Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers

  • 61 19 1
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up

Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers

ENCYCLOPEDIA of W ARAB WOMEN FILMMAKERS Rebecca Hillauer Translated by Allison Brown, Deborah Cohen, and Nancy Joyce

3,593 1,705 10MB

Pages 487 Page size 336 x 515.04 pts Year 2009

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

File loading please wait...
Citation preview




Translated by Allison Brown, Deborah Cohen, and Nancy Joyce

The American University in Cairo Press Cairo New York

Copyright © 2005 The American University in Cairo Press 113 Sharia Kasr el Aini, Cairo, Egypt 420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018 www.aucpress.com This book is a revised and updated edition of the original, which appeared in German (Freiräume—Lebensträume. Arabische Filmemacherinnen, arte-edition, Unkel am Rhein, 2001). The publication of this work was supported by a grant from the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Dar el Kutub No. 2846/05 ISBN 977 424 943 7 Designed by Fatiha Bouzidi/AUC Press Design Center Printed in Egypt

Contents Acknowledgments Preface Notes on Film Titles and Credits The History of the Camera and the Veil Pioneers of Arab Silent Film Women Filmmakers of the New Arab Cinema

1 3 7 9 27 33



Introduction Egypt’s Filmmakers Television Animated Film

The Mashreq

35 43 112 115


Iraq Introduction Women as Film Directors in Iraq Iraq’s Filmmakers

117 117 123 125

Lebanon Introduction Panorama of Lebanese Cinema Lebanon’s Filmmakers Straddling Three Stools

130 130 137 142 188

Palestine Introduction Film in Palestine—Palestine in Film Palestinian Society as Reflected in its Cinema Palestine’s Filmmakers When the Exiled Films Home

196 196 202 206 209 237

Syria Introduction Few Oases in the Desert Syria’s Filmmakers

244 244 251 253

Yemen Introduction Yemen’s Filmmakers

256 256 261

The Maghreb vi


Algeria Introduction Algeria’s Filmmakers A Kind of Letter of Intent

263 263 272 324

Morocco Introduction Morocco Discovers its Cinema Culture Morocco’s Filmmakers

327 327 333 337

Tunisia Introduction Tunisian Women Tunisia’s Filmmakers

359 359 366 370

Other Countries


Other Filmmakers


Notes Bibliography Index of Arabic Film Titles Index of English Film Titles Index of French Film Titles Index of German and Dutch Film Titles Index of Filmmakers Photographic Credits

449 459 469 473 477 481 482 484



Acknowledgments I would like to thank all those without whose support this book would never have been written. This book is based on a sociological research project funded by the sponsorship program for women’s studies at the Berlin Senate Administration for Labor, Vocational Training, and Women. The women’s work group of the Stiftung Umverteilen foundation in Berlin subsidized the printing of the original German edition and its translation into English. I thank all its members, especially Annette C. Eckert and Mihan Rusta, who supported my book project at Stiftung Umverteilen. A special thanks goes to Torsten Krüger, who contributed greatly to the success of this book with his provocative criticism and skillful editing of the original German edition. I would also like to thank Allison Brown, who translated the text into English with great enthusiasm and conscientiousness, as well as her colleagues Deborah Cohen and Nancy Joyce. I am especially grateful to all the filmmakers featured in this book for their trust during our conversations, as well as for the photographs, text, and information they generously made available to me. My special thanks go to Viola Shafik and Férid Boughédir for being so cooperative and for lending me their expertise. I would also like to thank


film critics Ibrahim Al Ariss, Samir Farid, Faiz Ghali, Magda Maurice, and the women from Blickpilotin, an organization to promote feminist film education in Berlin. For their text or photographs I would like to express my appreciation to Olivier Barlet, Yamina Benguigui, Michèle Driguez, the EMMA editorial staff, Andreas Furler, Jean-Yves Gaillac, Martin Girod, Michèle Halberstadt, Azza El Hassan, Kassem Hawal, Hugo Jaeggi, Mahmoud Jemni, Werner Kobe, Gudula Meinzolt, Nadine Naous, Irit Neidhardt, Balz Rigendinger, Daniel Rosenthal, Martina Sabra, Claudia Spirelli, Heiny Srour, Jürgen Stryjak, Bettina Thiel, and Magda Wassef of L’Institut du Monde Arabe. Special acknowledgment is due to all the authors for their permission to reproduce parts of their articles in this book and to all the newspapers and magazines that allowed me to use articles and text extracts free of charge. For their help and support I am also grateful to Marie-Claude Behna of L’Institut du Monde Arabe and Daniela Elstner of Les films du Losange, both in Paris, Ahmed Ezzeldin, Heiko Flottau, Lutz Herden, Doris Hegner of Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Iman Kamel, George Khleifi, Norbert Mattes, Monika Maurer, Oussama Mohamed, Yasser Mokhtar, Cecilia Muriel of the Goethe Institute in Tunis, Orwa Nyarabia, Wilhelm Roth and Rudolf Worschech of epd-Film in Frankfurt, Christian Vaterlaus of the Xenix Film Club in Zurich, and Kais Al Zubaidi.




Arab women filmmakers—do they exist? This book began with a naïve question, followed by much time spent digging in archives, reading source material, viewing films, and above all meeting and interviewing Arab women filmmakers. Who are these women? What drives them? What are their experiences in a profession still heavily dominated by men—and in strongly patriarchal societies? The answers are complex and sometimes surprised me as much did the sheer number and diversity of films I discovered during my research. The book grew rapidly beyond a mere reference work on a narrow, exotic subject to something much wider. In particular, the narrative interviews with directors of varied professional, religious, and social backgrounds provide vivid and multifaceted insights into creative work in the fields of art and journalism in the modern Arab world. The subject matter of the films, their genesis, and the directors’ biographies and their own life-stories, often reaching back into childhood, reveal a world that goes far beyond cinematography. The way the directors see themselves, their motivations, and their views are at times provocative and often astonishingly different, even


antithetical. “Women’s liberation is a luxury for those who are still alive” is how Lebanese director Heiny Srour once dramatized the situation of women in the Middle East.1 On the other hand, Egyptian-Swiss filmmaker Nadia Fares believes that the drama of oppression is often perceived more bleakly in Europe than by Arab women themselves. In her opinion, the European perspective overlooks the Oriental attitude toward life, in which people tend more to ‘go with the flow.’ “Highs and lows are lived out more intensely,” she says, but are also “forgotten more easily.” Neither statement is representative of the majority of Arab women, or of the other filmmakers portrayed in this book. Each woman has been shaped by life in different traditions and social realities, for the Arab woman filmmaker exists no more than the Arab woman. The aim of this book is therefore to take a more in-depth look at a different world: a world of strong traditions but also of large ruptures. It is a world in upheaval, in which women behind the camera function not only as an eye but as an inducing force, which is why they often encounter resistance from society. Of course, a film cannot be examined in isolation from the world it depicts and in which it was created. Looking at the Arab world in its entirety, however, we see that social conditions vary from country to country. Thus a brief introduction to each country seems necessary in order to trace the historical and social milestones in each director’s home country and to describe the overall filmmaking environment. Because countries that are geographical neighbors have greater historical and cultural bonds than those that are not, the common regional grouping of Maghreb (meaning ‘the west,’ and referring to the Arab countries of North Africa) and Mashreq (the region of Arabic-speaking countries to the east of Egypt and meaning ‘the East’) has been maintained. This book does not intend to give the impression that the biographies of these filmmakers are in any way representative of those of Arab women in general. Their lives are still exceptional in their societies; their observations are seldom an unbroken gaze from within, but have often been shaped by a higher education or experiences from having lived many years abroad, and frequently also by an upbringing in a privileged social class. Nonetheless the full breadth of the lives and dreams of Arab women is mirrored in these directors’ lives and in their films; the obstacles and even resistance they


sometimes face in their work as well as in their private lives mirrors the resistance that many modern Arab women encounter in their lives. The Algerian writer–filmmaker Assia Djebar once admitted that she herself occasionally slipped back into the Arab woman’s silence. In the preface to her novel Women of Algiers,2 she writes, “This constraint of the veil drawn over bodies and sounds rarifies the very oxygen of fictitious characters. They are barely getting close to the light of their truth when they find themselves once again with ankles shackled because of the sexual taboos of reality.” But being a woman in a patriarchal society is not always tantamount to taking the more difficult path. Many doors have opened for Jocelyne Saab because she is a woman; out of curiosity, many prominent male figures have agreed to an interview with the Lebanese filmmaker. “They wanted to know who I was, where I came from, what I looked like. Suddenly they had a woman before them who could think and was an intellectual, who was different from the image they had of women. So I was received in fact like a man.”3 Egyptian Asma El Bakry deliberately based her feature film debut on a story in which all the protagonists are men. To be marketed as a ‘woman filmmaker’ would have been unbearable for El Bakry. She wants to be acknowledged foremost for her artistic achievements and not because she is a woman who ‘dares’ to make films. The other directors share her view— regardless of age, nationality, or film genre. Very few of them call themselves feminists. Yet they live an emancipated life and belong to the avant-garde of their generation. Assia Djebar’s appeal is without doubt also directed at them: “not to presume to speak for—or even worse—about women, at best to stand at their side and, if at all possible, directly next to them.”4 Assia Djebar called this the most important act of solidarity needed of those few Arab women who enjoy, or are able to fight for, freedom of movement and freedom of the body and mind. “They must not forget that those who are imprisoned are prisoners in body only; their souls are all the more free.” This book aims to do exactly that: to stand immediately by these women, not to comment but to portray. A large part of the Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers lets the women speak for themselves. It depicts their feelings, fears, and hopes, their endeavors and visions—in front of and behind the camera. The groundwork for this book was a research project on the biographies of Arab women filmmakers. Conversations were conducted in the form of




narrative interviews, a method used in the social sciences for biographical research. No specific questions were asked, as is typical in journalism. Instead, each conversation began with an open question5 that allowed the directors to talk freely and to choose their own focus of discussion. Additional questions were asked only if needed to fill in any missing information. This procedure also brought responses to questions that would never have been asked. Each interview thus acquired its own individual character, a distinctive core imbued with the personality of the woman interviewed. My fascination for the variety and color of life was the mainspring for this book. Cineastic, sociological, and political interests merged in the process. Following the eastern narrative tradition each chapter is composed like a mosaic, and each contribution is a unique piece in that mosaic. The main focus is on cinema, documentary, and video productions. Although it is a reference work, this book makes no claim to be comprehensive. Despite the long hours of painstaking research that went into its making, sometimes only the scantiest pieces of information could be obtained. Some articles and essays could not be attributed to a source. On the other hand, where I found multiple sources for the same information, I relied on a film’s final credits or the film director herself. There are as yet no systematically organized film archives in the Arab countries. L’Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the British Film Institute in London provided invaluable help, and, for this—the English, updated edition—the World Wide Web, of course. The photographs were made available to me by directors, production and distribution companies, and copyright owners. This book is a revised edition of the original, which appeared in German (Freiräume—Lebensträume. Arabische Filmemacherinnen, arte-edition, Unkel am Rhein, 2001). Only German and French sources were translated into English. English-language sources and interviews that were conducted in English have been incorporated into this edition in their original form, with editing where necessary. Arabic sources were either translated from their renderings in the German edition, or their English and French translations were edited by the translators of this book.



Notes on Film Titles and Credits Film Titles Not all the films mentioned in this book have an English distribution title. Particularly in the Maghreb countries, films are often distributed in two languages, Arabic and French. For these films an attempt has been made to list both titles in boldface. English titles appearing in boldface are recognized English titles used by the production companies, international film festivals, and/or the media. If no English title could be identified, a direct translation of the original title in Arabic or French has been placed in parentheses. In the filmographies, original titles appear before foreign language titles, the common practice in film studies. The more detailed descriptions of the individual films, however, list the English title first. This was done for reasons of linguistic congruity and easier navigation, and in consideration of readers who speak neither Arabic nor French.

Title Indexes There are four indexes of film titles, one each of Arabic, English, French, and German and Dutch titles. These indexes only list original titles and

recognized English titles used by the production companies, international film festivals, and/or the media. They do not include direct English translations of original titles in Arabic or French.

Credits Film credits are listed as follows: English (distribution or translated) title, original title(s), production country and year, director (Dir), script (Scr), cinematography (C), music (M), sound (S), editing (Ed), cast (generally only the leading actors), producer (Prod), and distribution (Dist). Production year and film length are generally those given by the production company or filmmaker. Complete credits were not known in all cases. Categories are marked ‘NA’ where specific information was not available. A short description of the film follows the credits.



A detailed discussion of every film made by each director is beyond the scope of this book. Films were therefore selected according to the following criteria: they play a significant role in the filmmaking biography of the director in question (for example, directing and feature film debuts), their subject matter is of relevance to this book, that is, it deals with the circumstances of women in particular, or they are especially interesting artistically and thematically.



The History of the Camera and the Veil “If you set out to sea, you had better not be afraid of drowning,” says the young Fatima Amaria, quoting an Arab poet. She is thinking of her own dream of becoming a famous singer. Fatima Amaria is a member of a religious community in southern Algeria. But this doesn’t prevent her from singing in various musical groups: religious songs in her village, and rai, and reggae by Bob Marley, in the city. Documentary filmmaker Nadia Cherabi was so impressed with her that she wrote and directed a film about her. Even though Fatima Amaria speaks for herself in the film, her words apply just as much to the filmmaker. Whether singer or filmmaker— the career choices of both women break the confining bounds set by tradition. Parallels can also be seen on the screen, since the films directed by women are usually cinéma d’auteur; that is, the directors write their own screenplays and often give the main characters autobiographical traits. At first glance these filmmakers appear to be liberated women: independent, self-assured, and educated. They are Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists. They do not wear the veil. Almost without exception,

their films deal with giving women a voice, empowering them, revealing unknown facets of their lives and worlds, and with looking behind the veil—of social traditions, but also that of generalizing clichés. There is a wonderful image depicting the relationship between Arab women and Westerners. In it, someone is standing at the window of a traditional, oriental house behind a mashrabiya,6 from where it is possible to see clearly the hustle and bustle on the street outside, through the tight latticework of the wooden screen. But from the outside no one can see into the room. Similarly, the world of Arab women remains closed to most Westerners. A thick curtain of clichés consequently veils the image of the Arab woman. By looking at the everyday lives and history of Arab women, the directors tear away at this curtain, and instead of ‘victims,’ the filmmakers show strong yet vulnerable personalities, who play a role in shaping not only their own destinies but those of their families and homelands, and who often risk their lives by transgressing the traditional boundaries of family and society. 10

Veil or No Veil Since 1923 at the latest, when Hoda Shaarawi, founder of the Egyptian women’s movement, demonstratively threw her veil into the sea, the veil has become a symbol of oppression for a growing number of Arab women. For Egyptian psychiatrist and feminist, Nawal El Saadawi the veil represents “a political symbol and has nothing to do with Islam. There is not a single verse in the Qur’an explicitly mandating it.”7 To many women the veil offers protection from unwanted attention, creates distance, and makes it possible for women to gain access to forbidden spaces; for example, it allows them to obtain employment. Of course today’s veil looks very different from the white or black or, in desert regions, sometimes colored or flowered veil that was traditionally worn. “The hijab, a plain coat-like garment with a headscarf, is more practical than the old haik, which you used to have to keep on with your hands or teeth,” wrote journalist Sabine Kebir.8 The modern veil is all too often, however, a piece of clothing that women wear, not of their own free will, but because of pressure from family and society or, as in Algeria, out of fear for their lives in the face of Islamist terrorists or, as in Afghanistan, from fear of


fundamentalists. It has little to do with its original function in the early period of Islam, when the veil was used to distinguish the wives of the Prophet Muhammad from common women and slaves.9 One thing the veil still stands for today is the division of living space, since gender separation is a reflection of how Islamic societies function. The domestic realm is the female sphere; the public realm, the male world. This traditional division also serves to keep the universe of women, mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters largely hidden from Arab men. Many women who make films use these separate worlds—as well as the veil in its various forms—as a stylistic device in their films as a metaphor for oppression and also for its opposite, emancipation.

Freedom of Movement and Life’s Dreams A longing for a life of self-determination is the driving force behind all the films by these women. This is true for all the women both in front of and behind the camera. It is about real and imagined freedom and free spaces, the wisdom to see one’s own limits, and the courage to overstep traditional boundaries. For many female filmmakers this meant having to leave their home countries—whether to escape censorship, political persecution, or suffocating social controls. Thus, some women experience their life abroad as emigration; others, as a life in exile. For both, their new homes become creative free space and freedom, and from this point on they move back and forth between cultures. They film in their former homelands and live their lives in their new homes. Inadequate cultural infrastructure and insufficient opportunities for training and funding have always driven Arab filmmakers, both men and women, to go abroad; this is still true today. State subsidies for films are very limited, if they exist at all. Most feature films are therefore produced in cooperation with private and European financial backers. Censorship has also not changed; it continues to reign in the modern Arab world with its sights set on religion, sex, and politics. And more often than not, state censorship leads to rigorous self-censorship on the part of the filmmakers themselves. Coproductions with foreign production companies open up artistic and thematic leeway in this regard, but they also include the danger of bowing to foreign ways of seeing or selling one’s own culture as ‘exotic.’




There is a certain irony in the situation. Directors attempting to create authentic national cinemas now depend on financial aid from former colonial powers. Tunisian filmmaker Moufida Tlatli is not ashamed of this dependency: “I’ve never had any interference from French producers. There’s a sense of debt—the French need to see what the people they colonized can do, what our culture is like. In any case, it was through a French philosophy teacher at school in Tunisia that I became interested in cinema. Until then I’d only seen Egyptian and Indian movies, but he organized a film club where every week he’d show Eisenstein, Bergman, Rossellini.”10 This balancing act between two cultures and two identities has a thematic and stylistic counterpart in the films. Oriental and occidental elements flow together and become woven into a new way of seeing and presenting the world. Films made by women are not necessarily more aesthetic, but they are often more radical than the ‘women’s films’ made by their male colleagues. Lebanese director Heiny Srour, who inundated her male colleagues with sarcastic remarks about their representation of women, was nevertheless conciliatory, “‘Male Arab filmmakers clearly have problems with their mothers,’ I wrote sneeringly. And when I found the courage to look at myself in the mirror, I saw a woman filmmaker who had just as many problems with her father.” 11 Moufida Tlatli expressed her relationship to male filmmakers succinctly, “I always look for men who are comfortable with their feminine side. They support what I’m doing.”

Straddling Three Chairs—Women in Exile and Other Tightrope Walkers The history of Arab film, and with it the history of Arab women filmmakers, is inextricably bound up with emigration and exile. Exile, not only as a training and production site, but also as a place in which a certain disorientation can be perceived due to the distance from one’s roots. The need to come to terms with another culture, with all the inner conflict that entails, is an urge that many women filmmakers feel, even if they are second-generation immigrants. Most directors in exile busy themselves in their films with the circumstances in their countries of origin, their cultural roots, and the search for their own identity. In some cases, however, the experience of exile also leads to an almost mystical


elevation of one’s homeland. The young Palestinian filmmaker Azza El Hassan describes this experience in her autobiographical essay, “When the Exiled Films Home” (see pages 237–43). The notion of a place where everything is perfect reduces the homeland to a static, timeless, lifeless fantasy. The real here and now—exile—competes constantly with this imaginary place, which in its omnipresence shrinks the new home to something temporary. El Hassan’s fellow countrywoman, video artist Mona Hatoum, lives in London and is an avant-gardist among female directors. Her live performances and installations have made her one of the most striking creators in Europe. In her autobiographical video, Measures of Distance (1988), she fades in handwritten letters from her mother from civil-wartorn Beirut with photographs of her mother naked in the shower. A tender latticework of Arabic writing appears, which covers the photographs like a curtain or veil. To this imagery Hatoum reads aloud the letters from her mother. The director admits that the feminist slogan ‘the personal is political’ influenced her.12 That is why the film, while on the surface dealing with the relationship between mother and daughter, according to Hatoum also “opposes the set stereotype of the Arab woman as a passive mother and asexual being.”13 “If only Paris were at the sea and the Louvre in Tunis,” on the other hand, is the wish of the protagonist in Nadia El Fani’s short film Fifty-fifty mon amour (1992). Meriem, a young and modern Tunisian woman, doesn’t really know where she belongs or what and who she wants. Torn between Tunis and Paris, between Mourad and Jacques, she shuttles—as does the director herself—from one shore of the Mediterranean to the other. Is either really the only choice? Fatima Amaria, the young Algerian singer, moves lightheartedly between tradition and the pop rhythms of rai. When she was getting her hair done for photo album sessions in the city, a woman at the hairdresser’s told her that Islam forbade singing. Fatima Amaria wouldn’t believe that and spontaneously answered, “Just when I’ve decided to be a singer you tell me such stories! That can’t be true.” Heiny Srour also sees herself subjected time and again to traditional mores, despite her international success as a filmmaker. The conflict comes in a number of ways—as a Jew in an Arab-Muslim society and as a woman



in a patriarchal Jewish family. Sometimes, she admits, she lacks space to breathe within the narrow horizons of her religious community. She asks herself the fundamental question of whether this feeling of suffocation comes from being a woman or being an artist.

A Jump in Time—Autodidacts and Career Women


Back to the Egypt of the 1920s: this is when, in the Golden Age of silent film, the history of Arab women filmmakers began. Whether the female pioneers at the time actually directed films on their own is a subject of dispute to this day (see chapter on film pioneers, pages 27–32). What is clear is that these women did not differ much from their male colleagues in artistic terms. They all embraced melodrama and the presentations of female victimization so prevalent at the time.14 Their era was short. Only a decade later, the rise of the talkie put an end to creative experimentation. The adventure of filmmaking was professionalized, followed quickly by an emerging system of syndicates, studios, movie theaters, and stars. For women, the patriarchal system was the final take. There was no place for women as filmmakers and producers in the new film industry. In the chronicle of Arab women filmmakers this led to a gap of more than thirty years. The first reliable information about women independently directing films came from the 1970s. While the pioneer female directors were autodidacts, the new generation blossomed into a modern type of woman that has become the standard for female Arab directors ever since. They are women with well-grounded training at either a film academy or some comparable academic background. These women no longer view filmmaking only as a hobby, but as an occupation in the sense of a career and a source of livelihood. Unlike the silent film pioneers, the women in this new generation are not afraid of fighting their way through as professionals in the film industry.

The Realistic Eye—The 1970s Many of the women who made films in the 1970s became pioneers in the New Arab Cinema that continued to attract attention in the entire region until the end of that decade. Many of these directors came to film through


writing, because the professional and moral barriers for women in film were far greater than they are today. Also, “there were no role models of women as filmmakers,” as Tunisian filmmaker Néjia Ben Mabrouk said in an interview. “All the directors were men; for me as a young woman, therefore, the more obvious choice was to tell stories through writing.”15 Forerunners of the New Arab Cinema, both men and women, were inspired by European cinéma d’auteur, in which the same person is both author and scriptwriter, and by the concept of the ‘Third Cinema.’16 They used documentary, semifictional, and experimental films to counter traditional and commercial cinema with a reflection of real conditions. Despite this political impulse, fed mostly by disillusionment after the Arab defeat in the Six Day War, they wanted their ‘Alternative Cinema’17 to satisfy artistic and aesthetic demands. Female filmmakers went yet a step further: for the first time they showed in their films that emancipation can also be an end in itself. Many films by their male colleagues presented women’s emancipation only as serving the cause of national independence. In these films women would fight side by side with men, but after their common goal was achieved they had to return to their traditional place in the home and family. What was usually praised on the screen as a lucky situation was in real life often a decision made out of necessity. In this regard, the female Arab activists were in the same situation as the guerilleras (female guerilla fighters) of Latin America. In 1971 Egyptian documentary filmmaker Ateyyat El Abnoudy had already created her own style, which she called poetic realism. With great attention to aesthetics and atmosphere, she depicted social reality. Having herself grown up in the working class, El Abnoudy documented the faces, stories, and fates of peasants, day laborers, and the Sa‘idis from the more impoverished southern region of the country (Upper Egypt). She was admired as ‘the poor people’s filmmaker.’ Her 1983 film Permissible Dreams was a refreshing, humorous portrait of Umm Said (mother of Said), a peasant woman who can neither read nor write but still makes all the important decisions for the family, including the bookkeeping. “Do you dream?” the director asked Umm Said at the end of the film. Her response, “Yes, but only as far as my arms can reach.”



Ateyyat El Abnoudy was one of the first women in film to build up her own production base. Her example set the accepted standard. As Viola Shafik, film scholar and filmmaker, wrote, “For all its artistic qualities and its refusal of mere industrial forms of production, the so-called New Arab Cinema is not at all independent.”18 An alternative source of film subsidies, as in Germany for example, does not exist in Arab countries; coproductions with television companies are only just beginning. With their own production companies, women have better chances of finding funding and coproducers for their films in Europe.

Stylistic Games—The 1980s


“The project of digging into ‘her stories’ involves a search for new cinematic and narrative forms that challenge both canonical documentaries and mainstream fiction films, subverting a particular notion of ‘narrative pleasure’ based on the ‘male gaze,’” writes scholar Ella Shohat.19 The first feature films directed by Arab women in the 1980s share something with Assia Djebar’s film experiments. They tend to be artistically subversive and show stylistic originality.20 These filmmakers freed themselves from the requirements of a linear dramatic narrative according to classical western standards. Arab societies “have been too lacerated and fractured by colonial powers to fit into those neat scenarios,” announced Heiny Srour.21 The women filmmakers instead put together the individual strands of their film story like a mosaic, reminiscent of the oriental oral-history narrative tradition, and they were daring in their choice of subject matter as well. Among the results are some of the most interesting feature films in the New Arab Cinema. Among the rare coproductions with an Arab state television company are the two semifictional film experiments by Assia Djebar. While Ateyyat El Abnoudy portrayed the present around her, the Algerian writerfilmmaker looked at the past with a critical eye. In her films as in her novels, she intertwined the colonial period of North Africa with her own story and those of other Arab women, showing that even famous female figures from the history of Islam are, at most, mentioned peripherally in the official historiography. Every day, women in modern Arab societies are marginalized in much the same way. Assia Djebar concluded that


“the main problem facing Arab women is the right to space.” She became aware of this problem while researching her second film The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua (1982) and dealt with the issue in her film. The young architect Leila returns to her native village with her husband, who is confined to a wheelchair, and her daughter. Leila is the only woman permitted to move around freely outside of the home. Her husband in the wheelchair has no alternative but to watch her leave the house and wait for her to return. The traditional spheres of woman and man—passive/ active, inside/outside—are reversed. In Leila’s conversations with the old peasant women in the village about their experiences in the Algerian war of independence, it quickly becomes clear that the women were fighting on two fronts: against French colonial rule and against oppression through their husbands. The 1984 film Leila and the Wolves explores this subject. Directed by Jewish Lebanese filmmaker Heiny Srour, the film is a mixture of history, legend, and folklore, staged scenes, and archival newsreel footage. Because Srour could not get sufficient funding for the production, her mother sold her dowry jewelry. Due to the Lebanese civil war, many scenes were shot in Syria, mostly with amateur actors who had to play multiple roles. Leila, a young Lebanese woman living in London, visits a photography exhibition about Palestine. It strikes her as odd that there are no women in the photos. Leila sets out to trace the role of women in the modern history of Palestine and Lebanon. Traveling in time, Leila starts her journey in the 1920s during the British Protectorate and ends in 1982 with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. She encounters women both as militant warriors and cunning helpers behind the scenes. These figures are contrasted not only with the ‘male-bonded’ war propaganda that threatens to exploit the women, but also with misogynist patriarchal traditions. One night Leila is standing outside a window on a Beirut street. She overhears scraps of a conversation that drift outside. Two men discuss a friend’s suicidal drive to go to war since he was tormented by having murdered his own daughter in an ‘honor killing.’ The Trace (1982–88) by the Tunisian director Néija Ben Mabrouk deals with the issue of liberation on a personal level. The film shows how young Sabra breaks away from her parents in a village in southern Tunisia—



also the director’s home village—and tries to get by in the city and at university, and with men. The director succeeds in conveying a feeling of claustrophobia, Sabra’s feeling of being caged in. This is symbolized by a stone Sabra’s mother has locked up in a little box as a guarantee of her daughter’s virginity. After this ritual is shown in an initial dream sequence, the film unfolds, switching constantly between past and present. In the end Sabra—like the director—decides to emigrate. At the premiere in 1988 at the International Film Festival in Carthage, the film caused quite a stir among the audience. Many women felt betrayed by the filmmaker for showing such a ritual from the world of women largely hidden from the eyes of men. It had taken Néija Ben Mabrouk many years to find producers for the film, including the German television network ZDF, but she never found a distributor for the film in Tunisia. Today The Trace has become a classic of Arab emancipatory cinéma d’auteur.

Diverse Forms of Expression—the 1990s to the Present 18

Since these first excursions into feature films, about twenty Arab women directors have made a name for themselves in full-length features. Most women in directing continue, however, to work in the documentary film sphere, in video, or in the new electronic media in which the costs of raw materials and production are significantly lower. Sometimes producers hold to stubborn prejudices that keep them from giving a woman money to direct a feature-length film project, thinking for instance that a woman cannot manage a relatively large budget. Due to growing economic constraints, little has remained of the innovative thrust of the early 1980s. Most film projects fail due to the high level of prerequisites: audience figures, box office receipts, television compatibility, and viewing figures. Through concessions made to western audiences, films have greater prospects of success abroad, but the box office success in their own country diminishes as a result. The continued trend toward coproductions with countries abroad increases the chances for an established director to make her own film, but this tends to further reinforce western dominance, both financial and ideological. Viola Shafik writes, “Today, it is primarily the Western audience, curators, and producers who are in a position to


evaluate and define the international status of Arab films.”22 In non-Arab countries, the coproduced films have long since been perceived as the representatives of ‘Arab cinema.’ Only a few female directors—almost exclusively the commercially oriented ones—have succeeded in making more than one film for movie theaters. In Egypt, Inas El Degheidi and Nadia Hamza have been making films almost assembly-line-style for mainstream audiences for years. Box office tills continue to ring. Beggars and Nobles (1991), the more sophisticated feature film debut by Asma El Bakry, did not draw audiences for long. Safaa Fathy has so far been able to show her film portrait of two Egyptian belly dancers—Ghazeia, Dancers of Egypt (1993)—in her home country only in film clubs. Arab film critics nevertheless still see light on the horizon. They have discovered talented young filmmakers, above all in Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon, who have made promising short films or experimental videos— and recently some feature-length films. Women in Cairo came together in 1990 to form the Egyptian Women in Film Association to represent their interests as filmmakers. The association offers workshops, mentoring, and coaching for young women who make films. A similar project by Algerian women in film could not yet be implemented. Most women who complete studies at Arab film schools work either in advertising or television, due to a lack of other work opportunities in film. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Arab women filmmakers cannot be generalized into a lowest common denominator. Their styles, subjects, and genres are far too varied. Against the background of the unresolved Middle-East conflict, Palestinian and Lebanese directors still tend to include decidedly political themes in their films, such as the Lebanese civil war and post-civil-war eras, resistance, deportation, escape, and exile. By linking major eras in world history with personal stories and destinies, they assign a human face to political events. A recurrent motif in dealing with the conflict with one’s own roots is the role that women played and continue to play in the history of their people and countries. In Tunisian filmmaker Moufida Tlatli’s feature film debut The Silences of the Palace (1994), she clearly distinguishes between national independence and women’s liberation. She shows that the former did not necessarily lead to the latter. Egyptian director Viola Shafik put



it succinctly in reference to Moufida Tlatli’s film, “Sexual exploitation functions no longer as a metaphor for class inequality or colonial domination but stands for itself as a mere sign of gender inequality stretching from colonial to post-colonial society.”23 Moufida Tlatli also refers to the role that women themselves play in perpetuating women’s oppression. Shafik also illustrated this in her documentary The Planting of Girls (1999), using the horrendous custom of genital mutilation. In the documentary film The Veiled Hope (1994) by Palestinian Norma Marcos, a woman has an abortion because her unborn child is female.



