Dubai based indie distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment has acquired all MENA rights to the gender-defying Arab films Warsha and Sirens, both of which had their world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Directed by Lebanese-Syrian filmmaker Dania Bdeir, Warsha follows Mohammad (Khansa), a migrant working as a crane operator in Beirut. One morning he volunteers to take on one of the tallest and notoriously most dangerous cranes in Lebanon. Away from everyone's eyes, he is able to live out his secret passion and find freedom.
On the other hand, executive produced by Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne and directed by Moroccan-American filmmaker Rita Baghdadi, Sirens follows the story of Lilas and Shery, the co-founders and guitarists of the Middle-East’s first all-female metal band as they wrestle with friendship, sexuality and destruction in their pursuit of becoming Thrash metal rock stars. MIME's Mark Adams reviewed it at Sundance.
Warsha went on to win the “Short Film Jury Award” at the Sundance Film Festival and has played in over 82 festivals and nabbed 28 awards since, including the George Lucas Grand Prix at Tokyo’s Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia and the Jury Prize for Best Fiction at the Tampere Film Festival in Finland, as well as the Grand Jury Prize for Outstanding International Narrative Short at the Outfest Film Festival in LA. It was also nominated for the Grand Jury Award at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
Sirens has played in over 40 festivals internationally so far in addition to Sundance, winning several awards along the way including the One in a Million Documentary Award at the Sun Valley Film Festival, the Special Jury Award for Courage in Filmmaking at the Florida Film Festival and the Mermaid Award Special mention at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. The documentary was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema – Documentary) at the Sundance Film Festival. It currently boasts a 97% score on leading review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
“Rita and Dania’s works are brave and groundbreaking for the region. We couldn’t be more delighted to represent their titles,” said Front Row CEO Gianluca Chakra. “If we want a change in the filmmaking scene, these are the kind of voices we should listen to particularly from this part of the world.”
We would argue that the entertainment media landscape in the MENA also needs to adapt, as most news, press releases and information is currently geared towards Western trade publications, which ultimately look down on the Region and the efforts by such companies to introduce audiences to arthouse and indie cinema.
The filmmakers each commented. "I am so happy to be partnering up with Front Row for the MENA sales and release of Warsha,” said Dania Bdeir. “I've always been a fan of Front Row who have an excellent slate of films under their belt. As I got to know them, I wasn't surprised to see that behind this successful distribution company are people who love cinema and who truly believe in the importance of telling and spreading good Arab stories from our region. As happy as I am with Warsha's international success, this is a film that I made for an Arab audience first and foremost. I hope that it can both touch hearts as well as generate important conversations that need to be had."
"Front Row is committed to distributing films that offer a wider range of perspectives from the Middle East,” added Rita Baghdadi. “I am proud for Sirens to be one of those films."
Front Row has been known for distributing cutting-edge and thought-provoking titles in the region and lately, in collaboration with Empire Entertainment and Film Clinic, has produced the Arabic language remake of Perfect Strangers which became Netflix’s first Arab Language original and touched on themes which are still considered taboo in the Middle East and North Africa. The film globally peaked at #3 on Netflix’ global charts and stayed over 4 weeks at # 1 across the MENA.
Both Warsha and Sirens will be released later this year, preceded by their MENA festival runs, which we speculate to include Cairo FF and the Red Sea International FF. International sales for Warsha are being handled by Polish outfit New Europe Film Sales, with Autlook Film Sales handling Sirens.
Images courtesy of Front Row, used with permission.