AIC’s Eye to Heart film contest asked young artists across the Middle East to explore character development, specifically looking at how individuals can shape a better future for themselves through positive values. From hundreds of submissions from 24 countries, winners were selected by a celebrity judging panel.

Winning Screenplays

“The Clown”

Hussam Alhulwah, age 30, Saudi Arabia
An extended allegory originally written in vernacular Saudi, the film examines a stagnant social scene and stifled liberties, symbolized by a bar where menus have no choices. The main character is, appropriately enough, a clown – suggesting that perhaps the script should be read as a comedy after all.


Yasmeen Zaid, age 18, Yemen
A daring young woman is desperate to pursue an education despite the risks. Set in a world of ultra-conservatism and misogyny, the screenplay explores human agency in a social context where young women are deprived of personal choices – even when they have supportive brothers.

“This Land Was Never Mine”

Shekoufeh Shadabi, age 24, Iran
Originally written in Farsi, this screenplay explores the escape of a young Baha’i woman from Iran. Baha’is are a highly persecuted religious minority in Iran, where they officially do not exist. Baha’is are barred from enrolling in universities by the regime and endure systemic exclusion. The protagonist in this screenplay must choose between her education and her homeland.

“The Majlis” 

Mohamed Al-Hmoud, age 26, Saudi Arabia
This screenplay, originally in Arabic, explores via engaging camerawork the theme of stagnation in Saudi society. By shooting three ceremonies over three decades – retracing the birth, wedding, and the death of the protagonist Mansour – the writer provides a visual critique of a society’s inability to break from inertia. Tellingly, the main character Mansour never actually appears in the film – his absence an allegory for the lack of personal choice.

You Know Best” 

Lamia Younes, age 23, Egypt
The script follows a group of Egyptian women through the eyes of protagonist Hiba following her sister’s death. What the four women have in common is that each has faced a challenge because of their hymens. Through Hiba’s eyes viewers encounter an intense virginity taboo as each woman deals differently with an anatomical membrane that could mean life or death.

Winning Short Films

Dahlia Mahmoud, 31, Sudan/Kuwait

A self-produced video spotlights a young woman’s split identity, as she appears beside herself in a split screen rapping about being female in society.

Maysara Al-Najjar, 28, Egypt
A young man wandering – perhaps sleep-walking – in pajamas suddenly discovers that he is living an illusion. Or is he?

Faisal Hashmi, 22, UAE
An allegory for many social challenges in the Mideast, this film contrasts two very different paths young men take as they face defining moments.

Ammar Basha, 31, Yemen
Shot inside Sana’a’s equivalent to Tahrir Square, the film explores the physical and emotional struggles of a popular reform movement facing a violent crackdown.

Fathi Abd El-Mustapha, 25, Egypt
“Tank Man” captured the attention of millions of global viewers during Egypt’s revolution. This film offers a firsthand account of the iconic moment, but from a new angle.