Sexuality, the female body, and the right of self-determination over one’s own body are key issues in many films of Arab women directors. Sexuality serves not only as a means in its own right, but as a vehicle and symbol for women liberating themselves from the tight constraints of tradition. By criticizing society, the women directors hold up a mirror to Arab audiences, one that many don’t want to see. Religious fundamentalists are especially angered by these self-assured women and their films. Jocelyne Saab’s new film almost foundered on this. Even before the shooting of Dunia (2005), which touches on the subject of female circumcision, the film was denounced by the Islamic press in Cairo on the grounds that it was anti-Islamic and pornographic. Only after petitions by numerous artists from all over the world and an audience with President Hosni Mubarak was she allowed to start shooting. The directors do not shy away from breaking taboos. Norma Marcos openly denounces both the sexual harrassment that Palestinian women are threatened with in Israeli prisons and the misogynistic reaction of Palestinian society to that harrassment. The fact of having been in prison was enough for a girl or woman to be stigmatized because people thought she might have been sexually assaulted. “The Israelis knew this and used it to their own advantage. When you come from a strict society and you know that you might be abused sexually in prison, it makes you think twice before becoming politically active.”24 Norma Marcos knows from her own experience how important the support of the family—especially the father’s support—is for a woman and filmmaker in the Middle East. She herself was lucky. Her father sent her to France to study. He did not have


enough money to support her financially, but he trusted that his daughter could manage on her own. He also never treated his daughters differently from his son, nor did he force them to get married. Norma Marcos says, “In these strict patriarchal societies a liberal father means a proper life insurance for a girl or a woman.” Norma Marcos was eleven when she witnessed a so-called honor killing. A woman who had left her husband for another man was murdered by her own brother. For her new film project Marcos has therefore adapted the book L’Impasse de Baba Essaha by Palestinian writer, Sahar Khalifeh, which explores this subject. When Nozha is accused of being a prostitute, leading Palestinian fighters are asked by her brother to kill his sister. When the head of the group is wounded during a shoot-out, he hides out in Nozha’s house. A discussion takes place between the two of them in which Nozha emerges as the moral victor. Norma Marcos deliberately leaves open whether or not the young woman really is a prostitute. A similar ambiguity also informs the young Tunisian director Raja Amari’s feature debut Red Satin (2002). Lilia, a widowed mother of about forty, stumbles upon a nightclub one evening and comes under its spell. From this time on, she performs there—secretly—as a dancer. She even starts an affair with one of the musicians. When she discovers that he is her daughter’s boyfriend, she still consents to their marriage. The director does not resolve whether or not Lilia will continue the love-triangle after the marriage. European audiences were enthusiastic, Tunisians shocked. “They would have liked to see me punish Lilia for her immoral conduct,” laughs the director.25 “In their eyes I had disgraced the idealized image of the mother. But I wanted to show another type of mother—instead of sacrificing herself for her daughter, Lilia asserts the right to a life of her own, and even has fun with it!” In Bedwin Hacker Amari’s fellow countrywoman Nadia El Fani introduces her audience to a bisexual female computer hacker. The Tunisian director, herself a declared lesbian, knows that homosexuality is still taboo in Arab countries. “You can do and live whatever you want, but one thing you should not do is talk about it or show it openly.”26 Her message to both Tunisian and European audience is, “There are also free spirits in Arab countries.”





The specter of fundamentalism had been lying dormant since the 1970s, leading in the late 1980s to a massive threat to women’s rights and artistic freedom. Islamist terror in the 1990s in Algeria not only led to an intensification of censorship, but for many filmmakers it was even lifethreatening. People in Europe and the United States were made suddenly aware of the extent of this threat with the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Algerian filmmaker and journalist Hafsa Zinai-Koudil fled in 1994 to Tunisia, the ‘Switzerland of North Africa.’ Her move became necessary because of her film Woman as the Devil (1992). The story is based on true events: Latifa, a teacher, is tortured by Islamist fanatics for six hours at the request of her husband, who had commissioned the torturers to exorcise the devil from her. While the strictly conventional style of the film would not have attracted much attention, the subject matter was so explosive that Zinai-Koudil had already started receiving death threats during the film’s shooting. She spent months sleeping in a different place every night. When strangers in a blacked-out delivery truck were discovered waiting for her at her doorstep, Zinai-Koudil left immediately and fled to Tunis. The situation in Algeria was so tense that for years, shooting a film outdoors was tantamount to taking one’s life into one’s hands. “Where the state is surrendering its authority to the fundamentalists everyone has the right to ask his neighbor why his daughter is not wearing a veil,” said Algerian filmmaker and journalist Florida Sadki, describing the conditions at that time.27 In September 1994, Cheb Hosni, the twenty-six-year-old pop singer and so-called Prince of Rai, was murdered by fundamentalists. In June 1998 Kabyle singer Matoub Lounes was murdered. Filmmaker Assia Djebar took the death threats—which she received even while living in Paris—so seriously that she accepted a teaching position in the United States. In 1991, Lebanese filmmaker Randa Chahal-Sabbag was attacked by film critics when she presented her feature film Sand Screens at the Venice Film Festival. French critics also found reason to criticize some aspects of her film, such as mannerism in the dialogue; French actress Maria Schneider in the role of the wealthy Sarah, who was rejected by her husband, was generally considered unconvincing. But the bone of contention from the Arab side was the director’s candid criticism expressed throughout the film.


As she herself has said, she did not want to attack Islam, “but denounce the civilization of petrodollars, princes, and mullahs, their decadence and their obscurantism.”28 The film was banned in many Arab countries. Similar controversies were ignited by the film A Door to the Sky by Moroccan director Farida Benlyazid. This time, however, it was the Western audiences that were irritated. The film tells the story of a young woman called Nadia who returns to Morocco from Paris because her father is dying. There she finds a new direction in life through traditional Islamic customs and mystical rites that are still very much alive. She remains in Morocco, starts wearing a veil and founds a zawiya, a traditional sanctuary for women. Against the background of Islamist tendencies that were in the air when the film was produced, the film was viewed by many as a provocation. The director described the film as the result of a personal inspiration. She dedicated the film to Fatima Al Fihriya, founder in the tenth century of the oldest university in Morocco. With this dedication, she reminded her compatriots of the outstanding roles that women played in the early period of Islam. She showed western feminists that facilities such as shelters for battered women have a long tradition in Islamic culture. The situation in Algeria has since normalized to the extent that Yamina Bachir-Chouikh was able to complete her feature film debut Rachida in 2002, which dealt with the terror of the previous years. The film tackled the subject of rape committed by Islamic terrorists as well as the honor killings of daughters and sisters that fathers and brothers in Arab societies commit because the women supposedly ‘defiled’ the family honor with their ‘immoral conduct.’ Rachida’s mother shouts, “What is this religion that gives people permission to kill like this?” The director believes that people are no longer allowing themselves to be deceived by arguments claiming to have a religious foundation. And she criticizes Algerian society for conveying so little to the youth by way of human values and prospects for the future that they can be led to such barbarism.29 Lebanese director Jocelyne Saab complains that Arab intellectuals and artists today censor themselves out of fear of Islamic fundamentalists. She herself has fought against all odds in shooting her new film Dunia because she considers it time for artists and intellectuals “to speak out and not continue to hide the problems like family secrets you shouldn’t talk



about.”30 Also her Tunisian colleague Nadia El Fani is convinced that as an artist she has to take a stand against intolerance and growing religious fundamentalism. El Fani therefore openly admits that although Muslim by birth, she does not believe in God.

Future Outlook


Until the late 1990s, Arab films could be seen on European movie screens only at film festivals; they almost never appeared anywhere else, not even in art houses. Only the former colonial power, France—with her large resident Arab population—instead has Cinéma Beur31 (films by North African immigrants), which has become established as a film genre in its own right. Although this situation has gradually been changing, stubborn prejudices and clichés stick not only with the audiences. According to the experiences of Arab women directors, the media and producers are also biased. Palestinian director Norma Marcos has received the best-known prize in France for the screenplay of her film project Nozha. Nevertheless she has—it’s the same old story—not yet found a producer. Norma Marcos thus has the feeling that “We filmmakers of the Arab world always have to show the negative sides, the oppression, so that the West can pity us. If you show people who are ambitious and beautiful, who represent a different image of the Arab world, the projects are rejected.”32 Norma Marcos already had a similar experience about ten years ago with her documentary, The Veiled Hope. Based on the stories of five educated working women, the film casts a critical eye on the situation of women in Palestinian society. Among the women portrayed are politician Hanan Ashrawi, Yusra Barbari, president of the Women’s Union, from Gaza, as well as a musician, and a pediatrician, and a physiotherapist. When Norma Marcos showed her film in Gaza, the audience applauded. The media in France did the opposite. Marcos recalls, “Even the newspaper Le Monde asked why I did not interview poor women. Why did I only interview bourgeois women? But these women are not bourgeois. They are simply educated and well-dressed.”33 Her colleague Danielle Arbid also has the impression that Arab women are still perceived foremost as victims. And it is assumed that the filmmakers have major problems as women shooting films. “On the contrary,” says the


director, “everywhere in Europe people are interested in what we have to say.” Even Jocelyne Saab, at the start of her career thirty years ago, perceived the fact of her being a woman as a great asset. At that time the woman filmmaker was still an exception to the rule. Even prominent male figures agreed to have an interview with her—out of curiosity. Pioneers such as Jocelyne Saab have paved the way for their younger colleagues. Before Danielle Arbid was invited to Cannes with her feature debut In the Battlefields last year, only four films directed by Arab women had made it to the Croisette, the famous boulevard at Cannes. The first one was The Hour of Liberation by Lebanese director Heiny Srour, about the war for liberation in Oman. In 1974 the documentary was not only the first film shown at Cannes to be directed by a Middle Eastern woman, but the first film shown at Cannes to be directed by any woman at all. Another twenty years passed before the Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli was awarded the Golden Camera for her directorial debut, The Silences of the Palace. The film recalls the sexual enslavement of female servants in the palaces of the beys before national independence. In the year 2000 Moufida Tlatli’s second film The Season of Men also made it to Cannes, as did Yamina Bachir-Chouikh’s directing debut Rachida, only two years later. Raja Amari’s Red Satin succeeded in becoming the audience favorite in the same year at the Berlin Film Festival. Today, films directed by Arab women are represented in almost every international film festival. In Germany—where until a few years ago you could hardly see any films by Arab women in art house cinemas— the French-German television channel ARTE now broadcasts their films. There have also been special programs dedicated to Arab women filmmakers. The trend was started in 1994 by the Feminale, the Cologne women’s film festival, which had a special focus on films from the Maghreb. This was followed in 1995 by Frauen(t)räume (Women’s Spaces, Women’s Dreams), a film series running over several weeks in Berlin. The 3Sat television station ran a small program series devoted to these films in spring 1997. A film week called Unsterbliche Scheherezade (Immortal Scheherazade) took place in 1999 in Vienna, where in 2003 another film week was held: Frauenblicke—Filmkunst Arabischer Frauen (Through Women’s Eyes—Film Art of Arab Women).




Raja Amari considers avoiding being categorized or reduced to a stereotype to be the biggest challenge for young filmmakers today. “Both my films and myself are often defined by audiences as ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim,’ but I do not define myself in these terms,” stresses Amari.34 “Neither do I represent Arab society, nor does Arab society represent me.” Her new documentary Traces of the Forgotten is a portrait of Isabelle Eberhardt, a woman who was beyond any categorization: Swiss-born and of Russian descent, the young woman traveled through the Sahara one hundred years ago, dressed in men’s clothing. Danielle Arbid is above all concerned that the space for artistic Arab filmmaking is gradually diminishing. Television provided such a space, but nowadays TV is becoming more and more trivial. Furthermore, a new policy in France tends to support films shot in French. Together with colleagues, Danielle Arbid has therefore founded a film festival in Beirut that screens Arab cinema films as well as experimental videos and film essays. At present she is making a ‘sound film’ for France Culture, the renowned French cultural broadcasting station. In it, young women and men in Beirut talk about their sexual experiences. Listeners who expect an oriental kama sutra will be disappointed, believes Arbid: “[The] media always wants to make something special out of us Arabs. Some indeed have sex in an airplane. But otherwise everything is very normal. This is my conclusion. If you hear it, you will say, ‘Oh, I do the same.’”



Pioneers of Arab Silent Film “Artists who burn for their audience illuminate the people like candlelight.” That was a popular saying in Arab artistic circles in the 1920s and 1930s. A broader audience, however, did not offer very fertile ground for such heroic idealism. Dancers, singers, and actors were not respected, and were sometimes even shunned. Numerous artists saw the invention of film as their chance to acquire the respect they craved, and many of them soon began experimenting with the new medium.

Chance of the New Age The pioneers of Arab cinema were all autodidacts. They began making the first silent films shortly after Egypt’s official declaration of independence in 1922. They were simultaneously producers and actors, and they also wrote the scripts and directed the films. Among these early pioneers were a handful of women. The founding of Misr Studios in 1935 marked a turning point, however, from experimentation in a new artistic medium to the development of an achievement-oriented professional film industry geared to export. With that, the women disappeared.


There is still disagreement today as to which pioneering women in silent film actually directed their films independently. “There are very few films from this time in which it is certain that they were made by a woman. The credits were not reliable,” summarized Egyptian film critic Samir Farid.35 Often the final credits merely stated, “presented by,” or “artistic direction.” On the other hand, information about the film producers is more credible. “In the late 1920s and early 1930s [Egyptian cinema] was not yet a real industry. . . . It was a very kind industry. It was open to anyone, Jewish, female, black, white, Lebanese,” Farid continued. The first actresses were either Christian women from Lebanon and Syria or Jews from Egypt. Then in 1915 came the first Muslim Egyptian actress, Munira Al-Madiya. At that time it had not yet become commonplace to make formal distinctions between direction, scriptwriting, and cinematography. Most filmmakers did everything simultaneously: They wrote the script, directed the film, and even played the lead. A group of cineast friends often worked together on a film, so it is difficult to say who was responsible for what category. Farid is therefore convinced that the women who pioneered in Egyptian films were at most co-directors. Egyptian film critic Magda Maurice disagrees. “The men back then simply jumped on the bandwagon. They collaborated with the women, assisted in the shooting, and if things went well, they claimed the success for themselves. They asserted that the women were the stars, good actresses, but that they could never make a very good film themselves.”36

Aziza Amir (1901–52) Aziza Amir was originally an actress for the stage. Her 1927 film Laila, in which she also starred, is still considered the first fulllength feature film in Egyptian cinema.37 The country’s artistic and social elite gathered at its world premiere in Cairo. According to a newspaper article, the banker Talat Harb Amir congratulated Aziza Amir after the screening with the words, “You have accomplished what no man has accomplished.”


It cannot be confirmed whether or not Aziza Amir was really the director of the film. Some sources attribute the direction to the Turkish director Wedad Orfi, crediting Aziza Amir only as producer. Opinions also diverge regarding the second film that Amir is said to have directed—Kaffari ‘an khati’atik (Pay for your Misdemeanor) in 1933. It is certain, however, that she produced the film Laila bint al-Nil (Laila, Girl of the Nile) in 1929. Aziza Amir has become a true legend in Egypt. Shortly after the revolution in 1919,38 strong national sentiment and a sense of an ‘Egyptian soul,’ prevailed throughout the country. Even Lebanese and Syrians whose families had been living in Egypt for centuries were regarded as foreigners. Aziza Amir was therefore celebrated as a ‘genuine’ Egyptian, in contrast to Assia Dagher and Mary Queeny, whose names alone betrayed their nonEgyptian background. With the 1948 film Bint min Filastin (A Girl from Palestine) she ventured to produce the first Arab film about the so-called Palestinian problem. 29

Bahiga Hafiz (1908–83) Bahiga Hafiz was, according to Samir Farid, the only ‘true’ intellectual among the pioneering women in film, and she came from the upper class.39 Born in Alexandria, Hafiz attended the conservatory in Paris, played piano, and wrote music. She later composed all the music for her films and even accompanied some showings on piano. In Cairo she hosted a literary salon in the French style that was frequented by wellknown artists and writers. Hafiz made very few films. In 1932 she co-directed the film al-Dahaya (The Victims), which she produced with her company, Fanar Film. She also acted in it. Three years later she remade the film with sound. The silent original was lost until 1995, when it was finally rediscovered and shown that year at the National Film Festival in Cairo.


Bahiga Hafiz’s second film Laila bint al-sahara’ (Laila, Desert Girl) dealt with a historical conflict: the disputes between Persians and Arabs that preceded the wedding between the Shah of Persia and Princess Fawzia, a sister of the Egyptian King Farouk. The film premiered in 1936 at the Venice Film Festival before it opened in Egypt the following year—at the same time as the royal wedding. Due to its critical stance, the film was banned—a shock to Bahiga Hafiz who had put all her money into producing the film. In the 1940s the film returned to movie theaters as Laila, bint albadawiya (Laila, Bedouin Girl). Because she had no surviving relatives, Hafiz’s entire estate—including photographs, library, and piano—was thoughtlessly sold off.

Amina Mohamed (1908–85)


Amina Mohamed was originally a dancer and actress. She is considered the director of the 1937 film Tita Wong. In fact, however, the film was the product of a collective effort. Amina Mohamed shot the film together with a group of intellectuals in her circle of friends, including the famous director Salah Abou Seif and painters Salah Taher and Abdel Salam Al Sherif. Amina Mohamed had no difficulties asserting herself as the only woman in the group. She was thought to have a strong personality because she carried herself in a self-assured and natural manner. She wasn’t ashamed of her body or her behavior, so she was considered a ‘real man.’

Fatima Rushdi (1908–96) Fatima Rushdi was born in Alexandria. When she was fourteen, she moved to Cairo to become an actress, and later also a producer. In 1933 she shot the film al-Zawag (The Wedding). Her memoirs were published in 1970, in which she claimed to have burned the completed film. If this is true then there is no hope that the film will ever be found. Fatima Rushdi performed in small-time shows with a theater group traveling through North Africa that made it all the way to Paris. At a theater performance in Cairo the well-known theater director


Aziz Aid fell in love with the young actress. He made it possible for Fatima Rushdi, who had been illiterate, to learn to read and write. The Wedding premiered in Paris, where the director made a guest appearance during a tour and where she had had the film developed. In the 1960s, Fatma Rushdi hosted a salon for filmmakers and students of Cairo’s Higher Film Institute. In addition to these director-produceractresses, two other women, Assia Dagher and Mary Queeny, also played a major role as pioneers in film production. They have often been erroneously credited with having directed their films.

Assia Dagher (1904–86) Assia Dagher was, according to Samir Ferid, the most significant figure of the time. The Lebanese-born daughter of a pasha began her film career in Egypt in the 1920s as an actress and producer. In 1927 she debuted as an extra in the film Laila by Aziza Amir. Assia Dagher produced a total of more than 100 films and she played the leading role in twenty of them. Her films were shown in both Cairo and Beirut. With her production company, Lotus Film, Dagher produced al-Nasir Salah al-Din (Saladin, 1963; director: Youssef Chahine), the first film to receive a subsidy from the government film fund that was founded in 1952 after the revolution. The budget of this monumental film amounted to 120,000 Egyptian pounds at a time when film budgets rarely exceeded 20,000 Egyptian pounds. Today the film is regarded as one of the classics of Arab cinema. Assia Dagher is said to have also produced Ruda qalbi (Return My Heart, 1957), the first Egyptian film in color and CinemaScope. She worked with a high level of professionalism and enjoyed a long career. Assia Dagher was also the aunt of another famous film pioneer—Mary Queeny.



Mary Queeny (1916–2003)


Mary Queeny was born in Lebanon as Mary Younis. Like her aunt Assia Dagher, she was both an actress and producer. At the age of twelve little Mary became ‘Mary Queeny.’ In 1929 she played in the film Ghadat al-sahara’ (The Desert Beauty) alongside Assia Dagher, who also produced the film. From then on, Mary Queeny played the lead in all of her aunt’s films. In 1944 Mary Queeny and her husband Ahmed Galal founded their own film production company. Together they built up Studio Galal, one of the five largest film studios during the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema. After the death of her husband in 1947, Mary Queeny continued to run the film studio on her own. She even founded a second production company, Mary Queeny Films, that produced, among others, several films directed by Youssef Chahine. Finally, Galal Studio was nationalized in the aftermath of the July 1952 revolution. Mary Queeny became the executive producer for most of the movies produced by the state cinema sector until 1971. Her leanings toward private production emerged once again when she realized that her son, Nader Galal, had a talent for film directing. She produced almost all the movies he directed until her retirement in 1982.



Women Filmmakers of the New Arab Cinema Particularly in French publications, people no longer refer to an ‘Arab cinema.’ Using the plural, Les cinémas arabes has instead gained currency, a term coined by film critics Claude Michel Cluny and Guy Hennebelle, among others. The plural was intended to do justice to the diversity of currents and national characters that have developed in different Arab countries. Film scholar Pierre Haffner, on the other hand, regards the singular form as definitely justified in view of the developments that Arab cinema has gone through. “As a rough summary: from films strongly influenced by the anti-colonial struggle, to productions that supported the national projects of the young Arab countries, to films that assume an individualistic position, more and more filmmakers have been dealing in recent years with the problems, wishes, and hopes of individuals; with social and national minorities; and with the feelings of youth and women toward life. Despite all the cultural, economic, and political differences between countries and regions, this shared development explains why one can venture to speak of ‘a new Arab cinema.’”40



Introduction Hollywood on the Nile—that is what Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is often called. Egypt is Africa’s film giant, with the oldest and largest film industry in the Arab world. To date, more than 2800 feature films have been produced in the country. The types of films made and the production structures have led to comparisons with Hollywood— commercial production for the masses and interchangeable film styles with recurrent motifs coupled with a star cult. Cairo has created a true imperium, exporting films to all Arab countries and Arab centers in Europe. This has brought fame not only to film stars and starlets, but also to the dialect spoken in Cairo. Egyptians can be understood throughout the Arab world. Egypt is the only Arab country that was able to establish a local film industry even before national independence. The foundations were laid in 1935 by Talat Harb, who was the director of the Misr Bank when


Studio Misr was established. The studio was a well-calculated economic enterprise based on the emerging talkie and equipped with modern technology. Many experts from Europe were hired, including the German director Fritz Kramp and set designer Robert Scharfenberg. At the same time, young Egyptians were sent to Europe on scholarships; for example, future director Mohamed Karim studied cinematography under German director Fritz Lang. Taking advantage of the popularity of Egyptian singers, the studio created a very successful song and dance film genre. As film critic Werner Kobe remarked, “for a western audience, this was an almost intolerable mixture of musical, comedy, and melodrama”;41 but today it is still the epitome of the successful, popular Egyptian film. The economic upswing that began in Egypt after the Second World War, due to the destruction in Europe, brought about a boom in the film industry with the number of production companies growing to more than a hundred. During the war these companies made use of the black market to get hold of film stock, whose importation had dwindled as a result of the war. The number of films produced also rose, leaping from twelve films in 1940 to fifty-five in 1947. Filmmaking blossomed into an investment field, since exports could bring in high profits. In the first few years after the war, until Gamal Abd al-Nasser took power in 1954, almost four hundred films were produced and marketed in Egypt. A movie-house attendance of nearly 100 million in 1952 alone attests to the popularity of the cinema.42 The number of movie theaters had reached 244. The entertainment model of commercial Egyptian films became the standard in almost all Arab countries. After these countries achieved national independence, private entrepreneurs tried to emulate the Egyptians, often making use of Egyptian know-how and experience.43 But all eyes were on Egypt not only because of the films produced there. The country was also the cradle of the Arab women’s movement. The name Hoda Shaarawi became a legend throughout all of Asia Minor. Algerian writer and filmmaker Assia Djebar called her “the first feminist of the Arab world; a greater role model for Egyptian women than Simone de Beauvoir later was for French women.”44 Hoda Shaarawi was born into an upper class family and spent her childhood living in a harem, but she and her younger brother received


an excellent education. In addition to Arabic, she learned Turkish, her mother’s native tongue, and French. She also played the piano. In order to keep her considerable inheritance within the family, she was married off at thirteen to a much older first cousin, but left him ten months later. In 1922—she had already publicly renounced wearing the veil—she founded the first women’s union in Egypt and the first women’s journal. Until her death in 1947 Shaarawi rallied the women’s movement at political and cultural demonstrations. “At that time in the Maghreb,” continues Djebar “my mother and her friends dreamed of this awakening of the women of Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.” Under the rule of Gamal Abd al-Nasser (1954–70), the state strictly monitored all political activism and banned autonomous organizations; feminist activism receded as a result. The state monopolized women’s issues and reformulated them as social policy issues. The 1956 constitution declared all Egyptians equal and guaranteed public sector jobs for all high school and college graduates, regardless of gender. The state also granted women the right to vote. As a result of the Infitah, the ‘opendoor’ policy of President Anwar Sadat (1970–81), unemployment rose, triggering men’s labor migration to the Gulf states. Coinciding with the economic pressures, more conservative discourses emerged, which promoted women’s return to domesticity. Under the influence of the president’s wife, Jehan Sadat, women-friendly reforms were proposed to the Personal Status Law. By thus nurturing a secular coalition of men and women, Anwar Sadat hoped to undermine the influence and legitimacy of Islamists, and spur the support of his new allies, particularly the United States. In 1985, under Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, the family law was amended due to strong opposition from the Islamists, who claimed it to be anti-Islamic. The revised law abandoned many of the rights that women had attained.45 An initial turning point in Egyptian film started after the coup staged by the Free Officers in 1952. The new decision makers, men who dreamt of rebuilding society, were at first completely unconcerned with the importance of art and cinema and the role they could play in the process of change.46 Gradually, as a result of Nasser’s socialist and pan-Arab policies, social realism found its way into cinema. Here too, Egypt was a hair’s




breadth ahead of the other Arab countries. Nasser forced the end of the monarchy and the final withdrawal of the occupying forces. This expression of a stronger national consciousness also left its mark on filmmakers. “The patriotic film became a must, and all renowned film directors gave the new genre a try, yet only few succeeded in an analysis or at least an accurate description of the fight for independence, the revolution or the Suez conflict,” wrote journalist Kristina Bergmann.47 Land reform and the status of the Egyptian fellahin, or peasants, was enhanced. The concerns of the peasants, low-level employees and laborers moved to the foreground of film plots. Up to that time, this had been prohibited by a strict law of censorship, the so-called Farouk code of 1949,48 whose bans included, “images of obviously dirty streets, hand and donkey carts, poor farmhouses, and veiled women.” In many films of this time, “the contempt for the native culture of the underprivileged classes . . . was accompanied . . . by a relatively positive representation of Western lifestyle.”49 Fathi Radwan, head of the Ministry of National Guidance (now the Ministry of Information), replaced the old law with a new one that remains in force to this day; minor amendments were added in 1992. Soon the state took over the patronage of the film industry. In 1957, the Arab world’s first public film organization, the Foundation for the Funding of Cinema (later renamed the Public National Film Organization) was established. The Higher Film Institute at the Academy of Arts in Cairo opened its doors two years later. In 1962 the film industry was nationalized, including Studio Misr, and the Egyptian Film Center was founded. The film institute developed into an academic Mecca for cineasts from throughout the Arab world and today remains the only educational institution of its kind in the region. Many renowned Egyptian directors have taught at the institute, including Youssef Chahine, Salah Abu Seif, Tawfik Saleh, and Shadi Abdel Salam. Lebanese filmmaker Nabeeha Lotfy was in the institute’s first graduating class. Its departments for directing, production, editing, and scriptwriting have never had a shortage of female applicants. The institute at that time even had two women studying cinematography: Palestinian Sulafa Jadallah and Egyptian Abbeya Farid. After completing her studies in 1973 Farid worked together with her husband, cinematographer Said Al Shimi.


In 1967 the Arab world was terribly shaken by its defeat in the Six Day War against Israel. The debacle forced filmmakers to reflect on what had happened, abandon their euphoria regarding Nasser’s policies, and reorient themselves thematically. Some went on to found the New Cinema Association (Jama‘at al-sinima al-jadida). They coined the term Alternative Cinema (al-Sinima al-badila) out of their dissatisfaction with conventional film. Similar to the authors of the Oberhausen Manifesto, which marked the beginning of the New German Cinema, these filmmakers wanted to break with mainstream conventions and create alternative, political and socially engaging films that satisfied high artistic standards. Their demands triggered a debate that was echoed in the Maghreb countries. Nasser died in 1970. His successor, Anwar Sadat, re-privatized the Egyptian film industry, which subsequently returned to its previous commercialization. Studios, printing laboratories, and countless movie theaters remained under state control, but production dropped drastically. Sadat’s security and economic policies turned increasingly toward the United States. After Egypt’s military success in the October War of 1973, Sadat liberalized the economy and initially allowed greater diversity in the press and political parties. His capitalist course helped to widen the gap between the classes. A swelling chorus of protests set in against the steady decline in quality of life. After the bread riots of January 1977, the largest demonstrations witnessed by Egypt in the latter half of the twentieth century, Sadat turned to asserting his power by force. In 1979 he signed a peace treaty with Israel, and Egyptian dissidents were jailed. The Infitah (‘open door’) policies toward the West also led to a lively cultural exchange; this profited the younger generation of filmmakers especially. The first films of these ‘New Realists’ appeared in Egyptian theaters in the early 1980s, after Sadat was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists. The camera came out into the streets, since preferred shooting sites tended to be in the neighborhoods of the urban lower middle class. This differed both from the mainstream and from the realism of the Nasser period. At that time, the ‘bad guys’ were generally old-moneyed landowners, and the films emphasized the evils of poverty. The change brought by New Realism was mainly its use of the action and police genre and the identification of new enemies: unscrupulous




businessmen, the corrupt nouveaux riches, and unbridled materialism.50 Since it is impossible for a film to be successful in Egypt without any big name actors, directors continued to work with stars. Despite all their declared ‘higher’ goals, their films were intended as entertainment. “The New Realism thus clearly continued within the base of national cinematic traditions,” wrote Viola Shafik, “but their choice of current and just as explosive sociopolitical issues showed incredible courage.”51 This was also the time when the first feature-length films directed by women were made in Egypt. Inas El Degheidi and Nadia Hamza have remained two of the most successful women filmmakers in the country. Though not especially sophisticated artistically, their films nevertheless draw mass audiences into the movie houses, a success the New Realists never achieved, most of them ultimately bowing to the pressures of the market. The result was entertainment cinema marked by films with weak themes and a sketchy artistic rendering. Only Youssef Chahine managed to avoid the straitjacket, even if the films emerging from his Misr International Productions definitely also display characteristics of mainstream films. Because most of these films, such as Asma El Bakry’s Beggars and Nobles, refrain from using the usual stars, they also disappeared from Egyptian theaters after only a week or two.52 Parallel to the growth of the New Realists another kind of cinema appeared. Artistically and intellectually vulgar it was named ‘Contractors’ Cinema’ (Sinimat al-muqawalat) and was a response to the needs of Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states that had no film industry of their own and few film theaters. The answer was video. The number of productions increased steadily and in 1986 reached a peak of ninety-five films, the highest ever in the history of Egyptian cinema. This growth dealt a fatal blow to cinema, however. As films were needed only for video, there was no need for theaters. Many had to close down.53 The emergence of satellite channels marked a turning point, as they began to replace video. Most countries in the Arab world have meanwhile started operating their own national satellite programming. Egyptian talk shows, soap operas, television series, and movies fill up much of the extensive broadcasting time. Film producers have yet to profit from this boom, because Egypt


does not have a tradition of coproduction between film and television that exists in Europe, nor do producers see a share of any financial profits when their films are broadcast. To make matters worse, distribution companies in the Persian Gulf countries pay ludicrously low prices for foreign rights. More and more filmmakers thus work together with financially robust television companies, which also started producing films for the cinema in the late 1990s. This development started with the emergence of satellite television. “At first many Egyptian producers did not even know what Pay-TV was,” reported film critic Samir Farid.54 “They sold most of their film stocks at dumping prices to Lebanese and Saudi distributors.” This inflation of Egyptian films on the market also caused the sale prices of new Egyptian productions to crash. Whereas small film productions can hardly get a foothold, in 2000 a major Arab production and distribution company bought up one hundred movie houses and one thousand films in Cairo alone. No one can predict the impact this will have on the country’s film industry. Film studios are also often booked up with numerous television productions and the steadily growing number of promotional films, which can cause serious delays in shooting a feature film for the cinema. These are consequences of the widespread nationalization during the Nasser era, which allowed formerly magnificent studios to go to ruin. Barring some isolated exceptions, there is no sign of effective studio leadership, much less modernization. Even after 1971 the government preferred to invest in more prestigious projects. In 6th of October City, near Cairo, the state television company had huge television studios built. Whether they can plug the technological holes for film productions, and relieve overburdened film studios of the backlog from television and promotional films cannot be determined until they are in full operation. Egypt does not yet have a film archive worthy of the name. The stacks of the Egyptian Film Center in Giza are claimed to be one, but only very fragmentary archiving has been possible with the center’s limited budget. Many old films have been lost or no longer exist. A restored copy of the film The Victims by silent-film pioneer Bahiga Hafiz caused a sensation when it was presented at the National Film Festival in 1995.




