St. Ambrose University's educational initiative the Middle East Institute (MEI), which just began its first school-calendar year of programming, was designed to foster discussion and study of this frequently misunderstood and geopolitically critical region. And as institute director Ryan Dye says, when it came time to create an event schedule for the MEI's fall semester, "I consulted with our fine-arts department, and they were really excited about the idea of doing a film festival."
Through the art department's Clea Felien, Dye was put in contact with Ghen Zando-Dennis, a cinema-studies professor at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. An Alaska native and occasional filmmaker herself, Zando-Dennis teaches a course in Middle Eastern films at Ramapo and was eager to curate the MEI's event. Zando-Dennis admits, however, that the curator position did come with a challenge for her.
"I didn't want to show work just because it's from this place we regard as 'the Middle East,'" she says. "I didn't want anyone to come away from it thinking it was a kind of survey, in any sense of the imagination, of Middle Eastern media art. And yet I'm programming a film festival that's called 'the Middle Eastern Film Festival.' So that's tricky."