Ai Weiwei’s ambitious and valuable documentary Human Flow (opening Oct. 20) confronts the viewer with the enormous number of refugees in our world. There are many, many catalysts, but the U.S. invasion of Iraq (and its aftermath) and the civil war in Syria deserve special mention for impelling hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. In what’s likely to be one of the most sobering programs in the Arab Film Festival (Oct. 13-22 in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland), “Refugee Stories: Migration, Displacement, Hope” (Oct. 18 at the New Parkway) collects five short documentary portraits that distill the humanity from the headlines.
A form of displacement, as well as varying degrees of alienation, gnaw at the three vibrant Palestinian women sharing a Tel Aviv flat in writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud’s acclaimed feature debut, In Between (Oct. 14 at the Roxie). Another behind-the-headlines saga, The Nile Hilton Incident (also Oct. 14 at the Roxie), follows a corrupt Egyptian cop whose murder investigation leads to rarefied circles of power. (If you hadn’t noticed, the crime thriller has become the international go-to genre for examining institutional and governmental malfeasance.)
Clearly, the Arab Film Festival does not shy away from serious subjects. For something in a lighter vein, the opening night film Oct. 13 at the Castro, Solitaire (Mahbas), is a barbed comedy about a Lebanese woman’s efforts to derail the engagement of her daughter to a — wait for it — Syrian. The beat of reality, from decades-old war wounds to the present-day refugee crisis, underscores the high jinks. Dare we root for a happy ending?