In Egypt today only half as many films are produced as were in the 1980s. Limited financial resources are not the only problem faced by filmmakers; they also face restrictive censorship by the conservative Gulf countries. On the one hand these countries assure the continuation of the film industry on the Nile. But if a film is to reach beyond Egypt’s movie screens and be sold on the lucrative Arab television and video market, it also has to pass the hurdles of these countries’ strict censorship laws. Gabriel Khoury, producer of Youssef Chahine’s films, once described the situation thus: “You have to put the cart before the horse. In order to get money for a product that does not yet exist, you have to say, for example, ‘With this actress I’ll get $50,000 from Saudi Arabia, $30,000 from Kuwait, $10,000 from Lebanon . . . and the sale of video rights will bring in $250,000 in Egypt, so I’ll make a film with a budget on that scale. You don’t calculate a film based on an idea or a script, but only according to how much you can bring in. The screenplays are adapted to satisfy the censors in the purchasing countries. And because the conditions vary from country to country, the films remain piecemeal. Since we know what is expected we never—or at least seldom—have problems.”55 And so it happens that commercially oriented genre films once again predominate. With the exception of movies by Youssef Chahine, Daoud Abd El Sayyed, and Usama Fawzi who have shown quite daring sex scenes in recent years, Egyptian film has become increasingly prudish yet again. This can be seen in women’s clothing and in love scenes. Many actresses also refuse to be kissed. While in 1969 audiences amused themselves by counting aloud the supposedly one hundred kisses in the film Abi fawq al-shajara (My Father is up the Tree), today they usually wait in vain to see even a single kiss on screen.56


Egypt’s Filmmakers EL ABNOUDY, Ateyyat (1939–)


teyyat El Abnoudy (also Attiat or Attiyat El Abnoudi) was born Ateyyat Awad Mahmoud Khalil on October 26, 1939 in a village along the Nile delta. She first studied law at the University of Cairo and then worked as an actress and assistant director for the theater. In 1972 she completed her studies in film direction at Cairo’s Higher Film Institute and then continued her studies at the International Film and Television School in London until 1976. Ateyyat El Abnoudy, along with Nabeeha Lotfy, are the best-known female documentary filmmakers in Egypt. El Abnoudy was the first to build up her own production base with her company Abnoud Film. She has also written two books.57

Speaking with Ateyyat El Abnoudy The documentary film is one of the most exemplary ways of writing history as it contains that vital combination of sound, image, color, and people’s testimonies on the age in which they live. In countries like ours—regardless of whether they are called ‘Third World countries’ or ‘developing nations’—where people cannot have access to knowledge through the written word, as they seem to be condemned, almost deliberately, to a state of permanent illiteracy, this way of recording history becomes a dire necessity. The image, particularly as expressed and depicted in the documentary films, assumes by its very immediacy



and ability to reach out, a very special significance and becomes the sole reliable educational vehicle. I don’t want to be labeled as a women’s filmmaker because I make films about life, and women are only a part of this life. I make films about people who I know, who I relate to (class-wise speaking)—humble and poor people. About their struggle to live, about their joy, and about their dreams. I still learn from them, from what they are doing and of their wisdom about life. I give the floor to my people to speak out. That is why they call me ‘the poor people’s filmmaker.’58


From an Interview with Ateyyat El Abnoudy Why do you make films? AA: I am socially concerned but I don’t make political films. People have to think for themselves; I don’t make commentaries. I make provocative films: When you see a film, you start to think and then you do something—but I don’t tell you what to do. I gave myself a task, because I think an artist has to have something to do in his or her society. My task is to describe Egypt. Whenever I make a documentary, I deal with the social aspect. You film mostly common people from the lower social classes. Why? AA: I look at life in a poetic way. I love to live and I think that poor people in my country are all doing their best to work and to create life. I try in all my films to convey this love of life, even if the people live in very poor conditions. I treat them with great respect. I love to see their faces on the screen. I come from the working class, but film is a middle-class medium, so you have to be strong in order to maintain your relationship to your class. Otherwise you are lost. What kind of family did you come from? AA: I was the youngest girl; there were four girls and three boys in my family. I was the only girl who finished school. I always succeeded in my classes, too. When Nasser came to power I was about twelve years old. He opened the doors to dreams; poor people were encouraged to attend universities and get an education. Otherwise I could not have gone to university. I was very young when I went there—sixteen years old; I was


the youngest in my class. I started studying law in Cairo and of course I couldn’t really buy the books; they were too expensive for me. So I worked at the railway station in some office jobs and at the same time I completed my studies at university. I read a lot, even politics. My mother was a very decent and ambitious woman. She always talked about me as her hope in life. You were married to a poet? AA: For twenty years. I worked in a theater as an actress, in small parts, and as a stage manager and an assistant director. I was looking around to see what I really wanted to do. I found myself in filmmaking and went to the Higher Film Institute in Cairo for two years. I made my two first films while studying there. Horse of Mud received twenty-eight prizes all over the world. However, I was an amateur; it was not a professional film. What kind of changes happened to make you a professional? AA: I worked on this ten-minute film [Horse of Mud] for two years, because I had no money, and also because the bricks have to be dried in the sun. I shot the film at the end of the summer, and I had to wait till the next summer. We had no professional cameras; we recorded the sound separately—but I remember thinking: how can I wait another year to accomplish what I want to do? Then I realized that what I really wanted was to express my opinions about life around me in documentaries. This is my tool. Did the success help you? AA: Yes, it helped me to discover myself and to see that I needed more education. At the Film Institute in Cairo we were mostly taught theory. I made Sad Song of Touha as a graduation film at the school and it was the first documentary there. They used to give the students a location on the roof of the institute: here is the dining room or bedroom; write a scenario and shoot in this area. That year I said: I want to make a documentary. We had heated arguments but I insisted. Then you went to London? AA: Yes, I discovered I had to learn more. Making films is a profession; it is



not enough to be talented. It was easy at that time to go to the Soviet Union or Poland, but I didn’t want to waste my time learning a new language and I knew English well, so I preferred to go to the National Film School in London for three years. I made three films there.


So, what happens to a young girl from the Third World who wins international prizes and comes to London? AA: I was feeling very lonely, very strange, very cold—not the weather, I mean the environment. We are very warm people; we like to touch each other, to talk, to kiss, anything, but all my movements were misunderstood. If I would for example embrace a male friend at film school, everybody would say: “Ateyyat has a new boyfriend!” Those kind of moral things. And I was wondering, I come from Egypt and yet I can understand the difference between sex and friendship. But people living in the so-called First World don’t. A relationship between a man and a woman seems always to mean sex. This bothered me very much. I encountered another culture and I was disappointed by it. I had expected to come into a free society not looking at everything in terms of sex. So I decided to take what I wanted to benefit my life, my profession. I was a very good student. But I told myself, as soon as I finish I have to go back to Egypt and work there. I was given a permit to work in England, but I just left. Whom do you make your films for? AA (laughing): For my friends, the critics! Unfortunately our television does not believe in cultural films, especially not documentaries. My films are not propaganda and I do not make tourist films either. I have no chance to show my films on our television. It means making films only for European television, because my films have been shown there more often than in my own country. Sometimes I do not know how to respond to people who accuse me of making films that spoil Egypt’s reputation in Europe. “Why do you have to show poor people?!” Those who ask this lack an intellectuality. They are interested only in propaganda films. They don’t see the human aspect of their people. I have a chance in Egypt to show my films in film clubs,


but my aim is to reach a broader audience through television. Since my production is in 16 mm, I have no chance in big theaters. Your style has been called poetic realism. How would you define poetry? AA: Poetry can say very deep things in a few words. This is poetry. In my films I say a lot of things in one shot. I think my films need to be seen twice, and every time you discover something new. Many people have told me so. I never show you the same shot twice. I never deceive the spectator. This is very important—to be honest. I never make fake shots. But isn’t film always manipulation? AA: Manipulation is another thing. I am not manipulating the people for my sake. And I never ask them to do something for me. I follow them with the camera. I was taught this at the very beginning, when making Horse of Mud. The girls carried heavy bricks on their heads, twenty-five kilograms on the head of a little girl. I was a beginner and wanted to take some beautiful shots, asked them to stop for a moment, asked the camera man to jump on something, and take a nice shot. After one minute the girls started shouting insults at me. I was manipulating them; I had never thought about their having to balance that on their heads the whole time.” (Interview from Festival News, Tampere, Finland 1991)

Filmography (16 mm, unless otherwise specified) 1971 Hosan al-tin/Horse of Mud, b&w, 12 min (more than thirty international prizes, including the Grand Prize at the 1972 Damascus Film Festival as well as at the 1973 Grenoble Film Festival and Mannheim International Film Week) 1972 Ughniyat Touha al-hazina/Sad Song of Touha/ La triste chanson de Touha, 12 min (Critics’ Prize in Grenoble) 1973 Jumble Sale, 12 min 1974 Two Festivals in Grenoble, 30 min 1975 al-Sandawich (The Sandwich), 13 min 1976 London Views, 45 min



1979 1981 1983 1985 1988

1989 1990 1992


1993 1994 1995 1995 1996 1996

2000 2002 2004

al-Taqaddum ila al-‘umq (To Move into Depth), 45 min Bihar al-‘atash/Seas of Thirst, 45 min (Documentary Grand Prix, ACCT in France) al-Ahlam al-mumkina/Permissible Dreams, 30 min (Best Educational Film at the Mannheim Film Festival, 1984) Rolla Tree, 30 min Iqa’ al-haya/Rhythm of Life, 60 min (Grand Prix at the 12th Egyptian National Documentary Film Festival, Best Coproduction at the Valencia Film Festival) Year of Maya, 60 min Interview in Room No. 8, 30 min Illi ba‘ wa-lli ishtra/Sellers and Buyers, 30 min (Egyptian Critics’ Prize) Diary in Exile, Video, 55 min Nisa’ mas’ulat/Responsible Women, Video, 30 min Rawya, 15 min Ahlam al-banat/Girls Still Dream, Video, 28 min Ayyam al-dimuqratiya/Days of Democracy, beta, 70 min Egyptian Heroines, 10 TV commercial spots, 2 min each (interviews with former illiterates, to encourage women to attend school) al-Qahira 1000, al-Qahira 2000 (Cairo 1000, Cairo 2000), TV, 40 min Qitar al-Nuba/The Nubia Train, digital beta, 35 min Athyubya bi-‘uyun misriya (Ethopia through Egyptian Eyes), Super 8, 30 min

The surprising success of her debut film Horse of Mud opened up doors for El Abnoudy to make several international coproductions. Her consequent financial independence from state institutions in her home country has laid the groundwork for her artistic independence as well.59 El Abnoudy’s early works exude the charm and spirit of ethnological cinematic art. Her more recent films, on the other hand, are largely conventional commission pieces for international organizations or state television. For this she started working with modern video technology.


Horse of Mud Hosan al-tin Egypt 1971 Dir/Scr: Ateyyat El Abnoudy Prod: Film Association Cairo, Ateyyat El Abnoudy There are hundreds of small brick factories along the banks of the Nile that still operate using traditional methods. Old horses, men and women, and boys and girls work hard. At the end of the day the people and animals all gather to wash away their fatigue in the Nile. The Sandwich al-Sandawich Egypt 1975 Dir/Scr/Ed: Ateyyat El Abnoudy C: Maher Rady Ed: Ateyyat El Abnoudy Prod: Egyptian Film Center, Cairo


Abnoud60 is a small town in Upper Egypt, almost 400 miles south of Cairo, ‘where the trains never stop.’ Observing the creation of a ‘special sandwich,’ this film describes the daily life and work of the children in the village. A boy outsmarts the meagerness of his circumstances by dripping goat’s milk on a piece of stale bread and turning it into a special sandwich. Permissible Dreams al-Ahlam al-mumkina Egypt/GDR 1983 Dir/Scr/Ed: Ateyyat El Abnoudy Prod: Abnoud Film, Faust Film This film was part of the “As Women See It” series on Channel Four television in London. It tells the story of the peasant Umm Said (Mother of Said),61


who was married at sixteen and has since then lived in a village near Suez. She can neither read nor write, but she is still very eloquent. Not only does Umm Said work in the field and milk the cow, she also cooks and bakes, does the laundry, and buys clothing for her children. She also takes care of the family’s budget and finances and is responsible for the livestock and raising the eight children. All important family decisions are in her hands. Sometimes Umm Said loses herself in her life dreams, but she dreams “no farther than her arms can reach.” Rawya Egypt 1995 Dir/Scr: Ateyyat El Abnoudy Prod: British Council, Cairo


Rawya is a young peasant woman who learns to make pottery to support herself. She talks about her childhood and youth. When she refuses to give her father her wedding jewelry to sell he throws the kerosene burner at her. It marks a turning point in Rawya’s life. She leaves home and sets out on her way to self-reliance. Today she has enough selfconfidence to make plans for an ambitious future.

Film Reviews Documentary film director Ateyyat El Abnoudy is one of the few Egyptian women who has been able to assert herself in the area of film. With the principles of the Third Cinema, as developed by Fernando Solana and Octavio Getino, in mind, Ateyyat first started filming in 1970. From the time she first shot this film—and after completing her film studies in Britain—the filmmaker has remained true to the notion of a ‘liberated cinema.’ Such a cinema can escape colonization through images only by challenging the ‘ideology-creating industry’ of the first cinema, as one film historian put it, by reproducing real conditions.62 In practice, Abnoudy’s methods are based on the methods of ‘direct cinema.’ Getting close to people also means getting close to the camera. To this end the documentary


filmmaker has found it necessary to use manageable equipment, which means a 16 mm format that affords the required mobility. The corresponding prerequisites are by no means available in Egypt, despite its film industry. Direct cinema is still a foreign concept to documentary film, which is limited due to state censorship and bureaucratic hurdles. The financial dependence on television and other state institutions as experienced especially by documentary filmmakers is immense, and public interest in documentaries is next to nothing. This leads to inadequate services, especially regarding 16 mm format, outdated equipment, and a chronic shortage of materials. (Viola Shafik, in Die 7. Tage des Unabhängigen Films, Augsburg, 1971) There is no precise category in which to assign the work of Ateyyat El Abnoudy. She herself calls it poetic realism. Reviewers refer to the films which so incisively and hauntingly document contemporary life in Egypt as social commentary. Whatever its specific genre, it is watched with apprehension by the Egyptian government, with critical acclaim by international film jurists, and with love by the subjects of her work. (Los Angeles Film & Video Festival, 1993) Ms. Abnoudi was born the sixth of seven children into a family of once prosperous spice and textile merchants in a Nile village. Traditionally, the eldest daughter stayed home to help until she married and the task fell to the next daughter. “But by the time the sister right above me married, I was already in university, so they couldn’t stop me,” Ms. Abnoudi chortled. While studying law at Cairo University, she was drawn to free movies at European cultural centers around the capital. That led her, in 1968, to enroll in the first class of postgraduates accepted to Egypt’s new Film Institute. Ms. Abnoudi made two short films as a student. Her second film, in 1972, was her graduation thesis, The Sad Song of Touha, which showed snippets of the lives of a troupe of bedraggled Cairo street performers. The only words were a poem by Abdel Rahman al-Abnoudi, who became her second husband after a courtship of 15 days. (She was divorced from her first, a painter, at 21). Mr. Abnoudi, who became famous for reviving




the folklore and music of Upper Egypt, was once jailed for six months for his open Communist sympathies. The couple adopted their only child, the four-year-old daughter of a friend, after the girl’s father died in an accident. They divorced 13 years ago. Ms. Abnoudi now lives with her daughter, an actress, in an apartment in a newer Cairo suburb. They share it with seven cats. Her early work of helping her husband travel from village to village, collecting myths and music, found its way into her films. Local musicians often provide the soundtrack. Ms. Abnoudi dresses like many of the peasants whose lives she portrays. She favors the reddish henna they use to color their hair. Her frocks, decorated with beading and embroidery, are made by a village woman who lives near the Pyramids. Outside film, Ms. Abnoudi does not fear taking on difficult causes. She devotes much of her time to a nascent organization that seeks to get more Egyptians involved in solving the country’s myriad ills. “I am a good citizen,” she said, then added with a smile, “I wear my seat belt.” (From an article by Neil MacFarquhar in The New York Times, June 22, 2002)

EL BAKRY, ASMA (1947–)


sma El Bakry was born on October 28, 1947 in Cairo. Rumors have it that her grandfather was Sakakini Pasha,63 head of the Jewish Community in Egypt. Asma El Bakry studied French literature in Alexandria and history in Paris. She then worked as an assistant director for more than thirty films with directors such as Youssef Chahine. As a freelance author she wrote for Arabic journals on social, political, and historical subjects. She also illustrated the book Khul-Khal by Nayra Atiya (Syracuse, 1982). Asma El Bakry had shot several short and documentary films before making her critically acclaimed feature debut Beggars and Nobles, coproduced by her own film production company, Les Films du Palmyers.


Filmography 1979 Qatrat ma’ (A Drop of Water), 35 mm, 5 min (Best Short Film at the Alexandria International Film Festival; Prize of Saad Nadin at the Egyptian Documentary Film Festival in 1980) 1981 Burtreh (Portrait), 35 mm, 24 min 1981 Dahsha (Surprise), 35 mm, 23 min 1982 Hayy al-Daher (Daher District), 35 mm, 11 min 1982 al-Rukham (Marble), 35 mm, 10 min 1991 Shahhatin wa nubala’/Mendiants et orgueuilleux (Beggars and Nobles), 35 mm, 90 min (Critics Prize, CICAE [International Confederation of Art Cinemas] prize, and Audience Grand Prize, Montpellier; Audience Prize, Freiburg 1992; Grand Prix of the International Jury in Rennes, 1992) 1995 Mathaf al-Iskandriya (Museum of Alexandria), 35 mm, 58 min 1998 Kunchirtu fi darb sa‘ada (Concert in the Street of Happiness), 35 mm, 95 min 2001 al-Fatimiyun/Les Fatimides (The Fatimids), video digital, 23 min 2003 al-Ayubiyun/Les Ayoubides (The Ayubbids), video digital, 52 min 2004 al-‘Unf wa-l-sukhriya/La violence et la dérision (Violence and Derision), video digital blown up to 35 mm, 113 min Beggars and Nobles Shahhatin wa nubala’/Mendiants et orgueuilleux Egypt/France 1991 Dir/Scr: Asma El Bakry C: Ramses Marzouk M: Moustafa Nagui S: Moustafa Ezzat Ed: Rahma Montasser



Cast: Salah El Saadani, Mahmoud El Guindi et al. Prod: Misr International Films, Cairo; Palmyre Productions, Paris This film depicts Cairo during the final days of the Second World War. “I own nothing, I want nothing, I am free” is the life philosophy of the film’s protagonists, especially Gohar, the university professor, who gives up his position when he realizes that everything he teaches his students is full of lies. From that point on he spends his time philosophizing and smoking hash. In order to get money for drugs he plans to steal a prostitute’s jewelry. When she fights back he strangles her. The police officer assigned to the case falls increasingly under Gohar’s spell.


From Interviews with Asma El Bakry The film is set during a particular time in world history, when the detonation of the first atom bomb triggered shock around the world. Could you have told the same story today? AB: Definitely! What happened in 1945 continues to repeat itself. Just think of the Gulf War in 1991. I think very little has changed regarding the universal cruelty of people’s wheelings and dealings. I finished shooting long before the Gulf War started. It was by chance that the film had just come out when the war ended. Can you explain the professor’s decision to stop teaching? AB: After twenty years he came to the conclusion that he had been teaching


nothing but lies and that deceit is universal. He cannot cope with that anymore. Many people reach a point when they can no longer accept the deceit and constant lies around them. And politicians make the political lie into the truth because no one tells them they are liars. What can you do to oppose the deceit and fraud? You can go out on the streets carrying banners with slogans like “Down with the dictatorship,” as people do in all countries. What does that accomplish? The professor simply drops out, goes out onto street, and says, “I have nothing.” And it is true. He wants nothing and that makes him a free man. Like his supporters. And if everyone did that? In a country where the whole population is fed up with the government? The government would fall apart the next day. You can compare it with Gandhi’s pacifism. Of course it is very utopian, because no one would really do that. Everyone is really attached to their little office, their position. There are three things that fundamentally determine a person’s actions: hunger, love, and death. With Gohar, is this a liberation from these three elements, a liberation from himself? AB: Gohar is not searching at a metaphysical level. Quite the contrary. He is afraid of those who control the world. His worries relate to everyday life. He knows that things will go downhill with humanity. He too talks of the bomb. There is one scene where he is sitting in his room and teaching a boy geography. The boy asks if Berlin is the capital of Germany. The professor answers, “Yes, but what will happen there soon?” He foresees all of that, like all visionaries. That reminds me of a statement by Guy de Maupassant who wrote in the Le Gaulois newspaper in 1880: “We are living under the regime of fraud, in the kingdom of a clear conscience, and we worship the Golden Calf. What should we do? Nothing. American customs have reached all the way to us.” Even back then he was thinking of the Americans. Amazing, isn’t it? Do you think Gohar is influenced by Sufism? AB: I think so. He does without everything material. He is still just a little addicted to the drug. Behind his decision to live such a simple life, to be content with so little, is a Sufi attitude. He has denounced everything he



had taught his students. All he still has is his small room. But his mind did not stop working. Yes, he is definitely influenced by Sufi thought. At the end we see him on the roof of his house. And the music underscores the harmony that he has achieved. AB: Exactly. He recites a poem by a Syrian Sufi who had come to Damascus after Tamerlane had attacked the region and left behind nothing but death and destruction. In the face of this devastation he wrote, “I have asked the ruins of the city, where have your inhabitants gone, who were so dear to us?—They stayed here a while and then they fled; I don’t know where to.” In the next scene you see a bomb exploding over Hiroshima to the music of Alban Berg.


You said earlier that people could not do without their simple comforts. But in the film there is someone who does just that—the policeman. AB: Yes, the police officer ultimately lets go of everything. At the beginning of the story everyone is going about their little business, and he is the only one on the verge of a crisis. When he is in Gohar’s room he tells Gohar, “I am seeking inner peace.” At the same time life goes on for the others in the city, in the café. Even in the brothel. There, the corpse is replaced by another prostitute. Only in the life of the policeman is there a pause allowing him to steer off in a totally different direction. This is remotely similar to a classical tragedy. At the outset the people feel secure and suddenly they are on the brink of a crisis. For the policeman a mere touch is enough to throw him over the edge. To the good side, I think. In his final interrogation he still tries to resist, but it is a totally ridiculous and desperate attempt. AB: Yes, here violence stands opposite derision. And the latter wins. When the policeman enters Gohar’s room he becomes aware that Gohar truly owns nothing and he says to himself, “It is true that in this totally bare room I can find peace.” And for the first time he smiles. Not ironically, as he did in the café, but filled with peace. And with the same smile he says to Gohar at the end, “Here I am.”


Let’s go back to your comparison with Gandhi. Isn’t there hope behind his resistance, whereas in your film, desperation and ridicule tend to dominate more? AB: There is some truth to that, but I wouldn’t go that far. They don’t want everything to come to a standstill. The anecdote about the elections in the village is an example of that. When they open the ballot boxes there is only one name on the ballots: Balrut. And who is this Balrut? A donkey! The villagers have chosen him as their representative. Of course they couldn’t push that through since the government wanted a two-legged donkey, not a four-legged one. The entire population makes fun of the authorities. Maybe all is not lost. (From an interview with Bruno Jaeggi and Martial Knaebel on the occasion of the 6th Fribourg Film Festival, January 1992). The image of Egypt that you put forward—and in particular of its capital—is far removed from the one that is presented in the Western media. AB: Generally speaking, the country has changed over the past halfcentury; that’s obvious. For the better? For the worse? Let’s just say that it is different. But my characters still exist. The common people of Cairo or of Alexandria are always the same. They love to get together over a cup of tea and tell each other stories, as they do in Cossery’s novel. Your film makes no reference to religion or fundamentalism. Why? AB: Beggars and Nobles is a fable. Quite unfashionably, it speaks of the Egyptian soul and of what remains constant in it across the ages. At present, I am making a film about the Museum of Alexandria. On numerous occasions I visited Asyut, an important place for fundamentalists. Nothing happened to me! What did I see there? Misery. Everywhere. People deprived of ideals and of perspectives and at the mercy of a few religious fanatics. And the same thing is happening in the United States. . . . Religious euphoria is nothing new, nor is it specific to the Middle East. Your film was released in Cairo . . . and was not a great success. AB: Cairo is like Paris, Rome, or Tokyo. Here as elsewhere, people prefer to see films like Rambo. We might not like it, but that’s how it is. But that doesn’t mean that we have to throw in the towel and give up; that our films, other films, don’t deserve to exist.



Like Albert Cossery, you were born in Cairo. When you come to Paris, do you feel a sense of closeness to this compatriot, who chose to go into exile in the 1940s? AB: I feel very close to him and to many other friends, historians, searchers . . . among others, Gilles Kepel, who wrote a remarkable book on fundamentalism. Or Maxime Rodinson, who himself was of the same generation as Albert. But even if I share a culture with Albert Cossery, unlike him I will never resign myself to choosing to go into exile. (Interview with Serge Henry, in Impact Médecin Quotidien, May 4, 1993)


Film Reviews With her air of Cairo street-urchin, her candor, and her thunderous laughter, Asma El Bakry has never been one to go unnoticed at film festivals. Festivals, such as those of Montpellier, Rennes, or Milan, from which she has always emerged with a prize—well-deserved, as her adaptation of the celebrated novel by Albert Cossery64 renews an acquaintance with an older Egyptian cinematic tradition, lyrical and delicate, of which Youssef Chahine was thought to have been the last representative. . . . Opinionated, energetic, and gifted, Asma El Bakry has captured with flair the atmosphere and characters of the common little alleyways of Old Cairo, which serve as the principal backdrop for this story of a university professor who, at the end of the Second World War, sickened by the environment of barbarism, chooses to live among the poor. Does the director feel isolated in this country, which is tailored more to the scale of men? “Not in the least. Egyptians are anything but misogynists. Here the common people are gems of kindness. I can’t say as much for our bourgeoisie,” she adds scathingly. (Philippe Royer, in La Croix, May 6, 1993) Acumen and sarcasm were always the last remaining weapons that the weak and the poor could resort to. They help them keep their dignity and their humor. Beggars and Nobles is neither a detective movie nor a film about the underworld, although it has aspects of both. You need only to scratch the surface and you encounter a world being fundamentally questioned. A film of extraordinary topicality. (Festival de films de Fribourg, documentation)


Concert in the Street of Happiness Kunchirtu fi darb sa‘ada Egypt 1998 Dir: Asma El Bakry Scr: Hossam Zakareya, Rafik El Sabban, Asma El Bakry C: Mohsen Nasr M: Symphony Orchestra Cairo Cast: Naglaa Fathi, Salah El Saadani, Salwa Khatab The simple world of Azouz, a low-level employee of the opera, is not confused by even the smallest of dreams. Not until the day he sees the beautiful violinist Sonia, who has come to Cairo to perform at the opera house. Azouz discovers the power of love and of the classical music of the West.



nas El Degheidi was born on March 10, 1953 in Cairo, where she later studied film at the Higher Film Institute. She assisted in more than forty films by renowned Egyptian directors. Her films deal with current social problems facing society such as drug abuse, juvenile crime, AIDS, homosexuality, sexual abuse, virginity, and premarital pregnancy. For this she has received death threats from Islamic militants. Despite these socially critical themes, the film aesthetics of Inas El Degheidi serve the taste of mainstream Egyptian audiences. Besides Nadia Hamza, she is one of today’s most successful female commercial directors in Egypt and has also been producing her own films for several years.

Speaking with Inas El Degheidi I had just turned seventeen and was trying to decide what to study at university. A girlfriend of mine was studying dramatic arts at the Academy




of Arts.65 She encouraged me to go there too. Because I come from a family that is not in the least artistic, I chose an area that is far removed from drama or music—film production. At that time there were no other women in this department, so the Academy gave preference to women with regard to admissions. At the Higher Film Institute [in Cairo] I decided, first of all, to try out all the different sections: directing, scriptwriting, and cinematography. One of my professors was the famous Egyptian director Salah Abou Seif. He thought I was talented and encouraged me to study directing. So I transferred from production to directing. While I was still a student I assisted Abou Seif on a film. After completing my studies I worked as a script girl and for ten years as an assistant director to many well-known directors. I made my own first feature film in 1985. At first I had difficulty finding a producer. Film production in Egypt is in the hands of private individuals who keep an eye out for their profits, so they were understandably very reluctant to produce my debut film. But because I had already gathered so much experience in the field and was known in the film trade, they gave me a chance. I showed them that I could handle the responsibility involved in directing a film. After that I never had any problems finding a producer again. This goes against common notion, but I always worked with a good subject and well-known actors. I think that is important. Of course, in the beginning as assistant director I had trouble working with men in a team. But that changed. In my opinion it depends on the personality of the woman doing the directing. She has to have a strong will. When I was shooting my first film, I had the advantage that the film people knew me and considered me one of them. They also knew that I had come so far on my own without any patronage. I think the main problem is the general crisis currently facing the Egyptian film industry. Far fewer films are being produced, which is why I have started to produce my films myself. When I was just starting out I didn’t want to do that yet. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say that I was only able to make a name for myself as a director because I financed my own films. Now, after several films, things are different. As producer I not only profit financially if my film is successful—I can also decide for myself what festivals it will be screened at.


Another thing I paid attention to in the film business from the very outset was never to mix my private life with my career. That saved me from being part of the gossip you hear. Because every woman that is new to the team has to go through a ‘test.’ I put a stop to that and haven’t had any problems ever since. Of course my family background also has something to do with my career choice. I am one of eight children of a conservative, middle-class family. My father taught Arabic and was very strict. Yet, later he was the only one in the family who supported me when I wanted to study at film school. Everyone else in my family gave preference to boys over girls, even my mother. And my grandmother was always sad when another girl was born into the family. So my sisters and I always felt like second-class children. That is probably why I also deal with this subject in my films. Certainly some things have changed for the better—to a certain degree. But I always consider it a defeat if men are allowed more power. I am in favor of an egalitarian relationship between women and men. Not that I had any bad experiences as a grown woman. I have never actually encountered the type of men that I create as characters in my films. I’d know how to protect myself. The motifs for my films come from my childhood roots. (Interview with the author, Cairo, April 1995.)

