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Film in the Middle East and North Africa

Creative Dissidence

Edited by Josef Gugler

Publication Year: 2011

This is the first study to cover cinemas from Iran to Morocco. Nine essays present the region’s major national cinemas, devoting special attention to the work of directors who have given image and voice to dissent from political regimes, from patriarchal customs, from fundamentalist movements, and from the West. These country essays are complemented by in-depth discussions of eighteen films that have been selected for both their excellence and their critical engagement with pressing current issues. The introduction provides a comprehensive overview of filmmaking throughout the region, including important films produced outside the national cinemas. The long history of Iranian cinema, its international renown, and the politics of directors confronting the state, earns it a special place in this volume. The other major emphasis is on the Israel/Palestine conflict, featuring films by Palestinian directors, Israelis, and an Egyptian working in Syria. Nineteen authors collaborated on this book, among them Walter Armbrust, Roy Armes, Kevin Dwyer, Eric Egan, Nurith Gertz, Lina Khatib, Florence Martin, and Nadia Yaqub. About half of the contributors are film scholars; the others range across literary studies and the social sciences to two film directors and a novelist. Beyond differences in disciplinary orientation, there is considerable variation among contributors in the perspectives that inform their writing. They offer an illuminating range of approaches to the cinemas of the region. The book is richly illustrated with posters of the featured films, photos of their directors at work, and stills illustrating critical arguments in the film essays.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book would not have been possible but for the creativity of film directors from across the Middle East and the Maghreb. Persevering against all odds, they have established a rich heritage of extraordinary films. Time and again they have offered fresh perspectives on crucial issues confronting the region by giving image and voice to dissident views. We dedicate...

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Creative Responses to Conflict

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pp. 1-36

Images and voices from the Middle East and the Maghreb are little seen and heard abroad. As far as films are concerned, some are feted at film festivals, but only a few are shown in art houses and on select television channels, and home video distribution remains extremely limited.1 Western productions dominate the screens of the world, and the political consequences are serious—most especially...

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Part 1. Regime Critics Confront Censorship in Iranian Cinema

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pp. 37-62

As these comments from leading filmmakers illustrate, to approach an understanding and critical engagement with the cinematic medium in Iran requires an examination of the complex social, political, and historical conditions that have informed Iranian culture in general and cinema in particular. Iranian cinema operated for the first seventy-nine years of its life under a system of monarchical...

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The Hidden Half (Tahmineh Milani): Love, Idealism, and Politics

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pp. 63-73

The Hidden Half, Tahmineh Milani’s sixth and most successful film, attracted international attention following her unexpected arrest and brief detention a day aft er giving an interview to a pro-reform newspaper in late August 2001.1 In the interview she spoke, among other things, about the necessity of dialogue in Iranian politics and society; the need to listen; and the communication...

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Marriage of the Blessed (Mohsen Makhmalbaf): The Wounds of War and the Betrayal of the Revolution

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pp. 75-83

Mohsen Makhmlabaf stands as one of the most contentious, controversial, and eclectic artists to emerge in Iran since the revolution. His films are a reflection of the complex political, social, and cultural upheavals that have taken place within the country since 1979. He has constantly sought to stretch himself as an artist and explore difficult and oft en incendiary themes and issues, from...

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Under the Skin of the City (Rakhshan Bani-Etemad): Under the Surface Contrasts

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pp. 85-93

The “First Lady of Iranian Cinema” is a popular and fitting title for director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad.1 Besides the obvious reference to her prominence as a filmmaker, the term can connote a social role that balances between politics and family. Bani-Etemad’s work as a whole reflects this tension, and she addresses it directly in Under the Skin of the City. The film frames the story of one...

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Stray Dogs (Marziyeh Meshkini): Cruelty and Humanity amid Hardship in Afghanistan

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pp. 95-103

Marziyeh Meshkini’s second feature film, Stray Dogs, must be understood as part of a wider social project and cinematic narrative undertaken by the Makhmalbaf Film House (MFH). Set up in 1996 by her husband, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the MFH has functioned as a film training school and production house. Based on a collaborative approach, it has succeeded in producing a...

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Part 2. Tolerated Parodies of Politics in Syrian Cinema

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pp. 104-112

In Arabic, the word tanfis means “letting out air” and is used by many Syrians to describe the perception that politically critical television serials and films operate as “safety valves,” allowing people to vent frustrations and displace or relieve tensions that otherwise might find expression in political action. This claim has been echoed by scholars asserting that tolerated or authorized...

