to a film crew for the first time. Their lights probed parts of the palace still closed to visitors and, indeed, into places that had never seen the daylight.  This documentary series is based on the latest available historical documents. Miniatures, engravings and illustrations produced by the domestic and European artists of the Ottoman Period were also used as further documentation and illustration of the fascinating life that existed behind these locked doors.  The series consists of seven episodes: “General Outlines”, “The Inner Palace and Its Pavillions”, “The Sacred Relics”, “The Harem-I”, “The Harem-II”, “The Treasury” and “The Collections”.
DVD format, 160 minutes.

The Traditional World of Islam: Six Part Series (1998)
The Traditional World of Islam brings to life many aspects of the Islamic world. The six programs are self-contained but mutually complementary. All are photographic pageants of extraordinary beauty. Focusing on the classic Islamic empire and the realm of its lingering existence from Africa through the Arabian heartland to Indonesia, it stresses the universality of Islam, drawing attention to the ethnic diversity of those participating in the haj. Includes episodes:  Part 1: Unity, Part 2: Nomad And The City, Part 3: Man And Nature, Part 4: The Pattern Of Beauty, Part 5: Knowledge Of The World, and Part 6: The Inner Life.  DVD format, 25 min each.

Um Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt (1996)
Narrated by the late Omar Sharif, this biographical account of Egypt’s (and possibly the Arab world’s) most famous and influential musician/vocalist. This film covers her singing career, rise to fame, and eventual death. DVD format, 67 minutes.

When the World Spoke Arabic: The Golden Age of Arab Civilization (2001)
With the fall of Rome, Europe turned its back on the marvelous contributions of Classical civilization. But the legacy of Greek thought was not completely lost. It lived on and developed elsewhere: in the Arab world. Supported by expert commentary and enhanced by footage of historic Arab architecture and period works of art, this comprehensive 12-part series documents the remarkable history and the most significant cultural, scientific, and technical achievements of the Arab empire, which came to prominence between the 7th and 13th centuries. Portions are in French with English subtitles. Each of 12 episodes is 26–27 minutes each. DVD format.

Whose Is This Song? (2003)
An anthropologist traces a popular Middle Eastern/Balkan folk song throughout Turkey and the Balkans, exploring the different instruments, meanings, and political implications. Can be found online. DVD format, 70 minutes.

 Young Voices from the Arab World: The Lives and Times of FiveTeenagers (1998)
This is a 30-minute video with a detailed teachers’ guide/resource book. Not readily available but may be found in some school library collections. The grade level is 5-8.

Digital Multimedia


1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets 
This is a 3:33 minute video about medieval Muslim contributions featuring Ben Kingsley

Al-Nakba: The Palestinian Catastrophe 1948 (1997)
Arguably the first film that seriously tackles the historic events that led to the creation of 750,000+ Palestinian refugees at the end of 1948. Based on historian Benny Morris’ book, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-49.  Available online, 56 minutes.

America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis (1998)
This is an ABC news special on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis in which 52 U.S. citizens were held captive for 444 days.  60 minutes.

Ancient Mesopotamia 3:08 minute video

Hagia Sophia: Istanbul’s Ancient Mystery (2015)
This PBS Nova special explores the history of one of Istanbul’s most enduring landmarks. How has this unique structure, built on a seismic fault, survived centuries of quakes? Since its construction in 537 CE, it has alternately served as Christianpatriarchal basilica, an imperial mosque, and a museum Online, 53 minutes.

Mustafa Kamal Ataturk: From a revolutionary to a statesman (2005, Germany)
This English language translation of a German production, Atatürk – Vom Revolutionär zum Staatsmann, gives a biography of the founder of modern Turkey. 55 minutes.


Apo & the Apostles – Baji Wenek Feat. Mai Mourad
3:56, A fun Palestinian music video filmed in Jerusalem and surrounding areas; the song is catchy and the video documents everyday life

A Land Called Paradise
A great introduction to the variety of Muslims living in the U.S. and beyond, released in December 2007, this music video shares the answers of over 2,000 American Muslims who were asked what they would wish to say to the rest of the world. The video captures their responses and was the Grand Prize winner of Link TV’s “One Nation, Many Voices Filmmaker Awards: 2007”.  Accompanying music is Kareem Salama’s, “A Land Called Paradise.”

Ali’s Film, the World Expo Dubai, UAE 2020 bid film (2012)
In just 4 minutes many of the stereotypes of the Arab world are dispelled, with visions of the past, present, and future portrayed beautifully by a 10-year old boy from the United Arab Emirates who is the narrator (English-speaking), with Arabic subtitles. 4:23 minutes.

How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring
Available in 4 parts, each about 15 minutes each, this BBC produced special, hosted by Mishal Husain, tells the story of how the Arab world erupted in revolution, as a new generation used the internet and social media to try to overthrow their hated leaders. Mishal covers the events in Tunisia and Egypt by meeting those who led the revolts and showing the unique footage they shot.

Independent Media in a Time of War (2004) This Democracy Now! video criticizes U.S. media coverage of the Iraq war. VHS format. 29 minutes.

National Arab Orchestra and the Detroit Woodward Academy (2014)
This Aramco World magazine article and video discuss an initiative to introduce classical Arabic music to mainstream audiences and to use the music to connect Detroit’s young people with the global community beyond their city’s borders. This musical awakening has the potential to bridge stubborn cultural divides.  4:17 minutes.

Shankaboot(Since 2010, Lebanon)
The first Arabic language web drama series, Shankaboot has produced five season since 2010 and is widely popular. Videos can be viewed 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. One of the aims of the series is to present Beirut life and the life in Lebanon in the most realistic style. Episodes are from 3-8 minutes each.

4 Responses to “Film & Video List”

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