Filmography (of 35 mm feature films) 1985 ‘Afwan ayuha al-qanun/Pardon, Law (Prize for best actress at the Damascus film festival 1986) 1988 al-Tahhadi (The Challenge) 1988 Zaman al-mamnu‘ (Age of the Forbidden) 1990 Imra’a wahida la takfi (One Woman is not Enough) 1990 Qadiyat Samiha Badran (The Case of Samiha Badran) 1992 al-Qatila/Lady Killer 1993 Disku disku (Disco, Disco) (This film received five national awards in 1994) 1994 Lahm rakhis (Cheap Flesh), 120 min 1996 Istakoza (Lobster) 1998 Dantilla (Lace) (Prize for best director at the Korean Film Festival)



1999 2000 2001 2004

Kalam al-layl (Night Whispers) al-Warda al-hamra (The Red Rose) Mudhakkarat murahiqa/Diaries of a Teenage Girl, 124 min al-Bahithat ‘an al-huriya/Looking for Freedom, 130 min (Prize for best Arabic film at the Cairo International Film Festival 2004)

Pardon, Law ‘Afwan ayuha al-qanun Egypt 1985 Dir: Inas El Degheidi Scr: Ibrahim El Mougi C: Samir Farag M: Omar Khairat Ed: Salwa Bakir Cast: Farid Shauqi, Naglaa Fathi, Mahmoud Abd El Aziz, Laila Taher Prod: Egypt Arab Films, Cairo 62

Mahmoud and his wife Hoda teach at the university. Mahmoud likes to sleep with various lovers instead of with his wife. When Hoda catches him in the act with her best girlfriend, she shoots both of them. The trial reveals how differently the justice system treats male and female perpetrators in such cases. With women, the judges assume an ordinary murder, whereas they assume that men acted out of passion. This injustice is tacitly accepted by the public. “If a man murders his wife he does it to defend his honor,” a peasant explains in the film. “Women have no honor.” Lady Killer al-Qatila Egypt 1992 Dir: Inas El Degheidi Scr: Magda Kheir Allah C: Adel Abdel Aziz M: Rageh Daoud Cast: Faruq Al Fishawi, Fifi Abdou, Iman, Hassan Hosni,


Hisham Abdallah Prod: al-Ahram li-l-sinima wa-l-vidyu, Cairo Fifi Abdou, Egypt’s most popular belly dancer, stars in this film. She acts and dances in her portrayal of a woman who has been raped as a child and who then marries a sadistic man who beats her, burns her with fire, and drives her to the brink of an insanity. When she finally fights back, her hatred hits people who are totally uninvolved—men she randomly lures from the street to stab in the back behind closed doors.

Film Review Lady Killer isn’t sophisticated drama. And though critics here expect the racy film to be a blockbuster when it opens in April, it isn’t even very good. It is, however, one of the most violent film depictions ever of an Arab woman’s rage against men. “Most men, I don’t care how rich or educated they are, they’re all the same when it comes to sex,” says Inas El Degheidi, Lady Killer’s director and co-writer. She conceived the plot two years ago, she says, after a rash of husband-killings and dismemberments hit Cairo. “Some awful things must have happened to those women to make them do that,” she says. (Peter Waldman, in Wall Street Journal, 1992) Cheap Flesh Lahm rakhis Egypt 1994 Dir: Inas El Degheidi Scr: Salah Fouad C: Kamal Abdel Aziz M: Moustafa Nagui Ed: Salwa Bakir Cast: Ilham Shaheen, Wafaa Maki, Jehan Salama, Kamal Al Shenawi Prod: Hollywood Al Arab, Cairo Three friends from a village along the Nile delta have the typical young girl’s dream of finding a wealthy husband and a well-paid job. Their dreams



seem to be coming true when a professional job placement officer takes them with him to Cairo. But soon each one experiences the bitterness of reality when they are sold on the market as ‘cheap flesh’—as a maid, or even as a bride to a man from a Gulf state. Diaries of a Teenage Girl Mudhakkarat murahiqa Egypt 2001 Dir: Inas El Degheidi Cast: Hend Sabri, Ahmad El Shams, Mohammad Rajab et al. Set in modern-day Egypt, the film represents the struggles of teenagers with notions of sexuality and virginity as a prerequisite and guarantee for marriage. Jamileeh falls in love with a handsome young man named Raouf. As the young couple’s relationship evolves, Jamileeh slowly questions her conviction that love should end in marriage, and finds herself tempted to surrender both her body and heart to him. 64

Film Reviews El Degheidi refuses to be called a woman filmmaker. She directs films of social and realistic essence. She does not like the distinction of women’s cinema, as there is really no man’s or woman’s cinema. Art, in her opinion, is an open field of creativity. “If I take my name off a film, would viewers know that this film was directed by a woman?” she says. So women’s cinema, in her opinion, is made by women and not necessarily about women’s issues or struggles. El Degheidi seeks, for example, to put her hands on a certain defect in society and analyze it in full to criticize it in an artistic manner whether it is comic or social. (Egyptian Gazette, Cairo, September 13, 1993) El Degheidi . . . deals with various subjects with genre-like film aesthetics and she reels them out in a fast rhythm. A welcome aspect is her focus on a strong, assertive woman whose character is placed into the plot authentically and believably. This protagonist also takes her life into her own hands and even becomes a murderer when she starts exercising


vigilante justice. . . . This film has made El Degheidi into a persona non grata in certain producer circles. (Andrea Wenzek, in Journal Film, no. 29, Summer 1995) She is sexy and fresh, and this is part of her success. Inas El Degheidi became a director because she didn’t want to end up in a typical woman’s profession; instead, she wanted to be head and shoulders above the crowd. Women in Inas El Degheidi’s films have the power. In Night Whispers, a noble prostitute secretly films her clients—high-ranking politicians and businessmen. The films are tailor-made for mainstream Egyptian audiences. They are entertaining, lascivious, and erotic: lots of fashion and zeitgeist. They are often panned by the critics. “I’m probably too strong. That makes people nervous. Everyone else has yes-men following them around; I go alone.” (Jürgen Stryjak in MERIAN Ägypten, no. 08/2001, Hamburg). El Degheidi manages to sway the emotions of the viewers by employing shock-value through her use of explicit scenes, earning the film its label as controversial. While appearing to suggest that marriage is turgid with expectations of celibacy on the women’s part, the film leads viewers to believe that conforming to it blindly is a direct negation of women’s sexual curiosity and their right to express it. The film’s courageous critique of marriage and societal taboos forces the viewer to wonder why society is willing to elevate the institution of marriage despite the fact that it often suppresses women. (From Jumana Heresh and Maia Malas in The Jordan Times, May 15, 2002) El Degheidi’s work has earned her death threats from Islamic militants. Diaries of a Teenage Girl (2001), her look at the sexual awakening of Egyptian youth, had fundamentalists suing to stop distribution. Citing the lack of a legal basis to do so, a Cairo judge dismissed the case, but said he wished for the authority to sentence her to 100 lashes of the whip. “There are people now who want to hush any loud voice with a different opinion,” El Degheidi says. Especially if the voice belongs to a woman. (From Jeff Chu with Amany Radwan in TIMEeurope magazine 163, no. 8, February 23, 2004)



FARES, NADIA (1962–)


adia Anliker-Fares, daughter of an Egyptian father and Swiss mother, was born in September 18, 1962 in Bern, Switzerland. She did not learn Arabic until she spent a year studying in Cairo. Fares studied film at New York University from 1987 to 1995, when she received a prize from the Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation for her short film Sugarblues (1991). In the mid-1980s she had already made a series of short films, primarily for French-Swiss television. She was also an assistant director to various directors including Krzysztof Kieslowski. Nadia Fares lives in Paris.


Filmography 1986 Magic Binoculars, b&w, 10 min 1986 Letters from New York, b&w, 10 min 1987 Projections on Sundays, 12 min 1987 Semi-Sweet, b&w, 10 min 1988 Charlotte’s Empire, b&w, 8 min 1988 1001 American Nights, b&w, 14 min 1990 Sugarblues, 30 min 1992 D’amour et d’eau fraîche (Love and Fresh Water), 30 min 1993 Made in Love, 5 min 1995 Portrait d’une femme séropositive (Portrait of an HIV+ Woman), 7 min 1995 Lorsque mon heure viendra (Because My Hour Will Come), 55 min 1996 Miel et cendres/Honey and Ashes, 35mm, 80 min (Winner of several awards, including the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival, 1996; and the Max Ophül Prize, Saarbrücken 1997)


1999 2003

Mixed Up, video, 15 min Anomalies passagères (Passing Anomalies), video (for ARTE television), 82 min

Honey and Ashes Miel et cendres Switzerland/Tunisia 1996 Dir/Scr: Nadia Fares C: Ismael Ramirez M: Jean-Francois Bovard, Mami Azairez, Slim Larnaout Ed: Kahena Attia-Riveille Cast: Nozha Khouadra, Amel Ledhili, Samia Mzali Prod: Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion, C.T.V. Services, SF DRS, ZDF/arte The story of three women in present-day North Africa: the doctor Naima, the professor’s wife Amina, and the young student Laila. They try to take control of their lives and their relationships with men. Although they come from different social classes and generations, their paths cross and shed light on the subtle forms of partriarchical norms in their society.

About the Film “I did not attempt to take on the subject of the Tunisian woman in this film. Honey and Ashes is set in North Africa, but the story does not speak to one nation; it’s universal.” (Nadia Fares at the 18th Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival, October 25 to November 3, 1996) In my opinion, Honey and Ashes isn’t really a Tunisian film. In Europe, as here in North Africa, a film’s nationality isn’t thought of in terms of its source of financial backing, as is the case in the United States, but in terms of its author; that is, of a person who has been immersed in this culture and who is able to express it. Nadia Fares has never lived in Tunisia, a country of which she knows neither the culture nor the dialect. But she does know




Cairo very well, and Honey and Ashes has much more to do with Egypt than with Tunisia. For example, the murder of a girl who has lost her virginity, which is made to look like a suicide, is a very common occurrence in Upper Egypt, whereas in Tunisia it would be unthinkable from a judicial point of view. Since independence in 1956 we have had numerous laws in place that protect women. To cite another example: the female doctor we see in the film is meant to have studied in Russia. This was very common in Egypt at the time of Nasser because the Russians had built the Aswan Dam, but not at all in Tunisia, since Bourguiba was more pro-Western. For her film, Nadia Fares made a study of the dramatic conditions of women in Egypt and then came to Tunisia to shoot it, with a Moroccan leading lady, because she couldn’t make it in Egypt. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the film—which I actually thought was very good—but simply to make it perfectly clear that it should not be regarded as a film that reflects Tunisian society. (From Férid Boughédir, 23rd Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival, October 28, 2001)

From Interviews with Nadia Fares You were raised near Bern as the daughter of an Egyptian father and a Swiss mother, you lived temporarily in Cairo, and studied film in New York. Honey and Ashes was made in Tunisia. To what extent do you feel rooted in Arab culture? NF: Actually, I have always felt connected to both cultures. Not until 1985, however, did I live for a while in Cairo with the Arab side of my family and really learn Arabic. That is also where I got the idea for a film about love stories in the Arab world and it spurred me to study film. What was it about these love stories that appealed to you? NF: The subject is generally accessible and so it is well-suited to break down the prejudice that the Western world has about the Arab world.


Do you mean prejudice regarding patriarchal conditions? NF: That is a delicate issue. Certainly, it is about prejudice regarding the oppression of women. Not that I wanted to deny this oppression, but I also wanted to show the courage and the strength of Arab women. Those aspects are not mutually exclusive. Your three female characters develop their strength specifically in dealing with a repressive environment. NF: It’s possible to see it like that. But I am trying not to distinguish simply between female victims and male perpetrators; instead, I want to show more complex relationships in which both genders have both strengths and weaknesses. This is why I also attempted to create characters that are as individual and complex as possible. It is important to me that this is not a film about women, but one about relationships. Your way of expressing yourself shows a sense of being torn between proximity and distance to Arab culture. NF: The dilemma lies in the fact that I want to arouse understanding for Arab culture and its gender relationships. But on the other hand I also want to criticize the conditions without making lame compromises. With regard to the options open to women, the conditions in Honey and Ashes seem considerably more restrictive than in the Egypt of the 1950s, as depicted in films by Youssef Chahine. NF: There is presently a regression going on in Egypt that is oppressive and hits women very hard. This makes it clear that no progress is possible in the Arab world as long as the emancipation issue is not resolved. In principle, by the way, I don’t think it is possible to assume that all Arab endeavors for equality automatically came from a Western influence. There are women behind these efforts who are strong and intelligent enough to express their own needs. I also have the impression that we imagine the drama of oppression to be even worse than how they perceive it because we don’t know the oriental attitude toward life. There, people go with the flow of life more. Highs and lows are lived out more intensely, but they are also forgotten more easily. That is what I am trying to bring out in the title of the film Honey and Ashes, which symbolizes the sweet and dark sides of life.



Female directors in the Arab world are still rather rare. How did your Tunisian coproducer and your largely Tunisian film crew deal with this situation? NF: I have had very good experiences, both with the coproduction company and with the team. With both I felt that my Tunisian partners perceived my kind of stories to be theirs as well, even if they were critical of them. I tried to get the team as involved as possible. Without the sense of a group, a team, it would have been inconceivable to shoot the film in six weeks on a budget of 750,000 Swiss Francs (approx. US$ 650,000). I chose an unusual style for the Arab world. Simple stories told very directly, often with a handheld camera and with a fast rhythm. That comes from my American training. In New York it is very hard to put together an independent film. You need a wealth of ideas and a certain intrepidity. Those qualities came in handy here. (Interview by Andreas Furler, Tages-Anzeiger, August 17, 1996).


Let’s turn now to the problem of melodrama understood as a dysfunction of the family unit that is so fundamental within Mediterranean society. When the family falls apart, the characters end up at the worst extremes. How would you position yourself in relation to this genre? NF: I feel a close connection to melodrama, but living at the end of the twentieth century, melodrama in its pure form can, in my opinion, no longer be done: it has to be adapted to the present time. The dramatic elements remain the same, however, and in Honey and Ashes we find the two values, the honey of life and the ashes of dark times. The most tragic moments in my film flank the happiest ones—not to counterbalance them but rather to express that it isn’t the end of the world. Such is life! I found the final image in the film very striking. The man leaves; the female doctor clings to him. Was this what you wanted to achieve? NF: At the end, the young man tells Leila, who is imprisoned, that whatever happens he will never abandon her. He leaves because he obviously cannot stay with her in prison. But, just like the woman doctor, he won’t leave Leila in the lurch. There is, in my view, no longer any interest today in saying that women are victims and men are monsters. What is interesting is to show the relations between men and women in the face of social


pressures, tradition, and change; how they manage the pressures, how this expresses itself in their relations, and so on. You know the love that an Oriental father has for his children. Why didn’t you trace the father and show him what his daughter had turned into as a result of his obsession with having her marry a man she didn’t choose? He wasn’t necessarily aware of the evil he was capable of doing. NF: That wasn’t what I set out to do. But all the same I did still make a few moves in that direction, through the very touching relationship that the intellectual has with his daughter, to balance out this image of the father. In this film I deliberately chose to expose the complexity of the relationships between the women and the loves of the women rather than tell a story about a father and daughter. Which only proves that this violence, the fruit of his upbringing, still exists within him. That this intellectual is conscious of this violence doesn’t stop him from using it; on the contrary, he expresses it. NF: This is a society in transition. Tradition is still present in the way children are raised and it hugs the coast of modernity. The university professor shows that this contradiction exists within him. (From an interview with Henri Talvat at the 18th Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival, 1996)

Film Review In Germany it is fashionable to complain about the terrible plight of women in Arab countries. It is all the more surprising that director Nadia Fares did not poke around in the open wounds of these women in her first feature film. Quite the contrary, three women and their everyday Tunisian lives reveal the misery of an inhibited, frightened male society. But Nadia Fares does not make her protagonists in Honey and Ashes into heroines. The three women try to break out of the confines of North African life, the rules of patriarchal Islam. For Leila it is her father who brutally shows the young woman her place. He beats her after she has been on a date with a young man who is supposed to marry a different woman. While Leila is tending to her wounds, her sisters turn on the radio. The director, who was raised both along the




Nile and in the Alps, offers an explanation for what makes North African men lose control in that way. With authentic, undisguised imagery, cast in an almost semi-documentary style, she catches Leila’s dance with her younger sister, a sensual interplay of body and music, a playful, tempting display of devotion without a specific male object of desire. Amina, too, the wife of a professor, feels this force when she sings a song with friends at a party or when she simply dances. Using flashbacks, Nadia Fares dissects the contradictions of male desire. That which fascinated Amina’s husband at the beginning of their relationship is now the reason why he stamps on her hands . . . He simply beats her down in moments of speechless admiration, glowing jealousy, and unwanted helplessness. While Leila and Amina have a defined place in society, the single doctor, Naima, is constantly on the move. In the hospital she takes care of Amina’s injured hands; while driving somewhere she rescues Leila as she is trying to escape from three men. Another time during a house call, she issues a death certificate for a young, unidentified woman and lets the man of the house know that she knows that he has the death on his conscience. This moment leaves little room for doubt that male dominance is potentially deadly. (Eva-Maria Hilker, Berlin, in Tip 21/97)

FATHY, SAFAA (1958–)


orn on July 7, 1958 in Minya, Upper Egypt, Safaa Fathy studied English literature in Cairo and later left the country because she was active in the student left-wing movement. After moving to Paris in 1981, she studied theater, interrupting her studies for one year in 1987 to work as an assistant director at the Deutsche Theater in East Berlin. In 1990, after the Berlin Wall came down, she worked under the well-known dramatist Heiner Müller for his staging of Hamlet Machine. After completing her studies at the Sorbonne with a doctoral thesis on Bertolt Brecht, she initially worked


as a stage director before later turning to film. She has also been published in literary, poetry, and art magazines in France and Britain.

Speaking with Safaa Fathy My first two films are a reckoning with the past. My first film, Hidden Faces [about the Egyptian feminist Nawal Al Saadawi and women of her own family], was a return to painful memories. It made people recognize my background. When I first came to Europe, people had no idea about my problems—important life-and-death problems. I could have been killed, I could have married and had five children. Leaving was a really big choice I made in my life and when I found myself in Europe, it was like—nobody knew. Nobody knew what it means to be a woman in the south of Egypt, what it means to have a mother who married my father without seeing him before (she first saw him in the bedroom). Nobody knows the social significance of either having virginity or not having virginity—that women were killed for losing their virginity. And nobody knows what it means to experience excision without anesthetic. And I had an excision without anesthetic when I was eight years old. I have a very strong memory of the shock of this trauma. And it was a trauma because I could also see that it was a big feast, a big celebration when my brother was circumcised. And for me it was something they were ashamed of, something they had to hide. I was big enough to understand then that I was not the same as my brother. So then you come to Paris—and nobody knows. I suppose this is true for any kind of refugee; they come through really terrible things and then they think they find refuge somewhere, they find a home somewhere, and then it’s not a home, it’s not a refuge. Very very few of my friends know exactly what happened to me. Very few. Not because I don’t want to talk about it, but because they take you for granted, as if you were like them. So making Hidden Faces meant for me that people could look at this film and perhaps find out about this hidden part of me. So my first film was very important to me; if you have lived through these kinds of things and then find a book like the one by Nawal [El Saadawi] it’s like a treasure. It’s so important to read about a woman who tells you that you are a man’s exact equal and that there is something called women’s oppression and that you can fight back. If you break with




tradition, sometimes you have to be stronger than they are and the only way to be stronger is not to compromise. My second film, Ghazeia [a story of two belly dancers], on the other hand, is about good memories from my childhood, about the first time I saw a belly dancer. That’s why this film is about positive childhood memories. Belly dancing is the only physical form of expression for women and men that is socially permissible in Egypt. Even children can dance like that. But it is associated with a lot of taboos. It is a paradox; on the one hand, everyone likes to dance, but if a woman is a professional belly dancer her body seems soiled to other people. The same body is allowed to be shown publicly to men and women. In my film I went back to my carefree childhood when I could belly dance. I also identified with the dancers, who were marginalized and caught in a difficult situation. They suffered greatly for having to amuse and entertain others with their bodies, but then for not being respected for that very same reason. I shot another film on a similar issue—about men in Kabuki theater in Japan who play women’s parts. This game with identity really interests me: What is male identity, what is female identity? What does it mean to be a woman or a man with a specific position in society? When you speak about these things, you are obviously speaking about identity, about social questions. You are also speaking about the body. What is it like to be in a man’s body or a woman’s body? What is it like to be a woman who shows her body to men? It’s a game with identity, a game with oneself, and a game with other people who act as our mirrors. I never wanted to make something militant in the feminist sense, or something that is only socially engaged. I want to make films that are more ambiguous than that. I’m not looking for social acceptance. Everybody agrees with a film where there is no problem. I look for the problem. I like putting a familiar subject in a new context so that it raises questions. In film you can show contradictory aspects of a character. Like Sabah, for instance, the part of the dancer from the countryside in my film Ghazeia. She says, “I don’t like dancing, I’d really prefer to be a housewife and mother.” Then I show an image of her dancing and obviously she loves it. That is, she should be like this, she’s all body. She cannot live without dancing. But what she says is different because that is what society expects.


I don’t think identity exists independently; it exists only in relation to others. My identity in France is different from the one I have in Egypt. There is obviously the core, the essence, which defines you as a person everywhere. But I’m different in Egypt, I’m different in France, I’m different in Germany. There are certain aspects of everybody that are different because of the language they speak, what they do, the people they know. In my filmmaking I was trying to integrate these different aspects into one. This means that people in Egypt can see the side of me that is not Egyptian, and people in France can see the side of me that is not French, not European. It’s like collecting pieces and making yourself one person. It is not so easy, because the image I receive from other people is not exactly what I put out. The image also reflects how they see me. My filmmaking was a way to reconcile myself with this background. For instance, in Egypt I had the image of being a real outcast, with very Western affinities, not totally Egyptian. I didn’t fit the image of an Arab woman there or in France. The image I had in France was as that of an Egyptian Arab, who is fairly aggressive in trying to make her way in life: an Egyptian, an Arab woman, but not in a good sense—exotic on the one hand and a bit objectionable on the other. When I was in Egypt I was active in a student movement. The main problem I had in Egypt is that it was such a repressive place, a repressive state. I was in the south of Egypt. I witnessed the rise of the fundamentalists. There were two periods when fundamentalism was on the rise in Egypt. The first one started in 1978 and lasted until 1981; it was at its peak when they killed Sadat. And a few years ago it started up again. I was active during the first period, and at the time the police were supporting them. Because the Left was so important at the universities at the time, they wanted other movements to come in and crush the Left. So they actually protected the fundamentalists to enable them to crush the Left. In the university at the time we either organized conferences or wrote what we called “wallpapers.” As in China, you’d write a paper or an article and paste it on the wall, and then you’d stand next to it, and people would come and read it and you could discuss with them. That was more or less allowed. And then, when the fundamentalists started to gain clout, I remember one day when I was




standing next to a paper on the wall and a guy with a beard came, took a knife from his pocket, and destroyed the paper. They started to organize prayers in the university, big prayer sessions in the courtyard. And during the prayer session they started calling me a prostitute. I went to the head of the university and complained. And he said to me, “Well, there is nothing I can do; they call you a prostitute and they call me a homosexual.” My father was at the head of the police. He lost his job because of me and my activities. Our relationship afterwards was terrible. This was when they brought me somebody to marry. They wanted to force me to marry him, but I refused. I was in my third year at university, and not allowed to go out. I was really isolated, completely cut off. It was really hard. Then my father got very depressed and not long after that, he died. I thought that if I wanted to survive, I had to break away from my family. But I could not break with them in Egypt. They could find me anywhere. It had to be a real break—maybe just to create new conditions for a different relationship with them. Things were difficult in Egypt too: the fundamentalists were there and the Left was completely destroyed. I also wanted to study theater and that was not possible in Egypt. I later reconciled with my family. And I went back often, whenever there was a problem with my family, like when my father was ill in hospital. I stayed with him in hospital, looked after him, and so on. Then came the fact that I got married as well. They didn’t approve of the marriage, because it was to a man from Scotland and he was not Muslim. But after many years they accepted it, and at least they could say, “She’s married.” I was not a problem anymore as a woman because if you are married, you are protected by another man. And the last thing is that I finished my thesis, and my family, deep in their hearts, greatly valued education. So I finished my thesis and that was something they respect very much. When I was very young, I envied men. I wanted to be a man. I thought they had so much freedom and could do what they wanted. So I wanted to be a man. To have a strong will, to fight for things, to affirm things, all male characteristics, you see. I’m the eldest in the family. My brother was circumcised when he was about four or five years old. And they invited all the family and made a big feast. With girls, you couldn’t circumcise them if they were too young—


the bleeding could kill them. They have to be between six and eight years old. If the girl is too old, it’s also very dangerous, she can die. So you can die if it’s too early or too late. And one time I heard my father saying “No, I don’t want to do it,” and my mother said, “Of course they have to do it, all the girls have got to have it.” My father finally said “Okay, but don’t cut her completely.” And then a year later, they made me eggs for breakfast one day, which is not very common you know, eggs for breakfast. I ate the eggs—the reason was to give me some protein, some strength to deal with the bleeding afterwards. And then a midwife came. I understood what was happening, so I ran away. We had a maid in the house; she was a bit older than me, and I had seen her get circumcised. So I ran to the bathroom. I locked the door from the inside and sat there in the bathroom. They broke open the lock, came in, took me, and they did it. Only women of course, and they had to hold you—one here, one here, one here, one here. Of course you bled and it was a terrible shock and a trauma. After I slept and woke up, I said okay, where is the party? I thought if my brother had a party, so would I. But my aunt laughed and said, “No, you are a girl.” I didn’t want to become like the women in my village. I hated what they were—shut up in their houses. I was afraid of becoming like them. Men make the rules, but then they are not there, they’re working. It’s the women who enforce these rules, who perpetuate them. My mother did it, so did my aunts. They had been through very difficult times themselves; they didn’t see why we should not go through the same difficulties. I’ve seen cases of women, mothers who were very close to their daughters, who allowed their daughters to do things and protected them from their fathers, older brothers, and so on. But the majority wasn’t like that. Usually the mother was more careful about the daughter and very careful about following the rules for behavior and manners. Mothers were usually not very educated, since women didn’t go to school. They were conditioned completely by their circumstances and by their family background, where they were subject to their husbands, brothers, and fathers. So while I talk about problems in my films, I look for the problem, and this is a problem. Naturally one would expect solidarity between women— and there is some solidarity—but it is not so clear-cut. It’s not so white-




and-black, you know. Women can also be very oppressive, and they can perpetuate this oppression. I’ve often been told that I’m like a man. When I was in Egypt, I heard people saying, “She behaves like a man.” I was also physically very thin, more so than I am now. And I wore pants. Here again is a mirror—not only did I see myself as a man, but people in my family and in my surroundings were sending me the image of myself as a man as well. I have a French friend in Paris. He said to me, “You are somehow like a man.” I suppose he meant that I am not very feminine. I come from the theater. I direct plays written by others, so I’m not as directly involved as I would be with a film. For instance, I enjoy watching people in cafés or on the street. I like watching what takes place spontaneously before my eyes. A documentary film lets me act out this curiosity. Theater, on the other hand, is about fiction, and I’m very interested in fiction, in imaginary characters and situations. It’s all lyrics, poetry—a completely independent form of reality. Of course you can use reality, but not in the same way as you would in a documentary film, which is based on reality. I love the theater because you can include reality, but you can also completely control it, you know, change it, say different things. It’s much more irrational. A lot of my intellectual development occurred in France, so when I read a book of philosophy, for instance, I read it in French. I know all the terms in French. I don’t know them in Arabic. I even studied English literature in Egypt. I’ve always been interested in Western culture. If I wrote for theater today, I would have to write it in French, because I can relate better to Western theater. But I couldn’t write poetry in French. I can only write poetry in Arabic. Because poetry is very related to your past, it’s a very emotional thing, it has to do with who you really are. (Interviews with the author, Paris, December 1994 and Berlin, January 1995.)

Filmography 1990 al-Wuguh al-khafiya/Hidden Faces, 16 mm, 52 min 1993 al-Ghawzi, raqisat Misr/Ghazeia, danseuses d’Égypte/ Ghazeia, Dancers of Egypt, video, 51 min




al-Samat/Le silence (Silence), 35 mm, 10 min Maksim Rodinson, mulhid al-aliha/Maxime Rodinson, l’athée des dieux/Maxime Rodinson, Atheist of the Gods, video, 90 min D’ailleurs, Derrida/Derrida’s Elsewhere, beta SP, 68 min (Prize for Best Screenplay at the 1999 International Film Festival at Clermont-Ferrand and the 2000 Saint-Afrique Festival)

Hidden Faces al-Wuguh al-khafiya United Kingdom 1990 Dir/Scr: Safaa Fathy, Kim Longivotto, Claire Hunt Prod: Twentieth Century Vixen, London The film was originally conceived as a portrait of Dr. Nawal El Saadawi, the well-known Egyptian doctor, writer, and women’s rights activist. But the director was disappointed by the encounter with the woman who had been her great role model. Instead, she set out to discover what life means to Egyptian women by visiting her female relatives. Her mother, aunts, and neighbors talk about life as a married woman, about the traditional clitoridectomy of girls, about love and sexuality. The result is a very impressive and extremely personal film. Ghazeia, Dancers of Egypt al-Ghawzi, raqisat Misr/ Ghazeia, danseuses d’Égypte France 1993 Dir/Scr: Safaa Fathy Prod: Gloria Films Production, Docstar, Selena Audiovisuel A film portrait of two very different belly dancers: the famous Lucy of Cairo, and Sabah from a village along the Nile delta. They come from different social milieus but they share the stigma of having to assert



themselves against the contradictory roles that society forces upon them. Belly dancers are a screen on which to project human fantasies and yet they are socially marginalized. The film shows in a very sympathetic way the intensity and love with which Lucy and Sabah have dedicated themselves to their art. The Silence al-Samat/Le silence France 1996 Dir/Scr: Safaa Fathy Prod: Gloria Films, CNC Samira lives with her parents, who immigrated to a suburb of Paris from North Africa. Although they have a very close relationship, they cannot find a common language. As a band-aid to the wounds of living in exile and as a gift to the silent nostalgia of her father, Samira decides to wear a veil. 80

Maxime Rodinson, Atheist of the Gods Maxime Rodinson, mulhid al-aliha/ Maxime Rodinson, l’athée des dieux France 1996 Dir/Scr: Safaa Fathy Prod: Yenta Production, Paris Maxime Rodinson is one of the leading Orientalists of the twentieth century. As an atheist and without any academic training, he achieved worldwide renown as a specialist in religious history, famous in particular for his biography of the Prophet Muhammad. He was born in 1916, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. His parents helped found the French Communist Party and were killed in German concentration camps as involuntary martyrs of a religion they did not practice. In this film, Rodinson tells the story of his life with much humor, revealing a very humanistic worldview of the relationship between faith, conviction, and action.


GALAL, HALA (1966–)


alal Galal was born in September 22, 1966 in Cairo. She completed studies in mass media at the University of Cairo in 1988, and a second degree at Cairo’s Higher Film Institute in 1994. Galal worked for the local television station Channel 3, making video clips, programs, and in-depth reports. She has been assistant director for numerous feature film productions. She is one of the founders of an independent film production and distribution company called Semat.

