The 4th FREE BBC Arabic Festival returns to London 20 - 26 April 2018 at the BBC Radio Theatre with feature films, short documentaries, fictions and reportage, screen talks and panel discussions about current filmmaking in the Arab world, a new day long digital journalism strand, a special look back at the history of BBC Arabic television celebrating its 10th anniversary (Monday 23 April 3pm), and 'The Cultural Frontline' looking at the current golden age for Arab Film (Wednesday 25 April 7pm). In total there are 20 films in competition 5 films not in competition, 15 events and 2 special opening and closing ceremonies.

This year, the films focus on current political and social situations in the Arab world today and feature stories about occupation, child labour, the right to play music, religious extremism, immigration, and everyday life during war. Made by first time as well as established filmmakers from Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran, Mexico, USA and the UK, all the films are in contention for the 2018 awards, including the prestigious Young Journalist Award. The awards ceremony (Thursday 26 April 7.30pm) will be hosted by celebrated Korean/Vietnamese comedian Wonho Chung, who recently had his London debut, and musical guest Lekhfa will be performing live.

The Opening night (Friday 20 April 7.30pm) will show shorts about the refugee experience: Mare Nostrum, about a father's decision to put his daughter's life at risk and Fate, Wherever it Takes Us, a self-reflective, experimental film about a refugees journey from Syrian minefields to asylum in Jordan, plus clips from 2017 Young Journalist Award Winner Mohamed Jabaly (Dir. Ambulance)'s new film following six fellow asylum seekers living in Tromso, Norway.   

The feature films this year include: revered director Eliane Raheb's UK premiere of Those Who Remain (2016) about a farmer based in Akkar, Northern Lebanon, who struggles to build his family home while grappling with not only the sectarian Lebanese tensions but also those arising from the nearby war in Syria (Monday 23 April, 7.30pm + director Q&A).

The Ulysses of the 21st Century (2017) by director Lidia Peralta-Garcia, looks at the the myth, metaphor and mentality of Moroccan migrants across Paris, Tangiers and Gibraltar (Saturday 21 April, 5pm + director Q&A).

Upon the Shadow (2017) by Tunisian director Nada Mezni Hafaideh follows Femen activist Amina Sboui's return to Tunisia to set up a home for close LGBTQ friends (Saturday 21 April 8pm + Dir Q&A with Alex Kartosch, Fringe Film Festival director).

Whose Country directed by Mohamed Siam (Sunday 22 April 4pm + director Q&A) tells the story of a jaded defected policeman who reveals the reality behind the violence and torture by the force, and its link to the 2011 Cairo uprising.

300 Miles Directed by Orwa Almokdad (Sunday 22 April 7pm + producer Eyas Almokdad Q&A), follows the human side of the Syrian conflict via video diary footage between Orwa and his niece Nour.

Hebron Exposed: A Weapon for Life (A BBC Arabic Production, screens Monday 23 April 12pm +director Q&A) by Tom Roberts a powerful film following the training of a team of teenage video activists shooting the violence by the Israel army on the streets of Hebron.

Sedition on the Banks of the Tigris (A BBC Arabic Production, screens Monday 23 April 5pm + director Q&A) by Feras Kilani is made up of rare, previously unseen footage shot throughout Kilani's coverage since the Battle of Mosul in 2014.

The Digital Journalism Day (Tuesday 24 April from 10.30 - 6pm) includes three panel discussions looking at "What is Digital Journalism?": How traditional media is moving to 360 and VR and what we can expect from the future of digital journalism, with speakers: Cameron Clarke (Deputy Editor of media, The Drum), Marc Perkins (BBC Africa's Investigations Editor), Massimiliano Fusari (digital consultant, visual storyteller and Senior Lecturer at the University of Westminster's Emerging Media Labs), Rachel Rodriguez (Senior Producer for social media for CNN Digital Worldwide), Christian Broughton (Editor of The Independent), Jayisha Patel (award-winning documentary and VR experience-maker and a teacher of Immersive Storytelling at University College London), Janet Jones (Dean of Arts and Creative Industries at London South Bank University), Zillah Watson (Commissioning Editor for Virtual Reality at the BBC), Tom Millen (Co-director of Crossover Labs), and Namak Khoshnow (Producer of award-winning 360 virtual reality reports for BBC Arabic and the New York Times).

Tickets for the following sessions are FREE and will be allocated on a first come first served basis. You can apply for tickets to as many sessions as you like. Admission to these screenings and events is on a first-come, first-served basis. Please note that as not everyone who asks for tickets uses them, to make sure we have a full house we send out more tickets than there are places. We do our best to get the numbers right, but unfortunately we occasionally have to disappoint people so please arrive early.

