The cinematic landscape of West Asia is rich with talent and diversity. Filmmakers offer unique perspectives on themes ranging from identity and friendship to society and beyond. Here, we highlight seven West Asian directors who have captivated audiences with their enthralling stories and are redefining film. Each director brings a distinct voice and vision to the screen, offering audiences a glimpse into the complex stories of West Asian cultures and experiences.

Iran: Atefeh Khademolreza

  • Works: Meteor, Deja Vu, Empty Fish Bowl

With over 15 years of international filmmaking experience and mentorship from Abbas Kiarostami, Atefeh Khademolreza has showcased her films at renowned festivals like the Toronto, Berlin, and Busan International Film Festivals. Her recent accomplishments include serving as the Filmmaker-in-Residence at TIFF’s Micki Moore Residency, participating in the Netflix-BANFF Diversity of Voices Pitch Program. Through the program she  premiered her latest work, the short animated documentary METEOR at TIFF 2023. Khademolreza’s storytelling, which explores themes of women, immigration, and LGBTQIA+ identity, reflects a profound passion for narrative that resonates globally.

Palestine: Annemarie Jacir

  • Works: Wajib, When I Saw You, Ramy, Salt of This Sea

Filmmaker and poet Annemarie Jacir has written, produced, and directed over a dozen films. She has also founded her production company, Philistine Films, in Jordan and Palestine. Her debut feature film, Salt of This Sea, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. It explored themes of identity and belonging among diasporic Palestinians. Her recent film, Wajib, further examines the Palestinian experience, particularly life in Israel and issues faced by minorities, offering a critical view of Palestinian society and its governance.

Iraq: Ahmed Yassin Al-Daradji

  • Works: Hanging Gardens, My Name is Mohammed, Children of God

After earning his bachelor’s degree in audio & visual arts from the University of Baghdad, Ahmed Al-Daradji worked in various roles, including director of photography, writer, and director for Baghdad-based companies. He began his filmmaking career as a sound recordist on the feature film Ahlaam in 2004. He later worked on the short film My Name is Mohammed and the feature film Son of Babylon. Al-Daradji furthered his education by pursuing a master’s degree in filmmaking at the London Film School, where he directed his debut feature, Hanging Gardens, exploring themes of friendship, rivalry, and enmity.

Syria: Soudade Kaadan

  • Works: The Day I Lost My Shadow, Nezouh, Aziza

A Syrian director born in France, Soudade Kaadan studied theater criticism at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Syria and graduated from Saint Joseph University’s Institut des Etudes Scénique in Lebanon. Her work includes directing and producing documentary films for Al Jazeera Documentary Channel, UNDP, UNHCR, and UNICEF. Kaadan’s films have received international recognition and awards at festivals like Monte Carlo TV Festival and Dubai International Film Festival. Her first fictional feature film, The Day I Lost My Shadow made history as the first Syrian film to ever screen in competition at Venice Film Festival.

Turkey: Ramazan Kilic

  • Works: Things Unheard Of, The School Bus, The Helmet

Ramazan Kilic is a director and producer known for his works such as The School Bus, Things Unheard Of and Refugee, which has competed at the Palm Springs, Indy Shorts, and Clermont-Ferrand film festivals, among others. He also helped produce Rutubet, which premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival. His latest film Things Unheard Of delves into the lives of individuals grappling with personal histories and the complexities of human relationships. He highlights the struggle to reconcile the past with the present throughout the film. 

Azerbaijan: Tahmina Rafaella

  • Works: Banu, Qadin (A Woman)

Tahmina Rafaella is an artist known for her work as an actor, director, producer, and writer. She recently completed the prestigious Biennale College Cinema program at the Venice Film Festival, showcasing her commitment to advancing her craft. Rafaella made history by directing the first independent Azerbaijani feature film helmed by a female director. Her debut film, Banu, shines a light on the struggles of its protagonist, a mother navigating a patriarchal and sexist society to secure custody of her son. The film highlights Rafaella’s dedication to telling stories that challenge societal norms.

Jordan: Darin J. Sallam

  • Works: FARHA, The Parrot, The Dark Outside

Darin J. Sallam is a Jordanian writer and director of Palestinian descent. She received her Master of Fine Arts from the Red Sea Institute for Cinematic Arts (RSICA). Her debut feature film, FARHA, premiered at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival and is now available for streaming on Netflix globally, earning widespread praise and numerous accolades. FARHA was Jordan’s entry for the International Feature Film category at the 95th Academy Awards (Oscars) in 2023. It also made history at the 15th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) where it won the Best Youth Film award, establishing Sallam as the first Jordanian director to receive the honor. 

The works of these West Asian directors exemplify the unique perspectives throughout the region. Through their distinct voices and visions, these directors not only entertain, but enlighten audiences, providing a deeper and authentic frame of West Asian cultures. 

Looking for more ACT!ON content? Check out our interview with Iranian director Noora Niasari here!