Speaking with Hala Galal I was not born into a normal Egyptian family. My mother and father work as journalists and were fairly liberal in raising me and my two sisters. It wasn’t a problem when I said I wanted to make films, which isn’t typical. All the girls my age had problems with their parents: they didn’t allow them to have a boyfriend; they didn’t allow them to go out in the evening after seven alone; they didn’t allow them to study what they wanted or marry whom they wanted. It was very tough for those girls. My parents let me go to France alone, and before France I went to Athens with two friends. My parents let us play with boys when we were kids. Only the boys’ parents had problems with it. Our neighbors let their children, a little girl and boy, come to our apartment to play, or we’d go to them. And one day out of the blue, the boy didn’t come. So we asked why and the girl said that their parents said they were growing up and it was time for the boy to stop playing with girls. That kind of reaction from people gave me the feeling there was something wrong with me. I thought I had been doing something wrong. I only understood it later. My family was very interested in politics. My mother was even in prison for a few years. My parents weren’t very rich, but they had a lot of books and we had a library. There were always a lot of people in our home, reading our books and discussing things. I think that played a very important role in inspiring me to love making films. You know, when you get a lot of stories in your head about people and circumstances,




about politics and society, you want to talk about them, you have a point of view in life, and you want to tell it to people through film. I went to the mass media department at the University of Cairo because I wanted to make video clips or become a journalist. I had a lot of jobs, like selling books and translating. For a while I worked as a journalist for a small magazine, a French journal Progrès Egyptien. I can read and speak French, you know, because I went to a French school. But I realized that they were only translating the Arabic work of the Egyptian press, so it was not really journalistic work, it was translation. Because I wanted to make films I went to work in television, for Channel 3, the local channel. I made programs about cinema and theater, and cultural programs. Working in television is like journalism, it’s about making reports, but as short films. And then I went to the Film Institute. I’ve always lived in a mixed culture. I am Muslim but went to a Catholic school—the Good Shepherd School—which is a French school. And my family lived in Shubra, a very poor section of Cairo, but my family wasn’t poor. I had a rich experience because I lived in Shubra, where Christians and Muslims all lived together. I had very good Coptic friends and so I also read the Bible. These things opened my mind to other worlds, to other horizons. I always wanted to break through the limits that society makes between religions, between sexes, in politics, and everyday life. I think it would all be so simple if people lived without those limits. If you are in Egypt you see everything there very close up—the political and social problems. But in France or anywhere else, you see it from a long distance, so you have a more realistic perspective. There is a word in Arabic that means you cannot see the other side of something if you are too close to it. I liked being a stranger in another country for a while, to really get to know Egypt. There are many social controls in Egypt that determine relationships between people. I hate the hierarchies—that old people deserve more respect and authority than the young—and that the man is worth more than the woman, but our society has such hierarchies. You have to talk about problems, to think about them, try to accept them or try to change them, but at least discuss them. Some people are afraid to talk


about problems. But if you don’t ever talk about them, they will grow and grow, and in the end they become an obstacle to progress. If we don’t talk about problems, they will never be solved. (Interview with the author, Cairo, May 1995)

Filmography (selection) 1993 Waqt mustaqta‘ (Time Out), video, 10 min 1994 al-Mudun takhtar mawtaha (The Cities Choose Their Death), 35 mm, 10 min 1999 Hadiqa ghayr ‘adiya (Unusual Garden), digital, 30 min, for TV 2000 Rihla (Journey), digital, 30 min, for TV 2000 al-Shawk (The Thorns), beta SP, 30 min (About violence against women) 2001 Awraq rasmiya (Official Papers), beta SP, 20 min, for UNICEF 2004 Dardasha nisa’iyat/Entre femmes/Women’s Chitchat, beta SP, 58 min (European Union Silver Award at Rotterdam Arab Film Festival) Time Out Waqt mustaqta‘ Egypt 1993 This is a love story between an unhappily married woman and a man who ‘has no one.’ They have meetings and love each other. But in the end they each return to their respective lonelinesses, filled with romantic memories. The Cities Choose Their Death al-Mudun takhtar mawtaha Egypt 1994 A journalist gets the assignment to write an article about an Egyptian philosopher who died in absolute isolation. In the course of her research the young woman rediscovers not only her hometown of Cairo in a totally new way, but herself as well.



Women’s Chitchat Dardasha Nisa’iyat/Entre femmes Egypt/France 2004 Dir/Scr : Hala Galal C: Marwan Saber S: Ahmed Suleiman Ed: Dalia el-Nasser Prod : Misr International Films, Ognon Pictures, Zentropa, Les fils Chafic Fathallah


A portrait of different generations of women from the same Cairo family—from the glorious past, when women were more emancipated due to the feminist movement launched by Hoda Shaarawi in the 1920s, to the present day marked by regression. The film is part of a project called Nisa’ ra’idat (Pioneering Women) which aims at producing a series of films chronicling the lives and careers of prominent Egyptian women who have distinguished themselves in a range of fields including journalism, culture, and civil society.

HAMZA, NADIA (1939–)


adia Hamza was born in June 1, 1939 in Port Said. Trained as a scriptwriter, she worked as an assistant director and producer for well-known directors, before directing a film herself for the first time. She and Inas El Degheidi are the most well-known female commercial feature film directors in Egypt. In contrast to Inas El Degheidi, however, Nadia Hamza sees herself as a feminist filmmaker. Her films always have a woman as the lead character. She founded Seven Stars Studio Service, her own production and distribution company, in 1994.


Filmography (a selection of 35 mm feature films) 1984 Bahr al-awham (Sea of Fantasy) 1985 al-Nisa’ (The Women) 1986 Nisa’ khalf al-qudban (Women Behind Bars) 1987 Hiqd al-mar’a (Woman’s Greed) 1988 al-Mar’a wa-l-qanun (The Woman and the Law) 1988 Imra’a li-l-asaf (Unfortunately Woman) 1990 Ma‘rakat al-naqib Nadia (Lieutenant Nadia’s Struggle) 1991 Nisa’ sa‘aliq (Female Vagabonds), 90 min 1991 Nisa’ didd al-qanun (Women Against the Law) 1992 Hams al-gawari (Whisper of the Female Slaves) 1993 Nisa’ wa nisa’ (Women and Women) 2000 Wa-hayat qalbi wa farahuh (I Swear by the Happiness of My Heart) Female Vagabonds Nisa’ sa‘aliq Egypt 1991


Dir: Nadia Hamza Scr: Yusri El Ibiari C: Esam Farid M: Omar Khairat Ed: Enayat El Sayes Cast: Soheir Ramzi, Fifi Abdou, Tahani Rashid Prod: Sphinx Film, Cairo The Egyptian version of George Cukor’s classic The Women (1939), this strange, droll comedy deals with the depths of the female psyche when it comes to what is most important in the lives of women: men. But men don’t appear in the film at all; the entire cast is made up of women. They concoct intrigues, fight, take refuge in superstition and magical spells— anything to get the man they are all fighting over.


About the Film “The absence of the male factor in this film is not meant to portray an anti-male attitude. It is just an idea I had that I thought was very promising. The film’s dramatic composition centers around the different characters. They are women who represent modern times with all their contradictions. One is happily married; another is watching her marriage break up. The next is jealous of her best friend and yet another is trying to steal her friend’s husband; and finally the last one has gone through countless failed marriages. They are all fighting for one and the same person, who represents another character of our day and age: the affluent and influential man. In order to get him, the women ignore all human principles, manners, and values.” (Nadia Hamza) 86

Film Review Hamza has astonished everyone with films that, according to many, have done more harm than good to the image of women. Most of her films contain elements of crime and mental illness and as a result, her female characters are often criminals and/or mentally disturbed individuals. Hamza does not think that she has to justify her characters and their roles. “Women should get rid of the prejudice they have for their own sex when they direct films,” she says. In her opinion, women’s characters should be represented as they are and not as society thinks they ought to be. Hamza feels that the only concession a female director should make in portraying negative images of women is to deal with the characters sympathetically or turn the film into a comedy. (Nermin Nizar in al-Ahram Weekly, May 18–24, 1995)



erial Kamel was born on April 26, 1940 in Cairo. She first obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature in 1960. After graduating from Cairo’s Higher Film Institute in 1967, she went on to receive several prizes


at national and international film festivals. She specialized in children’s films and until her retirement she directed the department for children’s film at the Egyptian Film Center in Cairo. Ferial Kamel has written several scripts as well as books—including children’s books—about film. She writes film reviews and is working on a script for a documentary film for children about the intifada.

Filmography—selection (35 mm) 1975 Alf ‘am bayn aydihum (Thousand Years in Their Hands), 11 min 1979 ‘Azif bi-l-alwan (Rhythm in Colors), a documentary film about the artist Houcine Bikar, 18 min 1982 Kamel Kilani, a portrait of an Egyptian author of children’s books, 11 min 1982 al-Hams ‘ala al-nahas (Whisper on Copper), portrait of the artist Mohammed Rizq, 20 min 1998 Hilm al-fukhari (Dream of Potter), 10 min, animation 1998 al-Khayyam al-saghir (The Young Tentmaker), 10 min, animation 1999 al-Mar’a al-misriya wa-l-tanmiya (Egyptian Women and Development), 20 min

KHALIL, HALA (1967–)


ala Khalil was born on July 23, 1967 in Cairo. She abandoned her engineering studies to enroll at the Higher Film Institute where she graduated in 1992. Since then she has been writing film reviews and working as a director for the state television company.

Filmography (35 mm) 1992 Marionnettes (Puppets), 15 min 1994 Hudu’ al-layl (Silence of the Night), 10 min 1997 Tiri ya tayyara/The Kite, 37 min 1998 Gamal al-thawra (Gamal’s Revolution), 10 min



2000 2004

Ahbabak ‘ashra (Welcome with Ten Fingers), the title of a Sudanese song, 30 min Ahla al-awqat (The Best Times), 113 min (Second Prize, Rotterdam Arab Film Festival)

The Kite Tiri ya tayyara Egypt 1997 Dir: Hala Khalil Scr: Shahir Salam C: Samir Bahzan M: Mona Ghoneim Ed: Ahmed Daoud Prod: Egyptian Film Center, Cairo


A film about some memorable days in the life of Salma, a twelve-year-old girl. She has just discovered a few drops of blood, a sign of her first menstruation. Wrenched from her childlike world, Salma starts withdrawing from her father’s authoritarian rearing by escaping to an imaginary dream world. Hala Khalil’s first short film brought her critical acclaim. The Best Times Ahla al-awqat Egypt 2004 Dir: Hala Khalil Scr: Wisam Suleiman C: Ahmad El Morsi M: Khalid Hamad S: Tarek Alosh Ed: Manar Hosny Cast: Hanan Turk, Mena Shalabi, Hend Sabri Prod: Mohamed Al Adl Salma, a young woman who struggles with an overwhelming sense of loneliness after the unexpected death of her mother, is forced to leave


her stepfather’s house in a rich suburb of Cairo. She returns to Shubra, the popular neighborhood where she grew up. A series of anonymous letters and a cassette of her beloved singer Mohammed Mounir send her on a journey to rediscover her past and her relationship with her estranged stepfather.

Film Review Setting the scene with a number of character-filled close-ups, Hala Khalil, one of the new wave of young Egyptian directors, segues into a suspense drama that brings modern-day Cairo to life. First-time director Khalil masterfully describes Salma’s set of friends and family plus Cairo’s various social circles in a bold, original, yet highly accessible picture. (The Unofficial Dubai International Film Festival, 2004)

LOTFI, ARAB (1953–)


rab Lotfi was born on June 26, 1953 in Sidon in southern Lebanon. The younger sister of filmmaker Nabeeha Lotfy, she has been living in Cairo since 1981. There she studied law before transferring to the film-editing department of Cairo’s Higher Film Institute. Arab Lotfi has worked as an assistant director and editor. Today she is a freelance journalist, filmmaker, and scriptwriter. She is also director of a women’s research center called Ma‘an (Together), which she co-founded in 1992.

Speaking with Arab Lotfi I grew up in a city in southern Lebanon where political life is very dynamic. One reason is that southern Lebanon is the poorest part of Lebanon. Another reason is that my hometown, Sidon, is in the region where many Palestinians fled to after the war of 1948. So I grew up in a neighborhood where politics was a part of daily life; in fact it was daily life. I was thirteen in 1967, when the Six Day War with Israel broke out and Che Guevara died. This was the atmosphere I grew up in. Everything was related to




society; I didn’t have time to think of myself as an individual. I was more concerned with what I wanted my community to be. I was an observer of the social changes happening around me, and at the same time I was part of the changes I was observing. I was brought up in a middle-class family. My father was an intellectual, and my mother had a strong character. They were very liberal. My mother was not an intellectual, but she was so assertive that we never felt restricted as women, neither sexually nor in our everyday lives. As children we played Abtal-wa-haramiya, a game like cops and robbers, and until I was nine or ten I never wore girl’s clothes. I wore bathing trunks like the boys did. I grew up very self-assured. It was a shock to me as a teenager when I first realized that women were oppressed. My mother was very intelligent and knew it. She was frustrated that she couldn’t complete her education because she was a woman. She never accepted the idea that she was second-class in anything. Her points of view, her ideas, her decisions were always respected. She supported us in our desire to be strong, she wanted us to be strong, and she wanted everybody around us to be strong. When I married, my mother disapproved of the marriage, because she was not convinced he was the right person. He’s Christian, I’m Muslim; he’s Egyptian, I’m Lebanese. But she said, “Okay, I don’t like it, but you are free to do what you want.” And then I traveled to England to get married. She didn’t approve of the marriage, but she paid for the ticket because she was afraid that his parents would pay, which would make me seem less independent.66 I never felt oppressed. I think that played a very important role in teaching me tolerance. One of the things that disturbs me about the behavior of some feminists is that I feel it is an aggressive reaction to earlier frustrations. I think such reactions are hysterical. And they give the whole movement a bad name. I never thought of whether I wanted to be a filmmaker or a lawyer or an activist. I simply followed my interests. I’ve loved the cinema since I was a young child, because I loved watching films. Our city was a small city; we had six movie theaters, and the only thing we could really do was go to the movies. One day I thought, “Why shouldn’t I make films?” For me writing, filmmaking, and activism were all ways of expressing myself in relation to the world; it was not a profession, but a way of communicating.


My first film Upper Gate was a form of self-therapy. After the Israeli invasion in 1981 I had this obsession that someone was trying to destroy our memory. So I became obsessed with the idea of not losing our memory. I was afraid of losing myself in this chaos, and the idea of making a film developed out of these fears. In fact, many of my friends were killed, and many places and documents were destroyed. In my film I wanted to collect memory, to catch moments that I really relate to. And not only with cinema: I did a lot of writing during this time. I am a passionate collector anyway; I love to collect all kinds of things, even old shoes. I have shoes that I have carried around with me for years because they remind me of a certain time of my life that I loved. During the civil war I traveled back and forth between Beirut and Cairo. I wanted to be in Beirut. I wanted to be part of the struggle. We believed that we could change the course of history and build a better Lebanon. I joined the nationalist movement; we wanted a democratic, socialist, and secular Lebanon. And then we discovered it wasn’t a civil war. We were not fighting against the Lebanese reactionary groups; we were fighting against all the reactionary Arab regimes, and the Americans and Israelis. We were fighting the militarism of six or seven governments. We discovered that Lebanon can’t change without change in the Arab world. That is why we failed. The civil war was not a fight between Muslims and Christians, as the media in the West portrayed it. It was not only a Muslim resistance. As a matter of fact one of the first martyrs of the Lebanese resistance was a Christian communist. My whole family were active socialists. Although I never lived in poverty, I felt solidarity with the poor and I was aware of the problems of poverty. Even when I was a young girl, I knew about the Palestinian camps, and how people live, I knew people from the camps, I had friends from peasant areas. In the 1960s and 1970s they were poor like now, but they had the will to change, and that was very powerful. The atmosphere in the camps was much healthier and more optimistic. Now people are desperate; they are losing their will, because they feel that going back to Palestine is becoming more difficult. This lack of hope affects their lives not only economically but socially as well. And now you find more drug addiction, more prostitution, and more suicides in the camps. (Interview with the author, Cairo, June 1995.)



Filmography 1991 Bawabat al-fawqa/The Upper Gate, 16 mm, 90 min 1993 Jamila’s Mirror, video, 25 min 1997 Saba‘ layali wa subhiya (Seven Nights and One Morning), beta, 50 min 1998 Rango, video, 40 min 1999 al-Farah misri (Egyptian Wedding), video, 36 min 1999 Ziyara qasira (Short Visit), 80 min The Upper Gate Bawabat al-fawqa Lebanon/United Kingdom 1991 Dir/Scr: Arab Lotfi


Bawabat al-Fawqa is Sidon’s southernmost city gate. In 1948 it welcomed the Palestinians refugees from Haifa. In 1984 it became the silent witness of the Israeli attacks that pushed the refugees farther north. The gate is a sign of solidarity between Lebanese and Palestinians, between Muslims, Christians, and Druzes. In this film, Arab Lotfi returns to the days of her childhood, to her favorite places and people. Jamila’s Mirror United Kingdom 1993 Dir/Scr: Arab Lotfi C: Nabil Hasan M: Yasser Ali Mokhtar Ed: Mona Sabban Cast: Aisha Ouda, Laila Khaled, Rashida Obeida, Rasmeya Ouda Prod: South Productions, London The Algerian Jamila Buhreid67 was a role model for many women who were active in the 1960s and early 1970s in the Arab liberation movements. Representing these women, four Palestinians confront their past in the film. Their ways of interpreting their own experiences are subjective accounts of the personal and political effects of the Middle East conflict


on their lives. Their stories are edited together with archival material from the 1960s to form a montage. The women discuss how and why they took up armed struggle, their experiences in prison, the impact of political change—the death of Che Guevara, Nasser’s abdication, the Vietnam war protests— the conflicting pressures from often conventional family backgrounds destroyed by refugeedom, and forced flight from cities and towns taken over by the Israeli forces. Layla Kahled, in particular, discusses how the dream of a return to one’s homeland became a willingness to risk all in a violent confrontation with the status quo. (From South Productions, London)



abeeha Lotfy, the older sister of filmmaker Arab Lotfi, was born on January 28, 1937 in Sidon, in southern Lebanon. She has been living in Cairo since the 1950s, where she studied Arab literature. After an interlude as a journalist, she attended the Higher Film Institute in Cairo. She worked as an assistant director for television films and with the famous Egyptian director Shadi Abdel Salam68 within the framework of the department for experimental film at the Egyptian Film Center. Nabeeha Lotfy and Ateyyat El Abnoudy are the best-known female documentary filmmakers in Egypt. In 1990 Lotfy and other women founded the Egyptian Women in Film Association to represent the interests of women in film. At the 2001 Egyptian Film Festival in Cairo, Nabeeha Lotfy was honored with a retrospective of her films.

Speaking with Nabeeha Lotfy I still clearly remember my four years as a student at the Film Institute. We had some outstanding teachers; some of them were well-known directors. They gave us an understanding of cinema that differed fundamentally from ours. Still, they gave us the feeling that cinema was something sacred. Youssef Chahine was one of my professors. I remember how quickly the




three hours of his class passed, and we stayed on afterward and talked. No matter what you think of Chahine as a director, no one who experienced him as a teacher will ever forget what he instilled in us—the love of the cinema. Often silent film stars came to visit us, for example, Dawlat Abyad and Mary Queeny, and talked about the early years of the cinema industry. We were so taken by that spirit of those pioneers. In the 1960s people regarded cinema as something frivolous and disreputable. My family in Lebanon knew I wanted to study film, and at first it was a real shock to them. I tried to explain to them what I was just beginning to realize: that film was a serious art form. Because I graduated from the Higher Film Institute in Cairo, I was supposed to teach in the Film Institute or work at the state-run television station. But I did not have Egyptian nationality, so I couldn’t. Instead I worked for a few years as assistant director for television films. One day I was about to sign a contract for a film as assistant director. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t like the way it was going, and I didn’t want to make this kind of cinema; it was not to my liking, too commercial, only shallow entertainment. I was signing the contract and I decided I did not want to sign it, and the executive producer was asking why, and I said I don’t know, I don’t want to work in cinema and I just left. I went to Studio Nahaz, went up to the office of Shadi Abdel Salam, a friend for a time, and I told him I am not going to work in that cinema and he said “Well, we were waiting for you to come to us.” He told me, “tomorrow you can sign a contract with our center.” He was starting an experimental film center for artistic films. And I signed a contract with him. That’s how I started working on documentary films. I wrote a script or two and a few articles on cinema. Then I went to Lebanon and I made my film about Tel al-Zaatar.69 But it was not something I wanted to build a career on. I wanted a career in Egypt. So I went back to Egypt and started making documentaries for the National Film Center. I was very amateurish back then. I wanted to be a filmmaker but I didn’t realize that I also had to be a businesswoman. I refused to bend over backwards to get a contract. My interest in making films was always more important than making money. I’ve enjoyed making all of my films. For me cinema portrays an atmosphere and a way of life. Some people say they chose documentary because it is real life and the real thing. I


didn’t choose documentary films for that reason. I think feature films are very realistic: the emotions, the sensitivities, the ideas are real. There are psychological and sociological realities. You can portray these realities very well in a feature film. That’s why, when I see a bad feature film, it hurts me more than a bad documentary. It hurts my feelings more than my artistic sensibility, because I feel people are meddling with my emotions, not only with my mind. There are, for example, some really mediocre copies of the nouvelle vague films from around the late 1950s in France. It’s okay to imitate a film style. But when mediocre directors try to imitate a film . . . . I think it was a coincidence that put me into documentary films. I came to the cinema from the arts, from literature. And so when I came to cinema, what was in my mind was not the cinema itself but the translation of cinema, or translation of art, of literature into cinema. I was thinking of cinema as a means of portraying art. To convey literature. And that’s why I was planning from the very beginning to do feature films, not documentaries. Documentary is more what we call pure cinema. Over time I learned that documentary is not an inflexible medium; it leaves much room for creativity. I learn something new with every documentary film. I work without a storyboard and script. I believe that anybody who writes a script for a documentary is going to twist the facts. They’ll see what they want to see. Of course you have ideas, but then you go and meet the people and they are in another world and they say other things and are different. You learn a lot that you didn’t know before. My films are not so much a product of my mind but of my intuition. That’s why I never regret it if I don’t finish a film. I have two or three unfinished films, but I don’t care that they are not finished, because I think: I have made them, I have enjoyed them, I have lived them. I was in my freshman year at the American University in Beirut, when there was the strike and demonstration about the Baghdad Pact.70 They expelled some of the students who participated, and we were all suspended for four months. And at that time Gamal Abd al-Nasser was president of Egypt; he sent a telegram to Lebanon to the embassy to tell all those who were expelled to come to Cairo to finish their studies. That’s how I came. Otherwise it would not have been possible, because the two countries had completely different eduational systems that they had inherited from the




colonial period. That is how a twist of fate can change one’s life. I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed in Beirut. I had been studying political science. But in Cairo, I changed subjects and began studying Arabic literature. My family was conservative, but my father was very liberal and tolerant. We always had a very open home. I remember that many people would visit us to discuss politics. They quarreled but were still friends. My father never pressured us. Even when I married, I never felt oppressed. Women’s issues were not something that I felt as a woman. I understood oppression in my mind later, through my observations. In recent years I started to comprehend that women carry quite a burden. This never really occurred to me before; I was always more concerned with class struggle. When I first married I could have asked for the Egyptian nationality. But I would have had to give up my Lebanese nationality. And I couldn’t give up my Lebanese nationality; it was something I was born with. So when it was possible to have dual nationality, I applied for Egyptian nationality and got it. All the time I felt I was Egyptian. After my husband died, people asked if I wanted to go back to Lebanon. But now I have my life in Egypt; I have my children here and all my friends. So you know, you can’t go back, even though I love Lebanon. I feel that I have loyalty to these two countries; it’s not loyalty, it’s love. Lebanon has my childhood, the years of my youth, and Egypt has my womanhood and the rest of my life, and my children and grandchildren. If I look ahead, I see myself staying in Egypt. It’s my country now. And maybe I understand it much better now than before—my documentary films have certainly played a role in that. (Interviews with the author, Berlin, February 1995, and Cairo, June 1995.)

Filmography (selection) 1972 Sala min nawahi Misr al-‘atiqa (Prayer from Old Cairo), 35 mm, 10 min 1975 Li’ann al-guzur lan tamut (Because the Roots Never Die), 35 mm, 55 min 1981 Monastery St. Katherine, 33 mm, 30 min 1983 ‘Arusati (My Bride), 35 mm, 20 min 1987 Hosan wa ‘asfur (Horse and Bird), 35 mm, 20 min


1990 1991 1994 1996 1998 1999 2000 2002 2003

La‘b ‘iyal (Children’s Games), 35 mm, 20 min Ila ayn?/Where to?, video, 20 min Risala min Higaza/Message from Hegaza, video, 20 min Portraits of women in the series “Arab Woman Speaks,” video, 3 x 20 min Hiwar min al-shabab ila al-shabab (Dialogue from youth to youth), video, 22 min Innaha tazra‘ al-ard wa tasqiha (She Cultivates, She Irrigates), video, 20 min Nisa’/Women, 11 x 25–30 min, portraits of distinguished women, for television Nidaa (a portrait of street hawkers), digital, 20 min Sharia Mohammed Ali/Remains of a Certain Time: Mohammed Ali Street, digital, 36 min

Because the Roots Never Die Li’ann al-guzur lan tamut Lebanon 1975


A documentary film about the Tal al-Zatar Palestinian refugee camp, where in 1976 inhabitants of the camp were massacred by Lebanese Phalangists.71 Most of those killed were women, children, and the elderly. Children’s Games La‘b ‘iyal Egypt 1990 Dir/Scr: Nabeeha Lotfy Prod: Egyptian Film Center, Cairo A quiet, intense film, almost totally void of words, about children in a village in Upper Egypt. The children are very imaginative and make toys out of everyday utensils and objects. Women Egypt 2000


A series of portraits of significant contemporary Egyptian women: Suad Rida is general director of the Rose al-Yusuf Institute, which publishes a weekly magazine by the same name; Najwa Mustafa is an engineer and general director of streets and bridges in the governorate of Ismailia; Aida Motassem, an engineer, is owner and CEO of a granite factory; Aida Guindy was Egypt’s representative to the United Nations for thirty-five years, responsible for promoting women’s issues, and for the region of Asia and West Africa.

MAGDA (1931–)



agda is the pseudonym of Afaf Al Sabahi. She was born on May 6, 1931. After first appearing on an Egyptian film screen in 1951, she has played a leading role in roughly sixty films. She is one of the bestknown actresses in Egypt. In 1956 Magda founded her own production company. She often assumed the lead in films produced by her company, in keeping with the tradition of the early film pioneers. For example, in 1958, in Jamila al-jaza’iriya (Jamila, the Algerian; dir. Youssef Chahine), based on the biography of the Algerian revolutionary Jamila Buhreid.72 In 1995 Magda was elected president of the Egyptian Women in Film Association. Whom Do I Love? Man uhibb? Egypt, 1967, 35 mm, b&w, 120 min Dir: Magda Scr: Sabri El Askar, Weguih Naguib C: Tillio, Bruno Salvi M: Various musical pieces S: Fikri Rustom Cast: Magda, Ahmed Mazhar, Ehab Nafi Prod: Magda Films, Cairo The story of a woman from an aristocratic house and her relationships with various men. The historical background is composed of the events in


Palestine in 1948 and the Suez Conflict in 1956. Film critic Samir Farid is very doubtful as to whether Magda really directed this film.

Film Review If you steal a film without mentioning that it is a remake—if you say it is a remake there is no problem—then you have to steal an unknown film. A Danish film, a Swedish film, a Brazilian film. But who would dare steal Gone with the Wind? Try to imagine: this film is a remake—no, not a remake, because remake is a very respectable word—this film is an Egyptian copy of Gone with the Wind. I mean not only the script or the story, but the mise en scene, the direction, the editing. . . . I was shocked, of course, and I published this openly: “We have waited from 1937 until now to see the woman as a film director, and now we have Gone with the Wind in Egyptian!” Officially the credits say “directed by Magda,” but everyone knows she was there on the set, but the real director was her assistant. Omar al-Shenaoui73 was well-known, he’s still alive today. And everybody knows that he was the director, but officially, she was the director. It was a very bad experience. (Samir Farid, in an interview with the author, Cairo, April 1995)



ona Megahed was born on August 2, 1937. After completing her studies in journalism and political science at the American University in Cairo in 1960, she graduated from the Higher Film Institute in 1964. As a director for the Egyptian Film Center she made more than twenty documentary films from 1967 before retiring from the film business in 1979.

Filmography (selection) Zaynab’s Hope Amal Zaynab Egypt, 1974, 35 mm, b&w, 17 min A short film in black-and-white that is reminiscent of the early films of feminist directors in Europe. Zaynab is a young girl who wears a miniskirt



and works at a telephone switchboard in the capital. Like many working women, she has to take care of career, her family, and her household. Memories of her childhood and her irascible and violent father keep pushing their way into her daily life and dreams.



andra Nashat (Nashaat, Nachaat) was born on February 2, 1970 in Cairo. Her mother is from Lebanon, her father from Syria. She attended Cairo’s Higher Film Institute, simultaneously studying French literature at the University of Cairo. In 1994 she represented Egypt when she studied in the United States for several months on a scholarship. Sandra Nashat was an assistant director for several Egyptian feature films and one US production. She has made several long feature films in recent years, all of which were box office successes.


Speaking with Sandra Nashat I am Christian and went to a girls’ Catholic school. When a boy came to our school, even someone’s little brother, it was to us like meeting a sex from a different planet. This separation between girls and boys made it difficult for me and my girlfriends to feel comfortable with men when we went to university. It was like having a space of five meters between us. When I left Catholic school, I was suddenly a Christian in a Muslim society. I had always been sheltered when I was younger. I was protected at home and after that I was protected at school. I did not face the outside world until late. And not just men, but it really was another world. I didn’t start to have this experience until after I left school. My language, everything, was different, really, everything. My first reaction to the world was one of disappointment, because I expected something else. I was very naïve. This was the real world and I didn’t know the world, how people are dishonest, how they lie. In school I was taught that the world is very good and very honest, and you will know people as they really are. Just as you see them, you will know whether they are true or not, whether or not they lie. But you don’t know; you have to experience the world to know people and to know the world.