Follow BBC Arabic Festival on twitter: @BBCArabicFest  

The Shorts programme:

Cinematic Reflections: Short Films From Today's Arab World (Sunday 22 April 1pm):

Nocturne in Black – This immaculately shot, high-energy short drama is inspired by a true story. Karim is a young man who continues to play his piano despite ISIS threats during the Syrian civil war. In spite of the despair and daily fear of death, he insists on reminding the people around him that beautiful things persist, and music is one of them. After his piano is destroyed by jihadists, Karim defiantly rebuilds his beloved instrument.

The Silence – Fatma and her mother are Kurdish refugees in Italy. On their visit to a doctor, Fatma has to translate the Doctor's diagnosis to her mother but she keeps silent. This sparse short film speaks volumes about the complications of language, the comfort in silence and the uncertainty of life in a strange land. See our chat with the directors of The Silence here.

Burning – A chaotic composite film reflecting the aspirations of a group of characters in Algeria's Kabyle Mountains, including Lounes, the fisherman, Ounissa, the village girl, Rachid, the cab driver and a huge frozen fish.

Sayeda – A social drama based on true events, this tense story follows an Egyptian mother and her 7-year-old son as they try to get him medical care. They are obstructed by unorganized schedules, chaotic traffic, and physical barriers.

Ayny – Devastated and made homeless by war, a mother is anxious about her two young sons' wellbeing. To keep them safe, she fosters a new love in their life: music. As they venture outside to collect scrap metal to save money for a cherished instrument, the oud, the two boys get trapped in fatal danger. This enchanting animated short film has been the recipient of numerous international awards from the Student Academy Awards (2016) to Film Fest Gent, Belgium (2017), Amarji International Film Festival, Iraq (2017) and the Boston Palestine Film Festival (2017).

Syrian Focus Shorts (Saturday 21 April 2pm):  

One Day in AleppoAleppo, 2017: It's a city with no food, fuel or water; no place to bury the dead and nowhere to treat the wounded. This observational film brings audiences closer to a quotidian of loss and destruction, exposing the daily life of people trying to live normally.

To Climb the Tree – A short documentary about AbuSaleh and OmSaleh, a married couple in Damascus. They have lost much during the war in Syria but now a chance to recoup some of their losses shows how their priorities have changed. Among the things that have remained the same however, is undaunted optimism towards their future, their love for each other and the humour they carry with them along the way.

The Day We Left Aleppo - Saleh and Marwa are a young couple who love Aleppo, but now, like thousands of others, they are forced to leave. Through this intimate short film we feel the weight of being stuck on the exodus and waiting in the evacuation route, heart-broken over their homeland.

Why? – Many boys in Jordan must work at an early age to help their families. Ayman, a young Syrian refugee is no exception; he works day in day out at the market as he dreams of going to school and making friends. His access to schooling has already been denied by the state, a situation made more difficult due to his parents' lack of education, on top of this the local children refuse to let him join in their football match, leaving us pondering the valid question…

Six Year Old Fears – Sara is 6 years old, the same age as the war in Syria. She has spent her entire life in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Now, she is about to be a big sister. In this short documentary Sara tells us of her life and dreams for her and her new sister, innocently optimistic even though the new arrival could risk her mother's life.

Stories from across the Arab World (Saturday 21 April 11.30am):

The youngest survivor from Al-Salam Boccaccio –On February 3, 2006, the MS al-Salam Boccaccio 98 ferry sank in the Red Sea on its way from Saudi Arabia to Safaga in southern Egypt. Of the 1,310 travelers, 388 survived. This report is about the youngest of those survivors. Five-years-old at the time, he lost his entire family in the accident. He went on to have nightmares, developed a fear of the sea, and was left unable to speak. Now, 12 years after the accident Mohamed has regained his voice but has to see a therapist, he is plagued by the details of what happened to his family and seeks justice.

Necessity Has No Law - Gamal is 14 years old but unlike most children his age he doesn't have dreams and ambitions for the future. He comes from a small city in Egypt and works from dusk until dawn in a brick factory alongside older men who are ready to retire. Gamal shares the sharp wit and big heart of his Egyptian compatriots, offering us a glimpse into a day in his life.

3 Stolen Cameras - This is a story about breaking censorship in an area where the Moroccan authorities have been accused by NGOs of implementing a near total media blockade. Journalists are not allowed to enter Western Sahara, yet here members of Equipe Media fight to keep their cameras to shoot this unique footage.

Musical Lesson - This is a story about love and hope in wartime. Lotfy Shenouda has spent almost 40 years of his life in El Arish, North Sinai, teaching displaced children and adults how to play various musical instruments. Shot secretly on a mobile phone, the film tells a forgotten tale from an underexposed and remote area of Sinai.

The Town the Men Left – This short documentary visits Omay, Eyo and Sokar, each from a different Nubian village in Aswan, Egypt. These women share a similar struggle; abandoned by their husbands, they live the paradox of being neither married nor divorced and are stigmatized by their communities for working to support themselves and their children.