CHICAGO- Are you curious about the inner-workings of the film industry in the Middle East and North Africa? Are you an aspiring filmmaker, producer, or editor in need of wisdom? Are you interested in musical composition for movies, fashion design for film, or other cinema-adjacent professions? 

If so, you’re in luck. On the 30th of November, the Habibi Collective Podcast was launched with the goal of educating and informing listeners about the film industry in the MENA region. With over 20 episodes scheduled over the next half-year, the podcast offers candid conversations with experts in the field, ranging from actor Alia Shawkat and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir to the music label Habibi Funk and the film platform Free The Work.

The podcast is hosted by Róisín Tapponi, Nour Helou, Bella Barkett of the Habibi Collective with guest host Lizzy Vartanian Collier. Habibi Collective is a curatorial platform founded by Tapponi in 2018 with the goal of shedding light on underappreciated women filmmakers in the Arab world and beyond. Run through Instagram, habibicollective is an open archive of film stills taken from documentaries, essay films, shorts, and features, with informative captions and sometimes links to stream them. 

People always say to me there aren’t enough women filmmakers, and I say there are enough! But people need to see them, and you cannot see them if there aren’t people like me who are programmers, who work to get these films seen, says Tapponi. 

In addition to running Habibi Collective, co-hosting the podcast, and programming events such as the Independent Iraqi Film Festival and the Arab Festival in Washington, Tapponi is also leading a team of talents that is building Shasha: the first independent streaming service for MENA cinema, set to launch soon. 

What combines all these projects is a mission to give access, share knowledge, and foster community. “I think accessibility has always been at the heart of what I do,” says Tapponi

The Iraqi-Irish archivist-curator-programmeractively started pursuing films made by women from the MENA region, in the diaspora and with mixed heritage” when she noticed she did not see herself represented in the films she was watching growing up. This search for representation gave rise to the need to create a resource for female Arab visual art, moving-image and filmmaking,” which eventually took the form of the Habibi Collective Instagram account, “as accessible as a digital archive can be,” and one with global reach. Besides these representational purposes, the platform also seeks to highlight “cutting-edge” work, both old and new, and to uplift women’s work in film against the institutionalized barriers that suppress it.

In addition, Tapponi began coordinating film festivals, first in person, and recently online, curatingfilms around themes rather than national identity, it is important for me to show the depth and breadth of our work and how it operates within intersections of class, sexuality, religion.” Yet, besides those screened, many films posted on Habibi Collective remain unavailable to watch online, and there is a huge hunger for them, as the comment section under most posts attests. This is where the streaming service Shasha will come in. 

A much larger operation than Habibi Collective, Shasha will offer viewers a curated selection of around 20 films to watch each month. Unlike Habibi Collective, though, it will feature films by both men and women working in the MENA region. Besides making SWANA cinema more accessible, Shasha will play a vital role in countering the orientalist representations of the Middle East that are propagated by Hollywood. “We also need a streaming service independent of interregional politics and institutional bureaucracy,” explains Tapponi

The Habibi Collective Podcast is similarly built on foundations of accessibility: rather than to films though, it aims to provide access to industry knowledge. The hope is that the conversations with producers, scriptwriters, distributors, editors, actors and others that it broadcasts will help to decentralize and decolonize expertise in the filmmaking field so that it is not gatekept by private institutions. 

Supporting each other includes sharing information in an accessible way and I believe this is the key to the growth of any creative community, says Tapponi.

The podcast will be hosted and archived on, where listeners can discover listings until July 2021. The podcast will be freely available and listeners are encouraged to donate to Habibi Collective via their Patreon.