CHICAGO- Over just the past couple of years, Habibi Collective has gathered a massive following on Instagram with its regular posts about films made by women and non-binary folk in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the open-access, digital and curatorial platform has thus far mostly been an archive of film stills and eloquently written synopses, with the occasional link to a screening of film festivals -until now. 

In March of 2021, led by founder, programmer, archivist, writer, and curator Róisín Tapponi, Habibi Collective is launching Shasha Movies: the region’s first independent streaming service dedicated entirely to MENA cinema. Built by a committed team of creatives, Shasha will feature a fresh round of 20 films every month, curated around a certain theme that is socially, politically, and culturally relevant to the region. However, for this first month, the site will feature “a pretty eclectic mix of films, from the Arab world to Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian cinema, from moving-image to feature-length narrative,” Tapponi tells artmejo.

Moonscape by Mona Benyamin, courtesy of Habibi Collective and Shasha Movies

Indeed, Shasha is slated to stream an exciting range of movies this March. Palestinian filmmaker and visual artist Mona Benyamin’s Moonscape (2020), for one, is a surrealistic, hybrid take on the popular music video and film noir. It explores issues of territoriality, hope, and colonialism as it follows the protagonist’s quest to find out how many Palestinians own land on the moon. 

Film still, In Vitro, 2-channel film, 28’, Larissa Sansour/Søren Lind, 2019

Another multidisciplinary Palestinian artist who famously turned her lens towards the moon over a decade ago, legendary filmmaker Larissa Sansour is also on Shasha’s March roster. Subscribers will be able to watch Sansour’s most recent film, In Vitro (2019), which is set in a bunker below Bethlehem and meditates on questions of exodus, diaspora, memory, nostalgia, and postcoloniality. 

Before I Forget by Mariam Mekiwi, courtesy of Habibi Collective and Shasha Movies

Another work of science fiction available on Shasha will be Egyptian director Mariam Mekiwi’s Before I Forget (2018). In 30 minutes, viewers join the scientist Dr. Sharaf’s mission to regroup a scattered secret society of amphibians in whose hands rests the fate of a world on the brink of oceanic apocalypse.  

A Feeling Greater Than Love by Mary Jirmanus Saba, courtesy of Habibi Collective and Shasha Movies

In addition to searing speculative fictions, essay films and documentaries will also be available on Shasha. Directed by Mary Jirmanus Saba, A Feeling Greater Than Love (2018) is about women in the Lebanese labor movement, and specifically the role of female tobacco workers on a union strike, attempting to stage a revolution on the brink of the Lebanese civil war.”

Errans by Mira Adoumier, courtesy of Habibi Collective and Shasha Movies

Meanwhile, Lebanese/French filmmaker Mira Adoumier’s Errans (2020) skirts the shorelines between myth and reality as a woman searches for a missing man she had met exiled in Iceland.  

Shasha’s debut follows another recently aired project by Tapponi: Habibi Collective Podcast. Six episodes strong and with several more lined up, listeners can tune in to the podcast on various platforms, including Spotify, in order to learn about the inner workings of the MENA film industry through interviews conducted with experts in the field. With guests ranging from Alia Shawkat to Habibi Funk, the podcast is run by Tapponi, Nour Helou, Bella Barkett, and will cover topics including filmmaking, production, editing, fashion design and musical composition for film, and many others. 

Tapponi, who “sleep[s] and breathe[s] cinema,” leads these projects with a spirit of collaboration and accessibility. Both Habibi Collective and its podcast seek to make knowledge of MENA cinema more accessible; whereas the former focuses on the films themselves, the latter deals in industry knowhow. Furthermore, in addition to acting as a platform for numerous MENA films that might otherwise go underappreciated, Shasha Movies will be accessible anywhere in the world, without geo-blocking. Additionally, films on the site will be available in various languages, and with subtitles, including in Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, and English. Shasha will also be collaborating with Afikra, a global organization that strives to promote the diversity of the Arab World, and which will be hosting monthly Q&A sessions with two of Shasha’s featured filmmakers. 

Besides Tapponi and her team’s ingenuity, dedication to MENA cinema and willingness to do “the dirty work,” Shasha will debut thanks to the group’s crowdfunding efforts. Afterall, in the founder’s words, “building a streaming service from scratch with limited funds” was not easy. Therefore, continual support of Habibi Collective’s Patreon is vital to the sustenance and growth of its invaluable archival and programmatic work in the field of film. 

Read more from Jad Dahshan.
Image courtesy indicated in captions.

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