When I first decided to be a director, a female director in Egypt, I was fascinated by the idea of being a woman in this career. My father didn’t like the idea at all. He wanted me to study French literature, something suitable for women. For a while, I did my film institute studies while I was studying French Literature. The French Literature class was also an all-girl one. Now I see that the girls there are the same as when I was in school. Really, they are still the same. And I like to be different. If you went to the class, you’d see how I am different, how I am more open. I can express myself, I can express my needs, and they don’t, they can’t. They still have their mirrors and their make-up. Artists are more free. Maybe you have to be. You have to have confidence in yourself. There is a big difference between a very conservative girl, a Christian school, and an artist. Artists have to be more free, they have to express themselves, if not they would not be an artist. They have to know what they want, what they need, because they have to express this in their work. I learned how to express myself and what I want and what I don’t want. I had to fight to be a woman in filmmaking. When I became more mature, I asked myself what I was fighting for. I wasn’t a feminist. Never. I am just a woman. Okay, I was born like this. I am very happy to be a woman. I don’t want to fight about it. I don’t want to be among the best of the women filmmakers in Egypt, but the best of filmmakers. Being a filmmaker means you are an artist. It doesn’t mean you are a woman or you are a man. And that is what I hate about it, because people sometimes say “Oh you’ll be a great woman director.” I don’t want to be a woman director, I want to be a filmmaker. A good filmmaker. My style is not action, not fighting, not loud voices, and technical effects. You know when the doctor has this little lamp and tries to see whatever you have in your mouth, in your stomach. I like this, I love this. I go inside the stomach of people. And see what they have, how they feel. Because this is what I want to know, about myself and about people. Why I change and why other people do not change, what happens. What’s inside our feelings. I’m not satisfied with the surface. I have this book my brother gave to me called Why? and it is an answer to things in life, why you are afraid, why you are scared, why you are happy, why you are. And I




love this. This is what I want to do in my films—I want to ask “why?” Why do you hate, why do you love, what are your feelings, why do you feel like this toward this girl and not toward that one. Why are you depressed, why? As a director, you create your own world, you create characters, human beings, you kill them, you give them life. You are playing God. And for Christian people, playing God is a sin. I think this is why religions don’t want you to be an artist because this is haram.74 My brothers emigrated to California. They saw no future for themselves here. I guess I want to say in my films that there is hope in this country. When my brothers saw my first film Last Winter, they encouraged me to keep making films and to stay in Egypt. Their reaction gave me more selfconfidence. Success in your work is a kind of fighting, when you prove yourself. Both my brothers are older than I am. I was the baby of the family. The youngest brother, an architect, taught me to understand films and art. I guess it all started in theater at school. I always liked telling people what to do. I chose the subject, the story, and said, okay, look, we’ll do this and this, you come here, you be there. I was directing scenes, but, well, I didn’t know then that it was directing. (Interview with the author, Cairo, November 1994)

Filmography (35 mm, unless otherwise specified) 1992 Akhir shita/Last Winter, b&w, 16 min (First Prize at the Ismailia Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films, Egypt) 1994 al-Mufiola (The Editing Table), 8 min 1998 Mabruk wa Bulbul (Mabruk and Bulbul), feature film about a man with Down’s Syndrome who falls in love with a prostitute, feature film 2000 Leih khalitni ahibbak?75/Why’d You Make Me Love You?, feature film 2002 Haramiya fi KG2 (Thieves in Kindergarten), feature film 2003 Haramiya fi Taylanda (Thieves in Thailand), 105 min 2005 Mallaki Iskandariya/Privé Alex (Alexandria Private), a thriller


Last Winter Akhir shita Egypt 1992 Dir/Scr: Sandra Nashat Prod: Academy of Arts, Higher Film Institute, Cairo Faiza is a teenager from an affluent, conservative Christian family. She spends the summer vacation with her parents in the countryside and makes friends with a girl her age who is almost the exact opposite of her in many ways. They look forward to seeing each other again the next summer, but that doesn’t come to be. Sandra Nashat’s first film received critical acclaim. “A small film, dedicated to the age of black-and-white, silent films.” (Sandra Nashat) Why’d You Make Me Love You? Leih khalitni ahibbak? Egypt 2000 Dir: Sandra Nashat Cast: Ahmed Helmi, Mona Zaki, Karim Abeel Aziz, Hala Shiha et al. The film is about two girls vying for the same boy. Its storyline takes more than just inspiration from the Hollywood blockbuster My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring Julia Roberts.

Film Reviews Why’d You Make Me Love You? is nothing more than it purports to be: a light, romantic comedy. So what’s wrong with that? Judging by director Sandra Nashat’s Cinema Institute final project Last Winter, one would have pegged her for the art crowd. A black-and-white mooded piece starring the then-relatively unknown Mona Zaki (one of this venture’s stars as well). Last Winter promised a rising talent. But no one expected Nashat’s second venture to be a breezy romantic escapade—one of the so-called youth films crowding the box office these days. And yet, that’s exactly



what Nashat has given us, complete with a silly-but-surprisingly-effective, musical narration that runs through the length of the film. (Tarek Atia in al-Ahram Weekly, no. 516, January 11–17, 2001) Thieves in Kindergarten Haramiya fi KG2 Egypt 2002 Dir: Sandra Nashat Cast: Ahmed Helmi, Mona Zaki, Karim Abeel Aziz, Hala Shiha Hassan finds himself in the awkward situation of having to look after his partner-in-robbery’s six-year-old daughter Nisma while his friend does time in jail. An Arnold Schwarzenegger Kindergarten Cop-like comedy with the young stars of Egyptian cinema.


Film Review Till recently, the basic choice in Egypt for mindless cinematic fare consisted of two options: on the one hand, the film agnabi hayif (the lightweight foreign—usually American—film); on the other, the film arabi habit (the crass, locally-produced Arabic film). . . . Haramiya fi KG2 is—in terms of the grotesquely exaggerated typology offered here—certainly not arabi habit. Made in early twenty-first-century Egypt, where hitherto unprecedented levels of professionalism in packaging and advertising are being attained, where young executives and marketing personnel are increasingly driven by international standards of what they call ‘quality,’ Sandra Nashat’s meticulously executed film is testimony to the fact that Egypt is now capable of producing what it used to import. Haramiya fi KG2 belongs to that new class of Egyptian film: the arabi hayif made in agnabi mode. It’s a small, global village world after all. (Nur El Messiri in al-Ahram Weekly, no. 576, March 7–13, 2002)




ahani Rached was born on May 16, 1947 in Cairo to French-Egyptian parents. She spent several years of her childhood in Lebanon. After studying painting at the École des BeauxArts in Montreal, Canada, she started a career as filmmaker in 1973 and still lives in Montreal today. As part of the National Film Board staff, she has, to date, directed more than twenty documentary films.

Filmography (a selection) 1973 Pour faire changement (For a Change), video, 50 min 1974 Augustine Neto, video, 30 min (co-director) 1975 C’est pas un cadeau (This is not a Present), video, 30 min 1976 Leur crise, on la paye pas (Their Crisis, Not at Our Expense), 16 mm, 30 min 1976 Les mesures de contrôle et une nouvelle société (Measures of Control and a New Society), 16 mm, 30 min 1979 Les frères ennemis (The Estranged Brothers), 16 mm, 16 min 1980 Les voleurs de jobs/Where Dollars Grow on Trees, 16 mm, 67 min 1981 Le confort et l’indifférence (Comfort and Indifference), docu-drama, 16 mm, 108 min 1981 La maison de Aleya (Aleya’s House) 1982 La phonie furieuse (Language of Fury), 35 mm, 10 min 1983 Beyrouth! À défaut d’être mort/Beirut! Not Enough Death to Go Around, 16 mm, 57 min 1985 Haiti. Québec, 16 mm, 57 min 1986 Bam Pay A! Rends-moi mon pays! (Bam Pay A! Give Me My Country Back!), 16 mm, 51 min 1987 Haiti, nous là! nou la! (Haiti, We There!), video, 28 min 1990 Au Chic Resto Pop, 16 mm, 110 min 1993 Médecins de cœur/Doctors with Hearts, 16 mm, 110 min



1997 1999 2003

Arba‘a nisa’ min Misr/Quatre femmes d’Égypte/Four Women of Egypt, video, 90 min Urgence! Deuxième souffle/Emergency! A Critical Situation, video, 83 min Soraida, une femme de Palestine/Soraida, Woman of Palestine, 90 min

Four Women of Egypt Arba‘a nisa’ min Misr/Quatre femmes d’Égypte Canada 1997 Dir/Scr: Tahani Rached C: Jacques Leduc S: Serge Beauchemin M: Jean Derome Ed: Fernand Bélanger Cast: Amina Rachid, Safynaz Kazem, Shahenda Maklad, Wedasd Mitry Prod: National Film Board of Canada 106

A documentary film about friendship. Four Women of Egypt take on this challenge, and their confrontation redefines tolerance. These four friends have the same goal—human dignity. They all still remember the reign of King Farouk and they all hoped for far-reaching changes after Nasser’s revolution. Since then they have been fighting for social justice. Their identities have developed in the course of history and each adopts an approach radically different from the others’. Their different convictions— Muslim, Christian, or non-religious—make them appear diametrically opposed. But these four women don’t demonize one another; instead they listen to each other and speak their minds. And they laugh through it all.

Speaking with Tahani Rached How did the film come to be? Well, I have known Amina since 1980, when I was in Egypt researching a film. Since then we have kept up our friendship. But I didn’t think from the very beginning of making a film with her. I wanted to know how members of the family deal with their different religious and political convictions. Amina said it would be


interesting to pose that question with regard to friendships as well, that is, how friendships can be sustained despite differences. I met a group of men who were all friends from their university days. Twenty years later they had changed a lot. One ran the most important Islamist newspaper in Cairo, another was a poet; one was a publisher; and another a dedicated neo-liberal. They had very heated discussions, but only on an ideological level. I didn’t find that very interesting. Then I was talking on the phone again with Amina, as I do every day, and I was complaining that nothing would come of the film project. Then she invited me to meet her friends and that’s how the film developed. The women manage again and again to make connections between the private and the political, between the individual and the collective. And when it is a woman who is shooting the film, then she is probably far more open to these aspects. It depends on the perspective one has in viewing reality. Politics and history are not things that happen outside of us. Each and every one of us is part of it. The women have contributed to history, even if they only stood in the galleries looking down on Nasser. The time under Nasser was very important for women of my generation and the previous one in the Middle East. Nasser was a mythos. He stood for both hope and failure at the same time. What interests me is what happened to the people later on, what became of their dreams, their involvement for justice? The thing about Egypt that always impresses me is that the identity of the residents is not divided up into political, social, national, individual aspects. That stands in contrast to the very individualized self-image that is common in Western or North American culture. Perceiving oneself as part of society gives the women in my film great strength. In the West you are part of a circle of friends that believe in certain things, but ten years later the contexts are totally different. In Egypt the women have the feeling that they are part of the country and its history. I don’t think I would have wanted to make this film ten years ago. Perhaps it did not seem as necessary then as it does today—to remain open and to listen. In the West an Islamist is viewed as the devil, the enemy, someone with whom you cannot discuss anything from the outset. When the film was released in Quebec, people told me how wonderful the women were, that



they kept on talking with each other even though they are all so different. And they asked themselves if maybe they should do the same thing in Canadian society. So it is a question that affects us all no matter where we are. (From a conversation with Gudula Meinzolt and Bethina Kocher, Paris, July 1998.)


From an Interview with Tahani Rached Your film Four Women of Egypt was shown at this year’s Berlin Film Festival (1999). How did the audience respond? TR: The reception was fantastic. The audience liked the four women and laughed a lot. I experience that all over. My film is an Egyptian film but it is also very universal. People—in Egypt, Canada, Germany, or elsewhere— all laugh at the same scenes. For audiences in Canada or Europe the archival footage edited in as a montage and the historical contexts are very interesting. In Egypt it was more tense; the audience related to the history and recognized themselves—or their mother, their sister—in the women. As in other Arab countries, in Egypt there is not only a personal identity, but also an identification through one’s social milieu; personal, public, politics, history, religion—it is all one. Was it easy to show your film publicly in Egypt? TR: The film was shown at the International Film Festival in Cairo and the audience’s response was excellent. Since then copies have been circulating all over. It is as if I showed aspects of Egyptian reality that the people usually don’t see, and that moved audiences a lot. The film was not shown on state television. Television is too conservative and official; it is not that free. It takes a long time to get rid of antiquated customs, but things are changing. Religion is a delicate subject. To talk about it in such a free, direct way, as the women do in the film is possible in Egypt today only on satellite television. You originally did not want to make a film about women? TR: No. But then I met these women and it was really exciting working with them; showing four very strong women instead of the usual stereotypes. Most people are still more comfortable seeing women being victimized.


Then they can say “poor them” and feel very paternalistic. But these four women have nothing to learn from anyone anymore. Every single one of them has spent time in prison, one under Nasser and the other three under Sadat. How did the filming go? TR: My film crew really loved the experience. The women were very spontaneous; they just started talking honestly and openly. And the camera didn’t interfere. I didn’t give any instructions; it all just took off by itself. That was because I had already spent some time with them. I always work that way. For example when I made a film about a nurse in an emergency room in a hospital, I spent six months in that hospital before I started shooting. Then I continued to come daily for another two months to film. The people first have to get used to me before they can really trust that I will neither deceive nor fool around with them. (Interview with the author, Berlin, February 1999.) 109



iola Shafik, daughter of a German mother and an Egyptian father, was born on July 24, 1961 in Schönaich near Stuttgart, Germany. After attending school in Cairo, she studied art education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, and Oriental Studies and German Studies in Hamburg. Shafik received her Ph.D. in 1994; her dissertation Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity was published in German (Bielefeld, 1996) and later in English (Cairo, 1998). Viola Shafik organized numerous Arab film series for film festivals and art film houses. She also translates for German television and writes for academic and journalistic publications. She lived in New York in 1996 on a one-year grant from the Rockefeller Humanities Foundation. Through a scholarship from the Middle East Research Competition in Beirut she was able to research “discourses of femininity in Arab cinema.” Shafik has


made several documentary films, some of which were produced by her production company, Bait Kabir Film. Viola Shafik lives in Cairo where she has also taught cinema studies at the American University in Cairo.


Filmography 1987 Das Innere des Granatapfels (The Core of the Pomegranate), Super 8 (blown up to 16 mm), 18 min 1991 Irakische Künstler (Iraqi Artists), WDR, video, 10 min, co-director 1993 Shagarat al-laymun/The Lemon Tree, 16 mm, 29 min (Prize for the best documentary short at the Festival de l’Institut du Monde Arabe [FIMA], Paris) 1994 Medienland Ägypten (Media-land Egypt) SWF, video, 10 min, research consultant and co-director 1999 Umm al-nur wa banatiha/The Mother of Light and Her Daughters beta SP, 53 min 1999 Musim zar‘ al-banat/The Planting of Girls, beta SP, 37 min 2003 Die Reise einer Königin (The Journey of a Queen), ZDF/ ARTE, beta, 56 min The Lemon Tree Shagarat al-laymun Egypt 1993 Dir/Scr: Viola Shafik Prod: Bait Kabir Film, Cairo This film is based on a 1946 story by Egyptian poet and former Arab League ambassador, Ibrahim Shokrallah about his almost mystical relationship with a lemon tree in the yard of his parent’s home. This relationship comes to an abrupt end when his father decides to cut the tree down to build an extension to the house. This semi-documentary film is an allegory of Egypt’s development, particularly during the Sadat era, when the president’s economically liberal Open Door policies and the emerging construction boom destroyed well-established urban structures and social networks.


The Mother of Light and Her Daughters Umm al-nur wa banatiha Egypt 1999 Dir/Scr/C/S: Viola Shafik Prod: Bait Kabir Film, Cairo While depicting the habits and customs related to the annual fasting dedicated to the Virgin Mary, director Viola Shafik asks her female Coptic relatives to share their stories for the camera. Mothers, sisters, daughters, and nieces from four generations relate stories that demonstrate the changes in socialization, women’s emancipation, and the role of religion in Egyptian society. The religious traditions of the women start shifting toward fundamentalism in the younger generation. Their existence is totally fixed on church institutions. The film thus touches on the rich mythological heritage rooted in Coptic customs and religious doctrine, on the one hand, and on gender inequalities, which are sanctioned by the Orthodox Coptic church as well as large segments of Egyptian society, on the other. 111

The Planting of Girls Musim zar‘ al-banat Egypt 1999 Dir/Scr: Viola Shafik Prod: Media House, Cairo A film about the pros and cons of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM, clitoridectomy and often removal of part or all of the labia minora) of girls in Egypt, as told through the eyes and words of those affected. It also examines the cultural and historical roots to the practice and counters many common misconceptions about the supposed role of religion in perpetuating the custom.




State television is the first stop for many recent graduates of Cairo’s Higher Film Institute. For many it is also a springboard toward a longed-for career as a film director. The proportion of women employed by the state radio and television is relatively high, similar to other agencies, but their salaries are very low, making it necessary for many state employees to have at least one secondary job. It is possible for women to move up even to management levels in television or to make a name for themselves as directors. There are also several women who work as cinematographers in television, whereas this is not the case for the film branch. Artistic freedom in television, however, faces greater restrictions. Television productions have to adjust not only to what a mainstream public wants to see in terms of style but also to social conventions regarding subject matter. Many films of native filmmakers that were critically acclaimed abroad have therefore no chance of being shown to a wide audience within Egypt. Satellite television has gained acceptance throughout the Arab world. There are meanwhile roughly fifty Arab stations transmitting through space. Barring individual exceptions their headquarters are in the Arab realm. At the present time, two television stations—belonging to Al Jazeera (Qatar) and Middle East Broadcasting Company (Dubai)—dedicated especially to documentary films are in planning. It remains to be seen to what extent they will be free of censorship and willing to broadcast films by independent filmmakers. Due to space considerations only the bestknown female television directors are mentioned below.




orn in Cairo on May 15, 1942, Inam Mohamed Ali grew up in Minya, a city in Upper Egypt. She completed her studies at the Academy of Arts in Cairo in 1963 and earned a second degree at the mass media department in 1973. Following graduation she worked as an intern for BBC in London and for television stations in East Germany, West Germany, and Czechoslovakia. After returning to Cairo she worked for state television, remaining there for over thirty years until her retirement. Inam Mohamed Ali made more than a dozen television series and just as many videos, as well as several feature films for television. This has made her the best-known female television director in Egypt. She has received numerous awards for her films at film festivals in Arab countries. 113

Filmography—selection 1985 Asfa, arfud al-talaq (Sorry, I Refuse the Divorce), 35 mm, 100 min 1987 Yawmiyat imra’a misriya (Diary of an Egyptian Woman), 35 mm, 110 min 1990 Sa’id al-ahlam (Hunter of the Dreams), 35 mm, 110 min 1992 Hikayat al-gharib (Stories of the Stranger), 35 mm, 108 min 1994 al-Tariq ila Eilat (The Road to Eilat), 35 min, 141 min 1996 Nuna al-sha’nuna (Silly Girl), 45 min 1999 Umm Kulthum, the famous Egyptian singer, a 37-part television series at 25 min, 2000 NA Qasim Amin, an Egyptian sociologist and feminist,76 45 min Sorry, I Refuse the Divorce Asfa, arfud al-talaq Egypt 1985


This film is a critique of a society that gives only men the right to divorce: all a man has to do is say “I divorce thee” three times. Eissam did not do even that; he merely sent his wife Mona a letter informing her of the divorce. She went to court to protest. Although Mona is in the right, the judge gives the man’s interests preference over hers and rejects the case.77 Diary of an Egyptian Woman Yawmiyat imra’a misriya Egypt 1987 One day, a successful doctor stops going to her practice and instead stays home and starts living an idle life. In time she recognizes the value of work for her personal development.


Stories of the Stranger Hikayat al-gharib Egypt 1992 Dir: Inam Mohamed Ali Scr: Gamal Al Ghatani, Mohamed Helmi Hilal Cast: Mohamed Mounir et al. A man from Cairo (played by the popular Nubian singer Mohamed Mounir) moves to the city of Suez, where he gets involved in a public rebellion and the October 1973 war between the Arab states and Israel. Silly Girl Nuna al-sha’nuna Egypt 1996 Fourteen-year-old Naima works as a maid for a wealthy couple in Cairo. From her window she can see the schoolyard where children spend their recess. She dreams of going to this school some day and learning many exciting things. But her wish never comes true. The director packed serious social criticism into a comedy.


Animated Film Animated film is still a relatively new medium in the Arab countries. It developed in Egypt in the early 1960s along with the founding of the state television station and the Egyptian Film Center. The documentary and short film section affiliated with the Egyptian Film Center has aimed particularly at stimulating the production of children’s and animated films. “At least in terms of quantity, it has achieved its goal,” wrote film scholar Viola Shafik in 1990.78 What she wrote then is still valid today, “Both institutions used animated film primarily for commercials, education, and in designing children’s films. Egyptian animation today is still generally limited to illustration. In terms of content, animated film tends to have an educational, moralizing tone, especially as regards children’s films. In terms of form the films depict a lack of any experimental inclination. The animation artists have certainly not taken advantage of the options offered by their rich (ancient Egyptian and Arabian) cultural traditions. Instead, they were often content to produce Walt Disney copies.” Among all the departments at Cairo’s Higher Film Institute, the department of animation has the highest percentage of women (cinematography is the department with the lowest share of women). Of the 119 women listed in the Lexicon of Egyptian Women Filmmakers (Qamus al-mukhrijat al-sinima’iyat, Cairo, 1996), fifty-two are graduates of the department for animation. Because this genre is relatively insignificant for the subject of modern Arab cinema, its representatives are not individually listed here.




The Mashreq

Iraq Introduction In 1954, Iraq became the first Arab country to introduce television;79 yet in comparison to other Arab countries, film came to Iraq rather late. The first Iraqi productions date back to 1945 but they were coproductions with Egypt, under Egyptian direction. After the Second World War many private Iraqi entrepreneurs engaged in such coproductions. Because Egyptian film genres were also very popular in Iraq, a good dozen melodramas were produced there,80 some with Egyptian stars in the leading roles. Four years later the first film studio was opened in Baghdad. “But the Baghdad studio would become a victim of history; in a context of rising Zionism and Arab nationalism, its founders—some of whom were Iraqi Jewish merchants—


were accused of spying for the young Jewish state, and the government ordered the studio’s closure.”81 Another private film company was not founded until a few years later. Feature films did not just suffer from inadequate technical quality. One of the most difficult problems facing film production was finding actresses. The social norms prevented and continue to prevent women from appearing on the stage or screen. Kamiran Husni, director of the film Sayyid Effendi (Mr. Said, 1954), was forced to give a part to his American wife. The main role was indeed played by an Iraqi theater actress, which then opened up the opportunity for other women in the country to appear on screen (see also the article by Kassem Hawal on pages 123-24 of this book). Films tended to be extremely realistic and, until the end of the monarchy, documentaries, which the Iraqi Oil Corporation produced with British cinematographers. The monarchy ended on July 14, 1958, when King Faysal II was ousted by military force. This gave Iraqi cinema an initial boost. A film and theater organization was founded under the jurisdiction of the minister of culture. The organization initially had so little funding, however, that most feature films continued to be produced by private companies. Things did not change until several years later, when the budget of the film organization was increased. In 1968, for the first time an Iraqi film was awarded the Silver Tanit82 at the Carthage Film Festival. The same year, the Arab Socialist Ba‘th Party seized power. The revolution marked a radical change, not only in regard to the country’s film history. The new leadership ended the bloody power struggles that had lasted over a decade between the nationalist Free Officers, the communists, and Kurds, and established what on the surface looked like a progressive regime. A relatively stable economic development ensued, in the course of which the oil companies were nationalized in 1972. The sums that now flowed into state coffers brought about a general economic upswing. Construction increased and millions of foreign workers, mostly from Egypt, were recruited. Of course domestic and cultural policies were marked by repression and terror. Iraq’s foreign policy ultimately led to the two Gulf Wars.


This period was also a time of contradictions for the women of the country. Naziha Al Dulaimi, an Iraqi, was the first woman in the Arab world to hold a ministerial position. She served as minister of municipalities in Baghdad from 1959 to 1960, after a military coup deposed the monarchy and declared the republic. Al Dulaimi was also a member and later, in exile, President of the Association of Iraqi Women. The association had fought for many rights for women, including equal pay for equal work, until the Ba‘thists took power in 1968. While women in the rest of the Arab world were not allowed to leave their home country without their husband’s permission, Iraqi women could even veto a trip abroad by their husband. The Ba‘th regime allowed women to hold high positions and offices, provided of course that they joined the Ba‘th party and at least outwardly submitted to their ideology. Things were similar for filmmakers. “Whoever wanted to continue to make films in the country had to join the party,” explains film director Kassem Hawal. “I refused, so my private production company was confiscated by the state.” Many filmmakers shared the same experience as Hawal, and most left the country. Film production in Iraq was then restructured. The state financed only documentary propaganda films and, because the country had been artistically stripped bare due to the exodus of its own talent, employed directors from other Arab countries. The regime used its diplomatic influence to oppose renegade Iraqi artists abroad. Kassem Hawal, for instance, had his invitation to participate on the jury of the Leipzig film festival in 1979 withdrawn in response to protests by the Iraqi Film and Theater Organization. In the following years, however, Iraqis in exile did win a number of prizes at international festivals at Leipzig, Krakow, and Moscow with films flying under foreign flags, having been produced, for example, in Palestine or Syria. After Egypt’s defeat in the Six Day War, when the subject of Palestine was growing in interest also for Iraqi directors, the Arab League chose Baghdad as the site for the first Palestine Film Festival. In order to boost film production, especially of feature films, the Revolutionary Council established a semiprivate company, Babylon, in 1980. A cinema department was set up at the Institute of Fine Arts, with state-of-the-art equipment.83 Still, not even one feature film per year




was produced. In 1991, the first ever Kurdish film Narjis, ‘arusat Kurdistan (Narjis, Bride of Kurdistan), directed by Jafar Ali, was screened in the city of Irbil. It was filmed and released in northern Iraq, but was not shown in Baghdad. To date, about 100 feature films have been made in Iraq.84 Political repression and the economic embargo after the Gulf War in 1991 have left no room for artistic freedom. Despite the effects of war, film production had rolled smoothly along for a while, before production went into limbo as a result of the embargoes and the inability to import raw film stock on the pretext that it served a dual purpose. Almost all of the cinemas were closed. Only down-market videos were still made; the official reason for this was the economic embargo. Director Kassem Hawal believes it was really caused by the lack of artistic and technical personnel due to the repression. There are very few Iraqi women who make films and virtually all of them live abroad. In the country itself, only Khairiya Al Mansour has managed to establish herself as a director. Whether the desperate situation in the country will change in the near future since the ousting of Saddam Hussein by the US and Britishled ‘coalition of the willing’ in March 2003 is doubtful. Iraq is faced with the mammoth task of rebuilding the country and reconciling formerly hostile factions and groups. Terrorist attacks on soldiers of the occupying forces, Iraqi politicians, policemen, and religious leaders, and even representatives of the United Nations, and the abduction and murder of hostages have topped the agenda since the official end of the war and spread an atmosphere of horror and insecurity. Since the provisional administration has taken office, numerous abductions and rapes of women and girls have become known, as well as ‘honor killings,’ committed to protect a family’s honor. As a means of oppressing women, Saddam Hussein legalized honor killings for supposed immoral conduct. Alleged prostitutes were publicly beheaded. In Iraqi Kurdistan, however, honor killings are to be re-criminalized in accordance with a parliamentary decision. This region of the country was able to develop more freely since it was declared a protected area in 1991. There, Nasreen Sideek Barwari, still under forty years of age, was appointed Minister of Reconstruction and Development in the Arbil-


based Kurdistan Regional Government. Women’s rights activists hope for further legal reforms throughout the country. Religious leaders, however, have taken their place in the starting blocks, waiting to gain power. They have already voiced appeals on the radio that women should be required to wear a black, full-body covering similar to those in Iran. Iraqi politician Akila al-Hashimi, who did not wear a veil, was assassinated in September 2003. Six months later, Kurdish Nasreen Barwari, meanwhile Iraq’s Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, barely survived an assassination attempt. Like the five female ministers in the transitional government, she too started wearing a headscarf when appearing in public, a gesture that was harshly criticized by secular women’s rights activists as well as many Kurds.85 There is nonetheless light on the horizon. In May 2003, a large demonstration by women took place in Baghdad, the first one in thirty-five years. It had been organized by members of the former Association of Iraqi Women. Throughout the country, women have been founding women’s organizations since the war. The first national women’s conference took place in Baghdad in July 2003. It was not organized by Iraqi women themselves, however, but by the provisional administration, which also selected the participants. Many activists regarded this as patronizing. Others acknowledge that, in view of the unstable political conditions, there is a need to act. The same is true for the implementation of the international community’s aid programs. Shanaz Ahmed fears that without such action the events following the poison gas attacks of Saddam Hussein in 1991 could be repeated. At that time it was not the international community that hurried to the aid of the people of Kurdistan, but the Islamists. They offered the families food and money, but the prerequisite was that women and girls had to wear headscarves. “Later the boys also had to attend Qur’an school. It was the whole brainwashing thing,” remembers Shanaz Ahmed. The Oil for Food program of the United Nations was not launched until 1997, six years later. By that time the Islamists were already in control. The future of women’s rights depends largely on how far they will be ingrained in the new constitution and not subjugated under the Sharia (Islamic law). Women activists want quotas to guarantee women’s participation in the reconstruction of their country. Women like the




Kurdish minister are still very much an exception in all parts of the country. The participants at the National Women’s Council achieved an important victory in February 2004. Hundreds of women went out on the streets in Baghdad to protest the removal of the relatively liberal family law, considered one of the most progressive in the Arab world. It had been in force since 1959 and, except for the section on inheritance law, left intact by Saddam Hussein. The law had been repealed in December because the religious-conservative camp in the council had demanded a new regulation based on the prescriptions of the Sharia. After the demonstrations, the government council reinstituted the secular family law code. Filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi attended several meetings of women’s rights activists while shooting her new documentary. “What characterized all these women, even if they were wearing veils, was that they believe in a separation of religion and state. They don’t want a religious government, even if they are religious in their private life. They want a secular government.” Maysoon Pachachi, having lived abroad for thirty-five years, now teaches crash courses in filmmaking to students and other nonprofessionals in Baghdad, together with cameraman Kassem Abed. The two filmmakers have already given film courses in Palestine. “It is all very good for me to do my film and for Kassem to make his film, but we were outside the country for a very long time. What people really need to see is what people inside Iraq think and feel.”86 For the same reason the Dutch-sponsored Civil Pillar (al-Manbar al-Madany), a center that supports new Iraqi civil organizations, ran the first Baghdad television festival in July 2005. Independent Iraqi television stations could preview Arab films about the democratization process. Food for discussion will certainly be offered by director Oday Rasheed’s87 Ghayr sahih li-l-‘ard (Underexposure, 2005), the first Iraqi feature film to deal with the first three days of the fall of Baghdad at the hands of the US-British coalition. Rashid filmed it using stock material that Kodak had stopped producing twenty years ago.


Women as Film Directors in Iraq Kassem Hawal 88 Due to the nature of the political situation in Iraq, which has forsaken civilized, intellectual artistic principles and values, Iraqi cinema has suffered from a lack of female artists from its very beginnings in the early forties. Instead of treating the cinema as an industry and an art form with its own economic parameters, the Iraqi monarchy considered cinemas to be entertainment venues like cabarets and thus subjected them to the same legislation. Theaters were even required to pay a cabaret tax for screening films. At that time cabaret was associated with prostitution; because the cinema also fell within the ambit of entertainment law, it was seen within this context as well. Consequently, women did not participate in this intellectual field, either of their own accord or because of family and social pressures. When film production first started, the role of women in the industry was restricted with respect to actresses. Producers worked with cabaret singers such as Hayfa Hussein, Azima Taufiq, Ahlam Wahbi, and Afifa Iskander, who then received roles in Iraqi cinema. In the 1950s two stage actresses, Zaynab and Nahida Al-Rammah, entered the world of cinema. Their first roles were in Sayyid Effendi, a film directed by Kamiran Husni and Man al-mas’ul? (Who Is Responsible?), directed by Abdul Jabbar Wali. These two feature films were very successful in the early period of Iraqi cinema. These were followed by a third, al-Haris (The Guard), directed by Khalil Shawqi. Zaynab and Salima Khudhair played the leading roles. This was a watershed in the history of Iraqi cinema as far as the participation of women was concerned. Later many women starred in




films, although the cabaret films were still in force.89 After the Republic of Iraq was declared in July 1958, there were many changes in economic and social legislation, including a special foundation set up for cinema and theater under the Ministry of Information and Culture. Once a cinema department was established at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad, women in Iraq began to study theater and cinema. Some were employed as technicians at Iraqi television, but not as film directors, since the Iraqi film industry was producing only one or two films each year. The number of directors who had graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts or from overseas film schools started increasing, but opportunities for women remained limited. Iraq’s film industry declined despite efforts by some filmmakers who tried to keep it going. When the Ba‘th Party came to power in 1968, instead of fostering cultural development, the regime waged two devastating wars, the Iraq-Iran war and the Gulf War, when it invaded Kuwait. All aspects of life suffered, including cinema production. Most film directors and technical staff fled to avoid the regime’s terrorist apparatus. Under the Ba‘thists most Iraqi-produced films slandered the country’s political history and were turned into mouthpieces for party propaganda. Iraqi directors refused to take part in the falsification of history and went into exile. However, directors from other Arab countries served the regime by making documentaries and feature films. Wars, internal repression, and terrorism stifled the film industry and made it impossible for film directors to work. Only three women in Iraq were given the opportunity to direct films: Khairiya Al Mansour; Radhia Al Timimi, who directed cartoons; and Khadija Mandil, who worked as an assistant director for many Iraqi and Jordanian television dramas. Apart from that, there are three other women in exile working as television directors: Maysoon Pachachi, in London, is now working for a number of television stations including Britain’s Channel Four; theater director Ronak Shawki is employed by the MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corporation) channel in London; and Sita Aqobian, a singer turned director for Baghdad Television, is currently working for the Qatari Al Jazeera satellite channel. Women were at first absent from Iraqi cinema due to social reasons, but after 1968 their participation has been hindered by political factors.