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The Dupes (Tawfik Saleh): Three Generations Uprooted from Palestine and Betrayed

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pp. 113-124

It is difficult to place The Dupes within the national film industries of Arab cinema. The film is based on the novella Men in the Sun by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, directed by one of Egypt’s preeminent directors, Tawfik Saleh,1 funded by Syria’s National Film Organization (NFO), and shot in Iraq as well as Syria (Saleh 2006b). It depicts events in pre-1948 Palestine and in...

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The Extras (Nabil Maleh): Lovers Suffer the Twin Repressions of Patriarchal Culture and a Police State

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pp. 125-133

Syrian cinema distinguishes itself, among all the cinemas of the Middle East and the Maghreb, by the critical stance its directors have taken time and again vis-à-vis the regime—the very regime that tightly controls film production. Usually the attacks on the regime take the form of allegories. While their significance is readily apparent to Syrians, it commonly remains hidden from most foreign...

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Part 3. Lebanese Cinema and the Representation of War

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pp. 134-145

The first Lebanese film may be dated to 1929, but Lebanese cinema remained in the shadow of the Egyptian film industry for decades. Production increased substantially in the 1960s when, in the wake of the nationalization of the Egyptian film industry, producers and distributors directed their investments to Lebanon. They continued, however, to produce for...

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In the Shadows of the City (Jean Khalil Chamoun): Reconciling the Diverse Legacies of a Collective Memory

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pp. 147-153

In the Shadows of the City exemplifies many aspects of Lebanon’s postwar cinema and the artistic and intellectual challenges of responding to the trauma of civil war. The film demonstrates that fiction can be situated within an authentic historical context and still retain a rich storyline and thematic complexity. Jean Khalil Chamoun tells the poignant story of a twelve-year-old boy growing up...

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Part 4. Israeli Cinema Engaging the Conflict

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pp. 154-165

The relationship between cinema and politics in Israel is a long and tumultuous one. It began with propaganda films in the 1930s, developed into heroic tales of Jewish settlers during the state’s first decades, turned to the individual in order to question the price of one’s sacrifice in periods of doubts; especially after the Yom Kippur War, it evolved into a...

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Kedma (Amos Gitai): The Birth of Two Nations at War

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pp. 167-176

Kedma (2002) is one the more recent films in the long and highly acclaimed career of Amos Gitai. Gitai’s films engage a broad range of topics including relations between Arabs and Jews, occupation and war (Yom Yom, Day after Day, 1998; Esther, 1985; Kippur, 2000; Free Zone, 2005); revealed life in an Orthodox Jewish setting (Kadosh, 1999); and incisively analyzed the history...

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Avanti Popolo (Rafi Bukaee): Battle Cry of the Fallen

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pp. 177-186

In their seminal essay “Nomadology: The War Machine,” French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) describe two kinds of war machines: the state war machine and the nomadic war machine. The state war machine, whose troops and vehicles advance through a gridded space, has combat for its objective, targeting the enemy to destroy its body and conquer its land...

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Part 5. A Chronicle of Palestinian Cinema

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pp. 187-197

In its creators’ endeavor to invent, document, and consolidate Palestinian history, Palestinian cinema deals with the momentous crisis experienced by Palestinian society in 1948 as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and the expulsion of a substantial proportion of the Palestinian people from the land. On the one hand, Palestinian films have undertaken the creation...

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Waiting (Rashid Masharawi): A Scattered People Waiting for a Shared Future

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pp. 199-207

The plot of Waiting is simple—three Palestinians from the Gaza Strip—Ahmad, a filmmaker and reluctant director of the project; Bissan, a television journalist; and Lumière, a cameraman—travel to refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon to audition actors for a new national theater under construction in Gaza. The film chronicles their interactions with Palestinians they meet during...

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Tale of the Three Jewels (Michel Khleifi): Children Living and Dreaming amid Violence in Gaza

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pp. 209-217

Khleifi’s film Tale of the Three Jewels (Hikayat al-jawahir thalath, 1994) is set in a refugee camp in Gaza, a nonplace where people live for the moment, remembering and yearning for the places from which they were deported or dreaming about other places. This is the liminal space in Homi Bhabha’s terms (1990), existing in the territory of not belonging (Rogoff 2000) in an area of exiles who...

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Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad): Narrating a Failed Politics

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pp. 219-227

Distributed by Warner Brothers Independent Pictures and recipient of numerous awards—including the Golden Globe Best Foreign Film award and an Oscar nomination—Paradise Now is probably the best-known Palestinian film in the United States. Much has been written about the film’s controversial subject matter: Palestinian suicide bombings.1 It has been praised for intelligently...

