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Around town: Three ways to see Middle Eastern cinema this week in L.A.

October 19, 2010 |  6:23 pm

Djalili The British comedy "The Infidel" kicks off a new film series, "New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema," Wednesday evening at the Harmony Gold Theater in Los Angeles.

British-Iranian comic actor Omid Djalili stars in the topical farce as a Muslim who is shocked to learn after his mother’s death that he had been adopted. To complicate matters, he learns that his birth parents are Jewish. Richard Schiff of "The West Wing" fame also stars in the comedy (which had a brief theatrical run in L.A. this spring) as a Jewish cab driver. Both actors are scheduled to discuss the film after the screening.

The film series, presented by the Levantine Cultural Center, was conceived in reponse to the general rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. "The series was conceived months before we heard about the project to open an Islamic center near Ground Zero, before the whole summer that we have seen Islamic phobia," says Jordan Elgrably, director of the center. "The series reflects the ethos of our center, which is to consistently present Arab and Muslim cultures and Middle Eastern Jewish cultures in the framework of contemporary thinking, contemporary ideas and contemporary creativity -- obviously well expressed in the film medium."

Though the series is scheduled to screen one film per month, this month the center is also co-sponsoring the Arab Film Festival, which begins Friday. It just so happens the 25th Israel Film Festival  commences Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

"It’s the Middle East in Los Angeles," says Elgrably. "There are over 1 million people of Middle Eastern heritage in Los Angeles. If you lump in the Iranians with the Arabs and the Middle Eastern Jews, the Israelis, Turks and Armenians, it’s a huge population. But because it’s all dispersed, you don’t see it."

The Levantine Culture Center was founded in the summer of 2001. Besides fostering positive images of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern Jewish cultures, the center was formed to "create an encounter point," says Elgrably. "It’s sort of a safe space for Arab and Jewish Americans to see each other -- a lot of Jewish Americans don’t know any Palestinians or don’t know any Arabs. What happens is when you talk, people share information."

The New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema series is co-sponsored by the Harmony Gold Theater, the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Hollywood bureau, as well as the Arab Film Festival, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Malibu Film Society and the Southeast European Film Festival.

The Levantine center called on these organizations to get involved, Elgrably says, because "we wanted to create this cross-pollinated environment where lots of different people from difficult cultures and economic backgrounds and educational backgrounds will cross paths in the same environment."

For more information on the screenings, go to www.levantinecenter.org

-- Susan King


Photo: Omid Djalili, who stars in "The Infidel." Credit: Dave Hogan/Getty Images

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