Iraq’s Filmmakers AL MANSOUR, KHAIRIYA (1958–)


orn on March 28, 1958 in Baghdad, Khairiya Al Mansour studied there from 1976 to 1980 at the Academy of Arts, and in Cairo at the Higher Film Institute in 1987. She was an assistant director to wellknown Iraqi and Egyptian directors such as Salah Abu Seif, Tawfik Saleh, and Youssef Chahine. She herself has made around forty documentary films for the Iraqi ministry of culture and for private producers. She has also directed two full-length films. When the international embargo against Iraq brought about the collapse of the film industry there, she started working for Iraqi and Jordanian television. She divides her time between Baghdad and Cairo. Khairiya Al Mansour’s films can generally be divided into two categories. Her socially critical films tackle issues such as the situation of women of Iraq: This is My Village (about peasant women), Determination, and The Lady of Ages (about the founding of the Iraqi Women’s Association). Or they deal with the impact of the international embargo, especially on Iraq’s children: Look! and White Dreams (about a milk factory that was destroyed) and One Day in Baghdad. Her other area of film is artist’s portraits: Magical Fingers (about women painters), Cinema Lover (about a deceased director), and The Dream, The Memory (about a famous actor who died during the embargo).




Filmography—selection (35 mm) 1981 This Is My Village, 15 min 1981 Basma, 16 mm, 10 min 1983 Determination, 12 min 1983 Three fifteen-minute documentary shorts about the Nairobi World Conference on Women. 1984 The Daughter of Mesopotamia (Second prize at the International Film Festival in Tashkent) 1986 The Student and the Battle, 30 min 1988 The Churches of Iraq, 30 min 1988 The Wells of Iraq, 30 min 1988 Sitta ‘ala sitta (20/20 Vision), 90 min (Best Iraqi comedy at the 1989 Arab Cinema Festival) 1989 Magical Fingers, 15 min 1990 The Lady of Ages, 30 min 1991 Look!, 30 min (Golden Award at the 1995 Documentary Film Festival in Baghdad) 1991 White Dreams, 30 min (Best Documentary at the 1997 Iraqi Cinema Festival) 1991 The Call of Iraq, 30 min 1992 100 Percent/Miya ‘ala miya, 105 min 1996 The Builders, 30 min 1997 Cinema Lover, 10 min 1998 The Dream, The Memory, 15 min 1998 One Day in Baghdad, 15 min 1999 The Memory of an Eye, 15 min 2000 Adoration and Creativity, 30 min 2000 Angels Do Not Die, 22 min 2000 The Last Painting, 7 min 20/20 Vision Sitta ‘ala sitta Iraq 1988 Dir/Scr: Khairiya Al Mansour


Ed: Fouad Alby Cast: Kasa Al Malak, Lila Mohamed, Ekbal Naaim et al. A young man with impaired vision falls in love with a young woman. When he discovers that she suffers from the same disability, he is afraid to marry her and have children, for fear that their vision could have the same congenital impairment. After all kinds of difficult situations, love prevails in the end. 100 Percent Miya ‘ala miya Iraq 1992 Dir: Khairiya Al Mansour Ed: Fouad Alby Cast: Kasam Al Malak, Sanaa Abdel Rahman, Iraqi soccer stars This is the filmmaker’s second full-length film. It is about identical twins— one is a soccer star and the other is a waiter. Since the brothers resemble each other so closely, all kinds of funny chaos and confusion ensues. The Last Painting Iraq 2000 A film homage to the famous Iraqi painter Laila Al Attar. She was killed when a US missile struck her home.



aysoon Pachachi was born on September 17, 1947 in Washington, D.C., where her father was a diplomat at the time. She was educated in Iraq, the United States, and Britain. She also studied philosophy and film in London.



There, she later worked as a film editor for television documentaries and dramas. She also performed in Britain and France with the Bread and Puppet Theater (from the United States). She formed her own street theater company in London, where she still lives as a freelance documentary filmmaker and producer (with her company Oxymoron Films). After having taught film, video directing, and editing in Jerusalem and Gaza for the Jerusalem Film Institute and Med Media,90 Maysoon Pachachi helped to set up a free film training center in Baghdad.


Filmography 1973 Strike 36, 35 mm, b&w, short fiction 1994 Iraqi Women, Voices from Exile, beta SP, 54 min 1996 Smoke, co-directed with Lucia Nogueira, b&w, 5 min 1999 Iranian Journey, 83 min, for ZDF/ARTE (Golden Olive Award at the Kalamata International Documentary Film Festival 2000) 2001 Living with the Past: People and Monuments in Medieval Cairo, 56 min 2003 Bitter Water, co-directed with Noura Sakkaf, Digibeta, 76 min 2004 Return to the Land of Wonders, Digibeta, 88 min Iraqi Women, Voices from Exile UK 1994 Dir/Prod: Maysoon Pachachi This film recounts the recent history of Iraq through the eyes and experiences of Iraqi women living in Britain. Bitter Water UK 2003 Co-Dir/Prod/Ed: Maysoon Pachachi The history of four generations of refugees in a Palestinian camp in Beirut.


Return to the Land of Wonders Germany/UK/Iraq 2004 Dir/Scr: Maysoon Pachachi Prod: ZDF/ARTE After thirty-five years in exile, the director returns to her homeland, Iraq, accompanying her eighty-year-old father, who had become a member of the United-States-appointed Governing Council.



Lebanon Introduction 130

“Lebanese cinema is doing just fine,” announced Lebanese film critic and filmmaker Nadine Naous in her essay,91 written ten years after the end of the Lebanese civil war, when a revival started to be felt in the country. That revival is still ongoing, even though the cultural infrastructure has not yet regained its old form. The annual highlight for Lebanese cinema up until the year 2000 was the Beirut International Film Festival, which has now been revitalized as the Middle East Film Festival. There is also the Ayloul Festival, an international art and video festival, as well as the small Maghrebi Film Festival and ‘né à Beyrouth’ (Born in Beirut), which presents exclusively Lebanese films. Beirut is regarded as the most modern city in the Arab world. It has been that way since the late nineteenth century when the Ottomans began building wide boulevards after the French model. Before the civil war Lebanon was called the “Switzerland of the Middle East.” The country had an almost entirely free market economy, many qualified skilled workers, and a very free banking system, which made it a playground for Arabs and Europeans interested in capital investments. Beyond the world of finance,


the country offered many other attractions. Lebanon’s capital city was awarded the epithet “the Paris of the Orient” for the street cafés along the magnificent Hamra Street and its active nightlife. Mediterranean beaches, the country’s mild Levantine climate, six ski areas in the Lebanon Mountains, and cosmopolitan and business-friendly Beirut have always attracted travelers. The main ethnic groups in Lebanon today are Shi‘te Muslims,92 Maronite Christians,93 Greek Orthodox Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Druzes.94 Marriage, family, and inheritance laws are based on the laws of the respective religious communities. The level of education is high. There are seven universities in the country, five of which are within Beirut’s city limits. Here and in Christian parts of the country, young women in miniskirts are by no means rare. In Jocelyne Saab’s film Once Upon a Time: Beirut, the two main female characters wear skintight t-shirts and smoke water pipes in a coffeehouse. The reality is multi-faceted, though, since many women are still expected to remain virgins until they get married. Film production in Lebanon never really took off until the country’s national independence in 1943. In the years following 1926, under the French mandate from the League of Nations, no more than ten films were shot,95 most of them by foreign directors. In 1950 there were still only two small film studios in Beirut. Nearly ten years passed before the National Film Center and a new film studio were founded. Lebanese cinema benefited from the fact that some Arab countries had closed their doors to Egyptian films for political or economic reasons. These countries, including Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, started importing Lebanese productions. Many Egyptian directors and producers who had fled socialist policies under President Nasser tried their luck in Lebanon’s nascent film industry. Lebanese producers and Egyptian directors collaborated to produce 161 feature films before the start of the civil war.96 Most were no more than cheap imitations of their Egyptian models—melodramas and straight commercial cinema. Parallel to this development, numerous alternative film clubs were established in Beirut’s universities; after 1970 there was even an amateur film festival. When civil war broke out in 1975, Egyptian directors returned to their home country, where the re-privatization of the Egyptian film industry under Sadat was opening up new options. Film




production in Lebanon decreased drastically. The exodus of Egyptian talent made room for a more uniquely Lebanese cinema. While external conditions became extremely constrained because of the civil war, the creative potential for filmmakers expanded considerably. They continually explored new themes in their films and broke taboos. The films took up subjects as diverse as the struggle between classes, clans, and religions, the occupation of Arab territories by Israel and Syria, and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. In Lebanon, women played a role as forerunners in cinema. But while Assia Dagher and her niece Mary Queeny became pioneers of Egyptian cinema, according to Palestinian filmmaker and critic Mohammad Soueid, “Herta Gargour (of German origin) merits all the credit for laying the cornerstone of Lebanese cinema and filmmaking after the end of the silent period.”97 The careers of the three women began in the 1930s, but they later went their separate ways. Dagher and Queeny emigrated to Egypt and left the field to Herta Gargour, who ran Luminar Films, a production company founded in 1934. Bayn hayakel Ba‘albak (In the Ruins of Baalbek, 1936) was the first film produced by Luminar Films. According to Soueid it is considered Lebanon’s first sound film. After Gargour’s work there was a long hiatus in which no films were produced or directed by women. Into the early 1970s women appeared only as actresses, costume designers, and make-up artists. This changed when the country entered into civil war. The war caught many young filmmakers who were studying abroad by surprise. Those who were still in the country left Lebanon and returned for only a short time to make documentary films that would leave a permanent memorial of the horrors of the war; a handful of women were counted among these filmmakers. Jocelyne Saab and Palestinian May Masri (in coordination with her Lebanese husband, Jean Chamoun) ventured furthest into the theater of war. In contrast, Yasmine Khlat shot an equally impressive, but still and intimate film about a group of women in an apartment building in Beirut, who are touched by the war only through newspaper and television coverage. The civil war divided the capital city of Beirut into an eastern sector for Christians and a western one for Muslims. But more than that, it divided


the Lebanese people into those who left the country and those who stayed behind. In the memories and imaginations of the Lebanese in exile, Beirut remained as they had left it; some immortalized this mythical image in film. “Beirut is a metaphoric place, a place that does not exist, except in film, in memories, as a souvenir,” said Lebanese film critic Ibrahim Al Ariss from his Paris exile.98 He likens this phenomenon to Wim Wenders’s Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)—the angel in this film comes down from heaven and perceives the city of Berlin in a totally different way from the commuters in the subway. That is how things were for Lebanese filmmakers in exile who had experienced a similar disconnection. They speak of a city that does not—or has ceased to—exist. Jocelyne Saab’s Once Upon a Time, Beirut betrays its subject in the title. “Everyone carries their city inside them,” said Rim, a painter, in the film Between Us Two . . . Beirut (1994). Rim is the sister of the director, Dima Al Joundi. Soon after the civil war ends, she returns to Beirut for a short visit from Brussels, where she studied and lives. She experiences the city as a trusted, familiar place, but very different from the one of her memories. With an eye to Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire, this symbolizes what Al Ariss calls the “phantasmagorical” Beirut. Sometimes the experience of exile leads to an almost mystical elevation of the homeland, in contrast to which the real here-and-now shrinks to an insignificant and temporary arrangement. When Lebanon gained titular independence in 1926, it was agreed that there would be six Christians for every five Muslims in parliament. This regulation was not changed even after the civil war. Over time, the constitution would come to hold that the president has to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister, a Sunni Muslim, and the chairman of the National Assembly, a Shi‘ite Muslim. In the aspiring economy of postwar Lebanon, however, power politics, and economic interests have continually become intertwined. The allocation of lucrative bids and exclusive rights to some groups and not to others occasionally led to chaos. Lebanese television is a good example of this, as Dietrich Höllhuber reports in his travel guidebook: “In order to get the ‘anarchic situation’ of dozens of television and radio stations under control, a media law was enacted in 1966 that provided for only four private television stations in addition to the two state-run




stations. These four were Future TV, owned by the Prime Minister; Murr TV, owned by the brother of the interior minister; NBN, a project of the speaker of the National Assembly Nabih Berri; and LBCI, in which at least two parliament members had shares. After protests, the Catholics’ Télé-Lumière, and al-Manar of Hizbullah were added.”99 In May 2000, Israel suddenly withdrew its army from the ‘security zone’ in South Lebanon, after having occupied the region since 1978 (see also the film Souha by Lebanese director Randa Chahal). Many people returned to their old homeland and a building boom ensued. The capital is gradually regaining its image as an entertainment center. “In only a few years, Mafia methods and compulsory expropriations have created an Oriental Disneyland in the former historical city center; kitschy, artificial, commercial. The jeunesse dorée of Lebanese society feels at home in the cafés and restaurants, many of them having grown up in basement holes and airraid cellars. Now they enjoy dropping the keys to their Mercedes 500 in the valet’s hand,” wrote Werner Bloch in Die Zeit.100 Rapper Wel Kodeih, a sort of Middle Eastern Eminem, is a harmless-looking twenty-three-yearold who was offered amazingly lucrative contracts from the major record labels. His music supposedly expresses anger over the new upper class, denouncing the rifts in society. “BO 18, the largest of the ‘in’ discotheques is well-hidden. It was built on the site where Palestinians were massacred. Coffins that can be opened up serve as benches to sit on.” Since the end of the civil war, the Saudis with their billions have also started coming back to do their shopping. But intellectuals and artists seem to have lost their pre-war meeting places. Only on Sunday afternoons can they be seen sitting discussing and making plans on the terrace Rawda, an open-air café overlooking the sea. The biggest change since the end of the civil war, however, was triggered off by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, who was blamed for the assault, has started to withdraw its military and secret police forces from the country. What impact this will have on Lebanon’s political and economic development remains to be seen. If one thing does seem clear, however, it is that Syrian dominance of its neighbor is about to come to an end.


The dominant foreign force in the film industry maintains its grip: Hollywood productions make up 95 percent of the films filling the screens in the country’s art film houses. From about thirty Egyptian feature films produced each year, only about one or two are shown in Lebanon (and this is not an annual figure). Native film productions have shifted to video format for financial reasons. Filmmakers such as Mona Hatoum, Chirine Tannous, Rima Karimeh, and Rania Stephan have played a major role in establishing video art within the field of fine arts. Since the spectrum of possible jobs in film has expanded with the introduction of video, electronic media, and audio-visual schools, the percentage of women among all film students has grown significantly. A group of young filmmakers founded the Beirut Development and Cinema as a production cooperative in 1999. Beirut DC has since not only produced a number of films; it has also organized audio-visual workshops and the Beirut Cinema Days (Ayyam Bayrut al-sinima’iya). The ten-day biennial festival presents a wide spectrum of independent productions, ranging from documentaries, short films, and student films to animation and video art. The founders see Beirut Development and Cinema as a new form of cinema, one which also does its part to promote general humanitarian social development and a more humane world. Their declared goal is “to give a voice (and pictures!) to those at the margins, so they can express their reality themselves and convey it to a broader audience.” Ibrahim Al Ariss, who today once again lives in Beirut, is the cultural editor of al-Hayat newspaper. He sets great store in the new generation of filmmakers. He says they are “very sophisticated, very intellectual, and, although most are Christians, they have a left-wing political orientation.” These filmmakers make short films and documentaries that are characterized mostly by their combination of video art and criticism of the deplorable state of human and social affairs. As Nadine Naous examines in her essay that follows, she has discovered that this new generation of cineasts has an astonishing love of cinema and familiarity with pictures. The Festival of European Film, which has been held since the mid-1990s, has also contributed to this. The festival is financed by the representation of the European Union in Beirut and has met with a great response



among Lebanese audiences, whose demands on cinema go beyond purely commercial Hollywood films. Like Ibrahim Al Ariss, many filmmakers have returned to Lebanon in recent years. Dima Al Joundi, who initially returned to Belgium after shooting Between Us Two . . . Beirut, is one of them. After a temporary stay in Sri Lanka, she has again settled in Beirut and has meanwhile started her own company and become the first woman in Lebanon to distribute and produce films.



Panorama of Lebanese Cinema Nadine Naous 101 Once upon a time, long ago, there was a small country nestled between the mountains and the sea that underwent a bloody civil war. All over the world, people talked about this war. All over the world, images of this war were broadcast, images of a devastated city, of a population in agony. Once upon a time in Beirut, that cruelly beautiful city, there were several enthusiastic and engaged young people who wanted to reclaim the image of their city to be able to find out for themselves what their place was in this war, with regard to this war and with regard to the world. Each armed with a camera, they traveled across the country in search of stories that seemed to resemble their own. They asked about the whys and hows of the war, trying more to understand than to explain it. They sometimes succeeded in imposing their identity—an identity derided, violated, but always present—across a range of films that secured a place for themselves in the trajectory of world cinema. And so it was that in Lebanon at this time, filmmakers emerged such as Maroun Bagdadi, Borhane Alaouié, Jean Chamoun, Randa Chahal, Jocelyne Saab, Jean-Claude Kodsi, and others, who led Lebanese cinema on to new adventures, with great freedom and audacity, despite—and perhaps even thanks to—the war. For until the 1970s, Lebanese cinema was a purely commercial form of cinema that churned out run-of-the-mill films intended solely to fill movie theaters. The war that overwhelmed the country inspired young Lebanese filmmakers to create a different kind of cinema, one more appropriate to the new political, social, and economic situation in Lebanon.




This generation of filmmakers, all of whom had arrived at cinema via their political and intellectual activities, succeeded in breathing new life into Lebanese cinema. Every one of their films seems to pose a barrage of questions, to state an opinion, or even to make a stand. For most of them, having belonged to a certain left-wing intelligentsia and witnessed the student revolt that shook Europe during the 1960s, cinema represented first and foremost a means of expressing their sense of engagement, not only as citizens of Lebanon but as Arabs concerned with the fate of the Arab nation and preoccupied by the broader questions gripping the Middle East, such as Palestine. Films like Little Wars by Maroun Bagdadi or Kafr Kasem by Borhane Alaouié were proof to the world that in Lebanon, behind the barricades, a cinéma d’auteur was being created that was worthy of the name, led by filmmakers who were concerned with transmitting an image that was faithful to them. Yet even if it was their obsession and constituted the very essence of their films, the war ended up forcing these filmmakers out of their country. The majority went into exile in Europe, where their inspiration could not reap the same fruits. In making a clean break with the war, they also broke from cinema. Many of them disappeared from view, failing to make a name for themselves in the West as filmmakers able to exploit subjects other than those related to the war in their country. The end of the war offered a ray of hope to the filmmakers in exile and put an end to their enforced silence. All of them wanted to start making films in Lebanon again. They all returned and tried to get the cinematographic ball rolling again, with varying degrees of success. Maroun Bagdadi was just about to start work on a feature-length film that was to be set in Beirut when a fatal accident put an abrupt end to his projects. His violent death at that moment turned him into the filmmaker of the war, the one whose career had been the most well-rounded. Others, like Jean-Claude Kodsi and Jocelyne Saab, were able to complete their projects. Two films, An al-awan and Kan ya ma kan [Once Upon a Time Beirut], take up the theme of return and are infused with an air of nostalgia. However, in the early 1990s, these filmmakers, who appeared to be the pillars of the new cinema and to reflect the new Lebanon, were not alone. Two direct heirs who left during the war to study art or make films also


returned to the land that had nursed them with a deep need to talk about this postwar period and their experiences between two countries. In their films, separation and return are constantly recurring themes. Films like Between Us Two . . . Beirut by Dima Al Joundi or The Freedom Gang by Leyla Assaf-Tengroth were able to see the light of day thanks to the fact that they were produced abroad; they were sold to and later broadcast by European television channels. Lebanon, too preoccupied with tending to its postwar wounds and having fallen into a kind of torpor and panic in the face of all the rebuilding it had to do—of society, the economy, politics—neglected the cinema, which, despite the efforts of the aforementioned filmmakers, continued to stagnate. The cinematographic output seemed weak and found no echo. The quality of the productions was inadequate. It was not until the mid-1990s that Lebanese cinema took a new turn with the arrival on the scene of a host of young filmmakers, fresh from the universities and film schools of Beirut, where the discipline of cinema is growing in esteem. This new generation of filmmakers expended a tremendous amount of energy in working through images and creating their own films, films that are demonstrably different from those of their elders. As films, they are more personal, more ‘individual’ in the sense that they reflect not only the preoccupations of their authors as young Lebanese emerging from the war but simply as young people asking themselves questions like “What is the state of the world, and what does the future hold?” What is particularly striking about this new generation of filmmakers is their love of cinema and their familiarity with images. For these are filmmakers who were shaped by images, who were raised in a world manipulated by them (be they cinematographic, televised, or computerized). They know all the tricks and are able to master them. They came to cinema through cinema, and they make films that breathe the air of the times as regards their themes and the manner of their conception. At the close of the twentieth century, these new filmmakers surprised everyone by proving that after seventeen years of war, Lebanon appears, thanks to them, to be able to compete in the big league: that of countries that produce quality images. These new filmmakers display considerable talent and savoir-faire, skillfully juggling different means




of visual expression and different genres, which they assimilate into original works. Most of them have already produced a wealth of short films, realized thanks to tremendous tenacity on their part, a tenacity that encouraged them to seek the means of financing and mounting their films themselves. This might explain why the majority of them have continued to produce short films and videos. These hard-nosed directors have had their films shown at various festivals in Europe and throughout the Arab world, most notably in Paris, Montpellier, Locarno, and Carthage, and of course they form an essential part of the program at the Beirut film festival, which takes place every October and in which their heterogeneous films have not gone unnoticed—be it Akram Zaatari with his provocative video Majnunak (Crazy for You), which deals with themes of sexuality and male-female relations, . . . or Sheila Barkat with Risalat Nabil (Letter from Nabil), Rania Stephan, or others. All of them dream of turning Beirut into a true pole of world cinema, and of being able to make feature-length films to prove to the world as a whole that Lebanese cinema is no longer just a poor relation. For if Lebanon can boast a large pool of creative young filmmakers, it sadly lacks the structures required to support film production. In this respect, the public authorities have been conspicuous by their absence. Not a single measure, not a single real system for providing assistance or financial subsidies has been set up to make these filmmakers’ lives easier. The television networks, too busy with overseeing the production of increasingly grotesque and ridiculous local series, have as yet made no plans to enter into any partnerships with the film industry. There have been no coproductions; there is no system of pre-purchasing or help with distribution. Even if a few propositions have attracted some attention, most notably that of Future TV, which offers awards for the best student films and broadcasts them, they are insufficient. And these filmmakers remain obliged, like their elders, to seek their financing elsewhere, in France or other European countries that seem interested in the new developments in Lebanese cinema. A breeze of hope is blowing through Lebanese cinema, and numerous projects are being set up. In face of the willfulness of these young filmmakers and the energy that they have expended in bringing their


films to completion, the grand masters are starting to wake up and are getting back to work. In late 1998, Jean Chamoun shot a feature-length film. Borhane Alaouié is working on a new screenplay. Randa Chahal has completed her film A Civilized People, which was heavily censored and which will soon be released in Paris with a modified dialogue track. Thus, should someone ask if Lebanese cinema is in good shape, one can cheerfully respond that, in light of all these ambitious filmmakers and all these works in progress, Lebanese cinema is doing just fine. (From Nadine Naous, in al-Hayat, January 14, 2000)



Lebanon’s Filmmakers ARBID, DANIELLE (1970–)



anielle Arbid was born in 1970 in Beirut. During the civil war she went into exile in France, where she studied literature and journalism. She later worked as a political correspondent for several Parisian dailies, including Libération. After several award-winning short films, her first full-length feature was presented in 2004 in Cannes.

About Danielle Arbid Danielle Arbid started working on a video documentary project on Lebanese fighters during the war. Her research and idea were guided by the powerful image of her cousin who joined a Christian militia active in the late seventies, and who later died in a military incident when Arbid was seven years old. She remembers when he used to take her on his motorbike to buy hamburgers. She recalls him as a rebellious man with long hair wearing a medal around his neck. At the same time she remembers this very peculiar image of him sitting on his bed, half-naked on a hot summer afternoon, with two girls sitting around him. With very precise description, she recalls that no one noticed her presence as she squeezed herself in between the door and the wooden closet. She cannot remember what happened afterward, nor can she tell how she made it into his room. This image marked her memory, though she can no longer determine if it really happened, or


whether it was a mere creation of her mind. Nevertheless, it was an image that probed a series of interviews Arbid conducted with former militiamen on their war experience, despite the fact that the imaginary dominates her representation of war. Heroism and survival through the most violent atrocities become almost imaginary and mythical. (From Akram Zaatari, in al-Ra’ida 16,102 no. 86-87 [Beirut], summer/fall 1999, pages 2–3.)

Filmography 1998 Raddem/Démolition (Demolition), 35 mm, 17 min (Best Short Film and Best Director Award at the Film Festival of Beirut) 1998 al-Ma‘addi/Le passeur (The Ferryman), 35 mm, fiction, 13 min (European Youth Jury Award at the Angers European First Film Festival) 2000 Halat harb/Seule avec la guerre/Alone with War, beta SP, 58 min, ARTE (Silver Leopard—Video at Locarno Film Festival 2000) 2000 al-Naql/La mutuelle (Mutuality), 13 min 2002 al-Ghariba/L’étrangère (Foreigner), 35 mm, 46 min 2002 Conversation de salon (Living Room Conversations), beta SP, 9 min (Golden Leopard—Video at Locarno Film Festival 2004) 2002 Aux frontières/On Borders, beta SP, 60 min 2004 Ma‘arik hubb/Dans le champs de bataille/In the Battlefields, 35 mm, 90 min (IMA Grand Prize at the 7th Paris Biennial of Arab Cinema in Paris, Silver Leopard in Locarno, Best Feature Film at the Milan Film Festival, Bayard d’Or for Best Screenplay at the Namur Film Festival 2004, Belgium) Demolition Raddem/Démolition Lebanon/France 1998 Dir: Danielle Arbid Prod: GREC



A young woman is searching in war-torn Beirut for a man who has taken a photograph of her family’s house, which she knows only as a ruin. Alone with War Halat harb/Seule avec la guerre Lebanon/France 2000 Dir: Danielle Arbid Prod: Morimento Production, Versus Production, La Sept Arte, RTBF et WIP, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel et des Télédistributeurs wallons Despite its outward impression of peaceful everyday life, Lebanon is still haunted by ghosts of the civil war. Everyone goes about their work as though nothing has happened, but in fact their personal lives are being eaten away by the trauma of the conflict. Arbid attempts to break the silence. She interviews the main adversaries at the time—Muslim and Christian militiamen—about their justification for the war. 144

About the Film “Arbid works with great precision and deals with the creation of myths, with the overlapping and problematic boundaries between what is documentary and what is staged—the fictionalization of violence. A psychogram emerges of a society that has been brutalized by war. She is insistent in her questioning of former militiamen without putting herself on a pedestal. She brings out narratives about traumatization and repetition compulsion, and asks politicians with a provocative naivete why there are no monuments for the victims of the civil war. This question about public representation of traumatic historical events is at the same time a question about the mechanisms of repression in a society, in which not even ten years have passed since the horrors of the civil war.” (Madeleine Bernstorff, during the Arbid film series presented by Blickpilotin e.V. in Berlin 2003.) In the Battlefields Ma‘arik hubb/Dans le champs de bataille Lebanon/Belgium/France 2004


Dir/Scr: Danielle Arbid C: Hélène Louvard S: Faouzi Thabet Ed: Nelly Quettier Cast: Marianne Feghali, Rawia Elchab, Laudi Arbid-Nasr Prod: Quo vadis Cinéma, Versus Production, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Communauté française Wallonie, télédistributeur wallons, Le Centre national du Cinéma, Eurimages It is 1983 during the Lebanese civil war. For twelve-year-old Lina, the only daughter of a Christian family, the battlefields are more within her own family, with the real war just a series of distant explosions. Lina’s father is a constantly indebted gambler; her only friend is the maid of her aunt, both of whom live in an apartment upstairs. Lina’s mother rules the extended family with a rod of iron. As the father’s gambling habit drives him to more and more desperate measures, the mother, pregnant again, decides she’s had enough. 145

Film Reviews The basic story could effectively be set any time, any place, as nothing is made of the family’s religious orientation and the only noticeable effect of the civil war is regular trips to the basement whenever bombing is heard. There’s no sense of tension on the streets and no news broadcasts are ever heard: Pic’s deliberate point is that life goes on beyond the headlines, and, for a youngster like Lina (unlike, say, those in the more engaged movie West Beyrouth), the war hardly exists. What’s left is a deft, well-acted but slim coming-of-ager, against a background of dysfunctional family life. (Derek Elley, in Variety, May 17, 2004; http://www.variety.com/story. asp?l=story&r=VE1117923874&c=1724 on July 27, 2004) Danielle Arbid does not need to resort to symbols. Her sensitivity remains engaged with this particular moment in her life. It is not that we have never seen such a thing in a movie, but the very dark elegance and the simplicity of this pre-adolescent account calls to mind the books of Marjane Satrapi, which should encourage Danielle Arbid to follow the same path.


(François Gorin, in Télérama, edition spéciale, 57th Cannes International Film Festival, 2004; http://cannes.telerama.fr/cannes2004/editofilm.asp? art_airs=CAN1000463 on July 21, 2004)

ASSAF, LEYLA (1947–)


eyla Assaf-Tengroth grew up in a Christian family in Beirut. In 1966 she married a Swedish UN soldier and settled with him in Sweden. Since the 1970s she has made roughly one hundred documentary and several feature films for Swedish Television. Her first film for the cinema was The Freedom Gang.

Filmography (not including television) 1994 al-Shaykha/Frihetsligan/The Freedom Gang, 35 mm, 75 min (Jury Award at the 1996 International Indian Film Festival in New Delhi; and the Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Best Actress [Rim Al Haddad] at the 1996 Cairo International Film Festival.) 146

The Freedom Gang al-Shaykha/Frihetsligan Lebanon/Sweden 1994 Dir: Leyla Assaf-Tengroth Scr: Leyla Assaf-Tengroth, Bo Bjelfvenstam C: Roland Lundin Ed: Erik Sundberg Cast: Rim Al Hamd, Elie Kaii, Ewalid Takriti, Alains Abi Rached, Selim Khalaf, etc. Prod: Cadmos Film, Sveriges Television SVT1 Drama This film is based on a true story. Shaykha is a bright and enterprising tenyear-old girl. She is also the leader of the Freedom Gang, a gang of boys in war-torn Beirut. Its members steal car radios and, as cat-burglars, they empty apartments of their valuables. Shaykha is arrested and ends up in jail. She is released because of a rich man who wants to give her a new life, send her to school, and reform her. But Shaykha is unable or unwilling to adjust and returns to the Freedom Gang.




anda Chahal-Sabbag was born on December 11, 1953 in Beirut to an Iraqi Christian mother and a Lebanese Muslim father.103 She studied in Paris between 1973 and 1975 at the Université Vincennes Saint-Denis and later at the Louis Lumière Film School. At first she moved back and forth between Paris and Beirut until she settled in Paris in 1982. She wrote regularly for the culture section of the Lebanese newspaper alSafir until 1987. She has run her own production company Leil Productions for several years. Coming from a politically active family (see synopsis of her film A Civilized People), Randa Chahal was involved as a student with left-wing political groups. In her films she openly criticizes political and social power structures. Consequently, her films have been banned in many Arab countries. The Lebanese government honored her filmmaking in 2004 with the Chevalier of the Order of the Cedar, the country’s highest distinction.