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Part 6. Political Film in Egypt

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pp. 228-251

Egyptian political cinema builds on a film industry dating to the late 1920s and comprised of more than three thousand films, most of them financed without European involvement and screened to mass audiences in Egypt and the Arabic-speaking world. Egyptian cinema presents thematic breadth, historical depth, and a scale of distribution far beyond any other...

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Destiny (Youssef Chahine): Liberal and Fundamentalist Islam Clash amid the Splendor of Twelfth-Century Andalusia

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pp. 253-260

Youssef Chahine is one of the very few Egyptian filmmakers to enjoy international recognition. In 1997 at the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival, where Destiny was screened, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award. In Egypt Chahine has been attacked over several of his films, but he is also highly respected. When in 1996 the Egyptian film community named the top one hundred films...

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Closed Doors (Atef Hetata): The Attractions of Fundamentalism

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pp. 261-270

Closed Doors (1999),1 a social-realist depiction of life in Cairo during the 1991 Gulf War, tells a compelling story of male adolescence while condemning an array of social, economic, and political ills in modern-day Egypt. This vivid exploration of the disastrous effects of poverty, repressive moral codes, and the rise of religious fundamentalism is one of the strongest political films to emerge...

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Part 7. Cinema and State in Tunisia

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pp. 271-283

Tunisian cinema cannot be understood without investigating the history of its complex relationship with a state eager to promote a national filmic discourse and with a diverse audience at home and abroad. While a thorough account of this cinema would need to address the range of documentaries, short films, and feature films produced in Tunisia, this...

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Bedwin Hacker (Nadia El Fani): A Hacker Challenges Western Domination of the Global Media

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pp. 285-293

Bedwin Hacker (2002) is an innovative film.2 Nadia El Fani presents a Tunisia quite different from both Western depictions and most Tunisian films. In particular she offers a new perspective on gender, with women who are very much in control in the world at large—they are not victims, they are not engaged in a struggle against victimization, and they are not enclosed in a domestic...

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Part 8. From State Production to Cinéma d’Auteur in Algeria

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pp. 294-305

Film formed a vital part of the liberation struggle by the army, the Front de lib

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Days of Glory (Rachid Bouchareb): Another Vision of French History

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pp. 307-314

When shown for the first time, at Cannes in May 2006, the jury chaired by Wong Kar-Wai awarded Best Male Actor honors to the film’s leading actors: Jamel Debbouze (Saïd), Sami Bouajila (Abdelkader), Roschdy Zem (Messaoud), and Samy Naceri (Yassir) in the roles of the four “native” soldiers,3 and Bernard Blancan, who plays the ambiguous and unsettling Sergeant...

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Hamlet of Women (Mohamed Chouikh): Village Chronicles from a Time of Terrorism

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pp. 315-324

With Hamlet of Women, Mohamed Chouikh undertook to revisit what had come to be known as les ann

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Part 9. Morocco: A National Cinema with Large Ambitions

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pp. 325-338

A decade ago I compared the newfound success of Moroccan filmmakers in their nation’s cinemas with Odysseus’s journey in Homer’s eponymous Mediterranean epic. Allegorically, the Moroccan filmmaker was “returning in rags from a long voyage, finally reconciled with his wife Penelope, his privileged [home] audience, after vanquish[ing] other suitors”—in...

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Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets (Nabil Ayouch): The Harsh Life of Street Children and the Poetics of Childhood

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pp. 339-348

Nabil Ayouch presents fine psychological portrayals of his child protagonists, even if they appear rather naïve at times. Working with street children, he succeeded in eliciting performances to match their realities in spite of the formidable difficulties he encountered.2 All the while he avoided miserabilism. Ayouch depicts the harshness and precariousness of these children’s lives, if in...


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pp. 349-352


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pp. 353-359


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pp. 361-369

E-ISBN-13: 9780292784819
E-ISBN-10: 0292784813
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292723276
Print-ISBN-10: 029272327X

Page Count: 383
Illustrations: 54 b&w photos, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Motion pictures -- Political aspects -- Africa, North.
  • Motion pictures -- Social aspects -- Middle East.
  • Motion pictures -- Social aspects -- Africa, North.
  • Middle East -- In motion pictures.
  • Africa, North -- In motion pictures.
  • Motion pictures -- Political aspects -- Middle East.
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