Filmography 1979 Khatwa khatwa/Pas à pas (Step by Step), 16 mm, 80 min (Press Award at the International Festival of French-Speaking Film in Namur, France) 1980 Lubnan zaman/Liban d’autrefois (Lebanon of Old), 16 mm, b&w, 12 min (Jury Prize at the Carthage International Film Festival, Tunisia) 1982 9 heures 30 (9:30 am), 30 x 10 min (series for Lebanese television) 1984 Shaykh Imam (Shaykh Imam), 16 mm, 52 min 1991 Shasha min al-raml/Écrans de sable/Sand Screens, 35 mm,80 min (FICC Special Jury Mention and Best Music at the Festival of




1997 1999

2001 2003

Mediterranean Cinema in Valencia; Music Award at the La Baule Festival of European Cinema, France) Hurubna al-ta’isha/Nos guerres imprudentes/ Our Heedless Wars, beta SP, 52 min (Jury Prize at the Paris Biennial of Arab Cinema 1996) Les infidèles/The Infidels, 35 mm, 85 min al-Mutahaddirat/Civilisées/A Civilized People, 35 mm, 97 min (UNESCO Award at the Venice International Film Festival 1999, Nestor Almendros Prize at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2000 in New York) Suha, al-nagat min al-gahim/Souha, survivre à l’enfer/ Souha, Surviving Hell, beta, 57 min Tayyara min waraq/Le cerf-volant/The Kite, 35 mm, 80 min (Jury Grand Prix (Silver Lion) and “Lanterna Magica” at the 60th Venice International Film Festival 2003) Sand Screens Shasha min al-raml/ Écrans de sable France/Italy/Tunisia 1991 Dir/Scr: Randa Chahal-Sabbag C: Yorgos Arvanitis M: Michel Portal S: Fawzi Thabet, Gerard Rousseau


Ed: Yves Des Champs Cast: Maria Schneider, Laure Killing, Michel Albertini Prod: Carthago Films, Leil Productions, La Sept Paris, APEC, Radio Télévision Tunisienne Two very different women in an Arab oil state meet. Sarah, rich but repudiated by her husband, sits in her ‘golden cage.’ Mariam from Beirut has been marked by the war. Sarah has employed Mariam to set up a library at the women’s university. But the books that are ordered never arrive. The ruling patriarchal structures become increasingly threatening for both women.


Film Reviews The Muslim director Randa Chahal fears being misunderstood by Western as well as Eastern (Arab) filmgoers. On the one hand, she argues that one should not hesitate to criticize a society’s weaknesses; on the other, she doesn’t want to condemn any culture in its entirety. Instead, she would like to denounce certain interpretations of Islam, including that of the fundamentalist regime, which is leading the population back to the Middle Ages by spreading fear. “The Gulf States are the most intransigent. They enact allegedly Islamic laws to defend their policies, but that is merely their interpretation of Islam. In the days of the Prophet, women shared power with men, and the Qur’an does not call for the exclusion of women. Today women in these countries do not have the right to obtain a driver’s license. That means that while they can afford to buy limousines with their petrodollars, they aren’t allowed to drive them. Their life is truly one of loneliness. They find no consolation in forming circles with other women. The harem is just folklore for tourists.” The film was shot on natural locations in Tunisia. The language of the film is French, but just as in the written Arabic language, the camera movements are always from right to left. “We are the heirs of a very aesthetically minded civilization. Today the image of the Gulf States is a slap in the face of good taste. One has to have seen the Alhambra to know what symmetrical architecture is.” (Frédérique Lalloutte in Le dimanche, February 16, 1992) She began her life as a filmmaker recording hours and hours of images of the war, with no specific purpose, “simply because I felt it was my duty.” Then the day came when the young woman could not even film the war. She moved to Paris, but the themes that obsessed her still revolved around her origins and the situation of women in the face of fundamentalism. In 1980 she returned, terrified, from a trip to Kuwait with the idea of making a film on “this universe of science fiction and confinement in which the veil is the symbol of exclusion.” “One always speaks about the Arab world,” Randa says, “but the various Arab states have nothing to do with one another. I would like us to learn to recognize our differences. And because I belong to this tribe, I feel that



I have the right to denounce barbarism wherever it exists.” Her film Sand Screens was vilified by the entire Arab press and boycotted at festivals, but Randa Chahal has no regrets. “On the contrary,” she says, “what I regret is having sometimes censored myself.” (Anne Andreu, in l’Événement, February 20, 1992)


The film immediately tries to show what is ‘forbidden’ to women in an Islamic universe. And it makes use of the worst clichés. To attempt to express that which is buried in the deepest of resting places and which (according to tradition) may not see the light of day—that is to say, the condition of these women, who have suddenly become rich and therefore powerful, having at their disposal everything that money can buy in terms of gadgets, and nevertheless being cloistered and subject to masculine law—is a tragic and interesting topic, but unfortunately the film skirts it. On the other hand, Sand Screens is addressed in principle to an uninitiated public, essentially a Western one, which has a tendency to put everything Arab, Islamic, and Oriental in one pot and to confuse apples with oranges. Well, instead of enlightening this public, the result is simply a caricature. We are introduced to two women, a Lebanese librarian (Mariam) and her wealthy backer, Sarah (played—very poorly, by the way—by Maria Schneider). Sarah is powerful but has been repudiated. These two women have diametrically opposed world views. But it is not Mariam, the modern one, who wins out in the end, who escapes, but the other woman, the cynic, beneath her black veil. Sarah represents nothing more than a well-worn cliché of the Arab woman. It is the common stereotype that is now so widespread. (Azzedine Mabrouki, in Algérie actualité, no. 1353, September 19–25, 1991) The oppression of Arab women is the subject of the modern fable Sand Screens, a first feature by Lebanon-born Randa Chahal Sabbag. A very visual film with European sensibility and pace, the Tarak Ben Ammar production should find arthouse play-offs. Maria Schneider is the main asset as a delightfully hard-boiled Arab lady in an unnamed sheikdom. Repudiated


by her plenipotentiary husband, but kept under tight surveillance, she is a prisoner of luxury. Pacing the empty halls of her Xanadu-like desert palace in the latest French couture, she rages against her boredom and lack of freedom. She tools around the desert in a black stretch limo, making obscene phone calls to strangers while knowing her chauffeur also is her captor. Conceiving an escape plan, she buys the women’s university ‘library’ and hires a war-weary young Lebanese woman (Laure Killing) to run it. Problem: there are no books, because it’s dangerous to stock anything possibly antiIslamic. The new librarian is soon as frustrated as Schneider. Schneider’s scheme to slip out of the country using Killing’s passport fails. . . . Pic is shot with a handful of actors and lots of sand, giving it a pleasing elemental simplicity. What’s too pared down is the practically nonexistent story, and film winds down after an intriguing start full of atmosphere. After that, it only comes to life when Schneider stalks broodingly across the screen. (From Deborah Young, in Variety, 1992) Perhaps most unusual for our images of an Arab film is Sand Screens, a Tunisian-French coproduction that makes for an eerie web of relationships in a futuristic-looking city in a Gulf state (is that what Riyadh looks like?) The familiar pictures of distress and liberation seem to be turned topsy-turvy here. It is not narrowness that obstructs life but the lack of relationships in a padded world of conventional marriage, car telephones, and pretentious marble palaces. The screen takes the place of the veil, which in turn evolves into a true attribute of erotic concealment. Is this what the film noir of the desert looks like? (Silvia Hallensleben, in Der Tagesspiegel, September 25, 1995.) Our Heedless Wars Hurubna al-ta’isha/Nos guerres imprudentes Lebanon/France 1995 Dir/Scr: Randa Chahal-Sabbag Prod: Archipel 33, Leil Productions



The civil war in Lebanon lasted seventeen years. Randa Chahal, daughter of a doctor and cofounder of the Lebanese Communist Party, began filming the war in 16 mm film format in 1976; from 1983 she filmed her family on video. Her film is a collection of these stories and images. It conveys the assessment of a family and that of a traumatized Beirut that has yet to regain its elan and is still suffering from the amnesia of reconstruction.


About the Film A raw and painful testimony, Randa Chahal’s film is an attempt to comprehend the Lebanese war, or at least open a debate which has resolutely been set aside and ignored. Through a family portrait, set against powerful images of war, the director offers a personal experience while simultaneously trying to revive dormant memories, a step that she considers necessary to the process of national healing. Chahal chooses to tackle this difficult subject by interviewing members of her family, namely her mother Victoria, her sister Nahla, and her brother Tamim. Their experience reveals how the war has affected each individual—and each generation—in a different manner. None of them, however, has found a valid reason or explanation for all that has happened. Their feeling of loss and meaninglessness is felt throughout the film. Their experience has led them nowhere and has left them in a state of hopelessness and disgust. The dramatic aspect is subtly balanced by a lighter tone, as some of the stories that Nahla or Victoria recount are so surreal that they almost become funny. Obviously, the family is very politically conscious; we understand that the father, deceased at the time the film begins, was a political thinker of a leftist ideology. The mother, Victoria, states in one of the scenes, not without a certain pride, that she “was the first woman in Iraq to ever write, and the first woman imprisoned for political reasons.” Her political history goes back to Iraq, Syria, and then Lebanon, always in affiliation with the communist parties. Nahla was a political and military member of the Lebanese communist party. She recounts in detail her experience, the people she lost during the war, and her afterthoughts of the whole period. One of the strong points of the film is when she says that “amnesia is not


only hypocritical and puritanical, it is also very dangerous as it can lead to another civil war, and Lebanon’s history is full of these wars.” Tamim, the younger brother, was a militia fighter who finds himself completely let down with no affiliation or no one to turn to. He realizes today that the fighters were manipulated by the warlords, none of whom was really committed to a cause, and finds himself at a loss and in an absurd situation. Alternating between the different incongruities of Beirut, between its anger, laughter, sadness, and hatred, between the different languages that are part of its heritage, between its complex, but rich identities, this film is a tribute to a city that does not want to be remembered but that is dangerously pervasive despite all the efforts to erase and eradicate it. It took Chahal around fifteen years to shoot the archive images of this film. Although it was completed in 1995, it was first screened in Lebanon in July 1999, and only as a one-time feature of a film society. The film’s harsh criticism, unhindered by any self-censure, of all parties involved in the war is certainly a reason for this long delay. At a different level, this also denotes the physical resistance of the Lebanese to face any remembrance of things past, of the war, and its implications. No matter how strong this resistance, however, Chahal’s film is certainly a catalyst, if not an incentive, to open the way to vital questions. (Lynn Maalouf, in al-Ra’ida 16, no. 86–87, summer/fall 1999, 64) The Infidels Les infidèles France 1997 Dir/Scr: Randa Chahal-Sabbag C: Rodolphe Pélicier Ed: Jennifer Augé Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Thibault De Montalembert, Laure Marsac, Manuel Munz Prod: Vertigo Production, Paris Farid, a remorseful one-time fundamentalist, and the French diplomat Charles meet in Cairo. Farid wants to reveal the names of terrorists operating in France to the French secret service. What develops between



the two men is not really love, but an irresistible force of attraction. Charles lets himself be seduced by Farid. Randa Chahal Sabbag lambasts a firm taboo in Muslim culture: homosexuality. And this is no small matter, in the Orient as much as in the Occident! On the one hand, Lebanese government officials returned her screenplay to her with the comment “threat to state security,” but—mystery of the Orient—Randa Chahal Sabbag received permission to make the film. On the other hand, she received a letter from the French Embassy accusing her of damaging the image of France. France then withdrew all financial assistance for the project (apart from Arte TV, which continued its support). (Cinéma méditerranéen à Bruxelles, 1998; http://ibase035.eunet.be/med/ films12html on March 26, 2000)


A Civilized People al-Mutahaddirat/Civilisées Lebanon/France/Switzerland 1999 Dir/Scr: Randa Chahal-Sabbag C: Ricardo Jacques Gale, Roby Breidi Ed: Juliette Weiffling M: Ziad Rahbani Cast: Jalila Baccar, Tamim Chahal, Myrna Maakaron et al. Prod: Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Frédéric Sichler This film is set in Beirut during the civil war. The wealthy have fled their lavish homes, leaving possessions and property in the care of their foreign servants. Still living in a shelled Beirut apartment building, Sri Lankan, Filipino, and Egyptian maids bicker with each other. A rich lady returns for a tryst with her lover. A child urges his elders to ransom an abducted French physician. A young Christian woman falls in love with a Muslim fighter. Everyone is at a crazed sniper’s mercy. The film dramatizes the absurdity and inescapable violence of living every day in a state of anarchy. When state censors in Lebanon wanted forty-seven minutes removed before exhibition, Chahal refused to show the film in her native country.


Souha, Surviving Hell Suha, al-nagat min al-gahim/Souha, survivre à l’enfer Lebanon/France 2001 Dir/Scr: Randa Chahal Sabbag Prod: Cinétévé, Leil Production, Le Comité des Détenus de Khiam In 1989, twenty-one-year-old Souha Bechara made an attempt to assassinate Antoine Lahad, commander-in-chief of the South Lebanese Army, which was allied with the Israeli occupation forces. Lahad was seriously injured but survived. Souha Bechara was arrested, tortured, and incarcerated in the notorious Khiam Prison in South Lebanon for ten years, six of which she spent in solitary confinement. International pressure led to her release in 1998. In exile in Paris she started studying law and Hebrew and wrote her autobiography (Résistante, Lattès 2000), which appeared in English translation in 2003 (Resistance: My Life for Lebanon, trans. Gabriel Levine, Brooklyn, NY, 2003). Today Souha Bechara lives in Paris and Geneva; she is active in an international lawyers’ collective working for the release of the last Lebanese resistance fighters still imprisoned in Israel. The Kite Tayyara min waraq/Le cerf-volant France/Lebanon 2003 Dir/Scr: Randa Chahal-Sabbag C: Alain Levent M: Ziad Rahbani Ed: Marie-Pierre Renaud Cast: Flavia Bechara, Maher Bsaibes, Ziad Rah, Myrna Maakaron et al. Prod: Ognon Pictures, ARTE, Ulysse Productions Lamia is supposed to marry her cousin Samy. On her wedding day, the sixteen-year-old is to ‘cross over’ the rows of barbed wire separating her village from his. Lamia’s village is in Lebanon; her cousin’s village has been annexed by Israel. Between the two villages lie a border and several watchtowers. A passage for newlyweds and coffins is opened under control



of both sides. But instead of going through with the planned marriage, Lamia falls in love with one of the soldiers from the watchtowers (he is a Druze like herself). A Romeo-and-Juliet-like love story unfolds.

Film Reviews The story is effectively a human tragedy of immense proportions that the director decided to treat with irony. There is also a happy ending that reconciles one with the power of love, life, and the incredible acrobatics that the human imagination is capable of conjuring up. (Paolo Menzione in cineuropa.org, August 30, 2003; http://www. cineuropa.org/article_sp.asp?lang=ing&treeID=458&documentID=36913 on December 26, 2004)


Once censored by the Lebanese government, this award-winning auteur is now embraced as a cultural ambassador and a voice of conscience in her homeland. . . . Lebanon’s submission in this year’s foreign-language Oscar race, The Kite, is an unlikely love story between a Lebanese girl and an Israeli soldier. “I chose the subject because of the absurdity of the situation,” Sabbaq has said. “I like the continuity in communication even though there’s barbed wire separating the people. The Kite is a pacifist film, without concessions. There are no slogans, there’s no good guy or bad guy. The film is like a dream, from beginning to end.” (Mai Hoang in World Press Review 51, no. 3, March 2004; http://www. worldpress.org/Mideast/1803.cfm on December 26, 2004) At eighty minutes Sabbag’s morality tale is well-paced and definitely worth viewing. Despite a few editing jumps and over-reliance on songs to carry the message, the story flows well and demonstrates that the director is firmly in control of her narrative. We’d expect pointed political messages and pleas for peace from Lebanese cinema, yet Sabbag restrains herself from preaching to create a very warm-hearted and sincere tale. (John Nesbit in CultureDose.net, January 14, 2004; http://www.toxicu niverse.com/review.php?rid=10005447 on March 20, 2005)




oana Hadjithomas was born in August 10, 1969 in Beirut. She has been working together with Khalil Joreige for years. They studied modern literature in Nanterre and film in New York, and today live in both Beirut and Paris. Hadjithomas has had numerous photography exhibitions on Beirut and has directed fiction and documentary films of different lengths.

Filmography 1994 The Agony of the Feet, NA 1994 333 Sycamore, NA 1997 Faute d’identités (Lack of Identity), NA 1999 al-Bayt al-zahr/Autour de la maison rose/Around the Pink House, 35 mm, 92 min 2000 Khiyam (about the notorious former prison in the Israeli ‘security zone’ in South Lebanon), doc, beta SP, 52 min 2002 Ramad/Cendres/Ashes, 35 mm, 26 min 2003 al-Film al-mafqud/Yémen, le film perdu/The Lost Film, doc, beta SP, 42 min 2005 A Perfect Day, 35 mm, 88 min (Don Quixote award and Fipresci Prize at the Locarno Film Festival) Around the Pink House al-Bayt al-zahr/Autour de la maison rose France/Lebanon/Canada 1999 Dir/Scr/Prod: Joana Hadjithoma, Khalil Joreige C: Pierre David M: Robert M. Lepage Ed: Tina Baz-Le Gal Cast: Jeseph Bou Nassar, Mireille Safa, Maurice Maalouf, Zeina Saab De Melero, et al. Prod: Mille et Une Productions, Les Ateliers du Cinéma Québécois



Two families seek refuge during the civil war in Beirut in the ruins of an old palace, the ‘pink house.’ When the war ends and an economic reconstruction boom sets in, a new owner appears. He gives the families ten days to move out, because a shopping center is planned for the site. This marks the beginning of a fight for the pink house. Fierce conflicts develop in that district of the city and the press stirs up feelings even more. Ashes Ramad/Cendres France/Lebanon 2003 Nabil returns to Beirut with the ashes of his father who died abroad. He tries to overcome his bereavement while his family insists on respecting rites and customs by burying a non-existent corpse.


The Lost Film al-Film al-mafqud/Yémen, le film perdu France/Lebanon 2003 A copy of the directors’ film Around the Pink House disappeared in Yemen in 2000 under mysterious circumstances, on precisely the tenth anniversary of the unification of North and South Yemen. The filmmakers set out to search for the truth about what had occurred. A Perfect Day France/Lebanon/Germany 2005 Dir/Scr: Joana Hadjithomas/Khalil Joreige C: Jeanne Lapoirie M: Scrambled Eggs Cast: Ziad Saad, Julia Kassar, Alexandra Kahwagi et al. Claudia finally signs the paperwork to formally declare her husband dead, fifteen years after he disappeared during the Lebanese civil war. As Claudia grapples with her guilt and torment over the empty space in her bed, her son, the borderline narcoleptic Malek, sleepwalks his


way through a renovated Beirut in search of his beautiful girlfriend— yet another listless member of a generation dislocated from reality and numbed by trauma.

Film Review With a soundtrack provided by ultra-trendy Lebanese group Soap Kills, A Perfect Day evocatively captures a nation finding itself at a crossroads between war and peace, pain and resolution. Joreige and Hadjithomas—a fixture on the new Lebanon’s cultural scene through their exhibition work and teachings—embroider the film with their trademark mesmerising visuals, succeeding in creating a work that lingers long in the memory. Never before has a mobile phone ring-tone been so life-affirming! (Ali Jaafar, London Film Festival 2005, http://www.lff.org.uk/films_ details.php?FilmID=800 on October 13, 2005)




orn on September 16, 1966 in Arnoun, Lebanon, Dima Al Joundi studied philosophy in Beirut and then in 1984 went to Brussels to study film at INSAS (Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle). She has worked as an assistant director, a sound and image editor, and in production. After completing her studies she worked first as a film editor in various cities including Brussels and Paris, and in the Maghreb. She coproduced and directed her first film Between Us Two . . . Beirut. From 1996 to 1997 she lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she produced documentary films and was responsible for the Arab broadcasting region for Worldview Global Television. Al Joundi returned to Beirut to live, where she has organized three film festivals, including the 1999 Beirut Film Festival. With her company Crystal Films she has become the first woman in Lebanon to produce and distribute films.



From an Interview with Dima Al Joundi I have read a lot about you in the newspapers. Finally after meeting you I would like to know more about your life. DJ: I started off with film editing given that it is an art in itself and the real instrument of cinema. Through it I knew that I could learn the basics in filmmaking. After working for several years in film editing I decided I had had enough. I had something to say and couldn’t express it solely in film editing. I decided to embark on my first directorial debut after watching a Swiss documentary on Lebanon that bothered me. I wrote a letter to my sister asking her if it was safe and possible to return to Lebanon and shoot a film about Beirut. At that time there were no direct phone lines to Beirut, and I used to spend sleepless nights trying to contact my family. I was very keen on shooting my film and performed miracles to have it done on time. In six months I managed to accumulate the money needed for my film from the European Union, TV5, and the Belgian Ministry. I shot Bayni wa baynak Bayrut on film; it took me a year to complete it and it cost US$200,000. I insisted on doing my own production because I believe the best person to promote a film is its director provided that he/she has a production and marketing background. After directing I was drawn into production without being aware of it. Yet, at a certain point I got very tired of doing both because when you direct and produce it is a nightmare. So I decided to become a full-time producer. Now I know what a luxury it is for a director to have an efficient producer. Why did you finally decide to come back to Beirut and settle here? DJ: It took me five years of hesitation and endless debate before I took the decision to move back to Lebanon. I had a dilemma, one that is common among some people living abroad, because I knew that once I had taken the decision, there was no turning back. Yet, the two basic reasons that compelled me to come back were my father’s illness and the fact that I felt like a total stranger in my own country whenever I visited. It used to kill me and I couldn’t bear it, because I am Lebanese and I love my country irrespective of its faults. Besides, I also felt this alienation within my own family—I was drifting apart and it felt very awkward.


To top it all, the Far East made me feel completely cut off from the Arab world. I felt exiled and lonely in Sri Lanka. Had I been living in Paris at that time, I might never have come back. I also missed working in the film industry. So I decided to move to Beirut and settle here permanently. It was a risky move for I had no work, no job offer, nothing. But it all worked out for the best and now I have my own distribution company. I have two European partners, one Belgian, the other French, along with my mother. My European partners helped me a lot and I relied on them tremendously during our first months at Crystal Films. Given that they are experienced and knowledgeable of the European market, we were able to excel. What are the drawbacks of working in Lebanon? DJ: I hate it when people who move to Lebanon start nagging and whining about living here. Each country has its positive and negative aspects and everything is double-edged in this country. What bothers me the most is that no one abides by deadlines. This is driving me crazy. We are a chaotic breed who lack discipline. Normally when you embark on a project, all your energy is saved till you start the project. In Lebanon the opposite happens: all your energy is spent in preparation, way before the actual project commences, so you start off very tired. (Interview with Myriam Sfeir, in al-Ra’ida 16, no. 86-87, summer/fall 1999, pp. 58–60)

Filmography 1993 Bayni wa baynak . . . Bayrut/Entre nous deux . . . Beyrouth/Between Us Two . . . Beirut, 16 mm, 52 min 1995 The Silk Road in Central Anatolia, 35 mm, 52 min 1995 A portrait of the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora, in “Y’a pas match” for TV5 in Paris, NA 1996 The Mask of the Night, betacam, 20 min



Between Us Two . . . Beirut Bayni wa baynak . . . Bayrut Belgium/Lebanon 1993 Dir/Scr: Dima Al Joundi C: Hasan Naamani S: Ricardo Castro M: Toufic Farroukh Ed: Mireille Abromovici Cast: Rim Al Joundi Prod: Bright Sight Entertainment, Wallonie Image Production, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation


Two sisters are united through their love for one another and for their home city. Dima left Beirut to study film in Belgium. Her sister Rim remained in Beirut and is now an artist. Rim experienced the events close-up, Dima from far away. When Dima returns for a visit, the reunion with her sister and the city is challenging for both women. Dima Al Joundi’s first film emerged from her need to deal once again with her homeland after years of voluntary exile in London. The film clearly shows how her memories of her former homeland, representing those of others in exile, differ from reality and from the perceptions of those who stayed behind.



orn in February 13, 1959 in Ismailia, Egypt, Yasmine Khlat was raised in Lebanon, her parents’ native country. She studied film theory at the University of Paris III. Before working as a director, she acted in numerous films, such as in the 1978 film Nahla by Farid Belufa, Aziza (1979) by Adbellatif Ben Ammar, and Ahlam al-medina (Dreams of the City, 1984) by Mohamed Malass. She received several awards for her acting talent. Besides directing she has also written a screenplay as well as several books, and translated a novel by the Tunisian writer Habib Selmi.


Filmography 1987 Layluna/Notre nuit (Our Night), video, 52 min 1987 Les chercheuses de poux (Women Looking for Trouble), NA 2001 Arc-en-ciel, the name of a television program, NA 2000 Abed Azrié, musicien du monde (Abed Azrié, World Musician), NA Our Night Layluna/Notre nuit Lebanon/France 1987 Dir/Scr: Yasmine Khlat C: Hasan Naamani S: Ali Bairam M: Paul Mattar Ed: Chantal Piquet Cast: Marie Thoumas, Nagah El Massoud, Maya Tabet Prod: Middle East Communication Center, Institut du Monde Arabe, Le Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir During the civil war in Beirut, women of different social milieus and religions live next door to one another in a residential housing block. Their living space is very limited due to the war taking place around them. Their everyday lives, in contrast, seem oddly calm, as though cut off from the outside world in which the men are fighting a war. The war penetrates the lives of the women only through newspaper articles and radio reports, and the horrifying images they see on television.

From an Interview with Yasmine Khlat Yasmine, you are first and foremost an actress. How did it occur to you to take hold of the camera and make Our Night yourself? YK: Initially I didn’t consider directing the film myself; I thought of some friends, but they never returned to Beirut. I had just spent five years living in Paris, and I was very sensitive to the very tenuous aspect of what I was seeing in Beirut. I didn’t like what was being said about Lebanon in the media at all, or the image that was being presented of it.



It is striking that the only masculine voice in the film emanates from a cassette. YK: That’s the reality. Of course, there are still men in Beirut, but it seems to me that there is a social space which is really a ‘no man’s land’ in both the literal and figurative senses of the term, and which can only be occupied by women.


You say that you rebelled against the image of Lebanon as it was presented in the media. How did you want to show it? YK: I was opposed to the completely stereotyped image of Lebanon that was presented in the foreign media but also very often by the Lebanese themselves: an image of horror, of war. I wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum, into the non-spectacular aspects of the war, into everyday actions, into those aspects of the war that can be experienced as a form of waiting, as a sadness. It’s in these small things that one truly sees the effect of the war. But it is also certain that I had something to say about this city, which is my city. I think that one gets a strong sense in Beirut of what I call ‘inner exile.’ There are periods, such as those between two bombardments, for example. There are nights of calm that are much more terrifying than those when there is bombing, because all of a sudden one hears the silence of Beirut. At night in Beirut one hears dogs, a rooster—the sounds of a village. They are no longer the sounds of a city, and that is what I call inner silence. It has something to do with all the successive deaths that Beirut has lived through, and this is something that can be felt and almost read from its walls. (Jacqueline Huber in Femmes-Echo, December 1987)

Speaking with Yasmine Khlat My experience as an actress has taught me how to deal with actors. I didn’t film people as if it were simple reporting. The scenes were written and prepared and sometimes we shot the same scene twice, but the dialogue was improvised. I used to say to the actors “Please speak on this subject.” I also gave special precise instructions as to what they should do on the scene, but it seems very spontaneous. I learned and suffered so much as an actress that I knew how to deal with actors so they did not feel so aware of the camera. You have the camera


and the lights on you, and you can see the director behind the camera. You are playing your part and you see his eyes looking at you to see if it is okay or not. And this is very, very disturbing for the actress. Because it separates you from what you are doing. You have a judge. It reminds you that you are acting and that you have to be good. So when I stood behind the camera I looked at the actors. I tried to be part of the scene, just to be with them. I tried to cooperate with my face and all my body. Just as though I tried to speak to them with my eyes. They were no longer aware of the camera, so it was real dialogue. It helps to forget the camera. I think cinema can be very, very harmful for the people you film, because you are stealing something from them when you film. It is not innocent and not without consequences. In our countries, one word can be very dangerous, or even just being in a film that is a bit political. There are things I could have asked from the women who agreed to work with me, but I did not, because I respected them. And I knew it would be harmful for them. But this does not mean the film is less good. On the contrary, because they had this feeling of respect and affection, they gave much more. There is a lot of intimacy. It is as if the audience is amid the people in the film. My approach makes you feel you are with them. So I think my experience in acting had a great influence on my work in this film as a filmmaker. My film is a documentation de création as we say in French, a creative documentation. It isn’t merely a repetition of facts; yet it isn’t a fictional plot either. It is an artistic portrayal of real situations. What I wanted to do was to show everyday life in this apartment building, the interactions between people of different social classes and religions. Life here resembled life on a threatened island of coexistence. How could I depict the war if I wanted to stay in this building? I decided to use the television as a dramatic element. It connected the women watching with the men outside who were fighting. During the shooting of the film I myself experienced how much stronger and how different the relationships were between people caught up in war. Taxi drivers played a very important role in Beirut. I remember that they always waited in front of my house until I got safely inside and shut the door behind me. They did that without my even asking. We didn’t know each other personally; it was an act of solidarity.




I knew Marie, the main character in my film, long before we started filming. She was a friend of my parents who lived in the same building. Nagah was another woman; she lived with Marie. I was interested in the relationship between the two women, in the way they helped each other. In times of peace they would never have met because they come from very different social milieus. But in this situation of war, they met and helped each other. Nagah had nowhere to stay in Beirut, but she wanted to stay in the city in order to support herself. Marie had an apartment, but no husband. So they protected each other. But the main figure is Marie. She has a very strong and impressive character and is very pretty. She and I have similar backgrounds. We are both Lebanese but were born in Egypt. That is a special situation. Many Lebanese emigrated to Egypt at the beginning of the century and they stayed for three generations, until the 1960s. When Gamal Abd al-Nasser came to power and set the country on a socialist course, they emigrated to Canada or France. Or they returned to Lebanon. When the civil war started there, many left the country. Marie stayed. She didn’t have any opportunity to leave, but she would not have been happy abroad anyway. In Beirut she had her studio, her work, her apartment, her friends. Before we started shooting, I visited Marie a lot. I was totally fascinated by her; I made notes about her expressions and gestures that I later worked into the film. I found out about Marie during a time when there was shooting every night. Nothing happened during the day. I didn’t want to stay alone in our apartment at night, so I went to Marie and stayed there. Nagah was there too. So I got to see her in her everyday life. There are moments in the film, especially in the second half, when you get the feeling that the women don’t notice the camera at all. I really love these moments. They draw attention to the fascinating contrast between the destruction of the war and the continuation of life. (Interview with the author, Paris, December 1994.)

Film Review Through the gestures, words, and silences of these women, the other reality of Beirut shines through—not the one conveyed by the media, packed with sensational images of horror and death, but one of pulsating life.


Which does not mean that the war and its burden of suffering are glossed over in Leylouna (Our Night). The war surges back via the detour of a phrase, an image from a television news program, a tear. Yes, the war is there, in mottled patches. But Yasmine Khlat sweeps away the mass of received ideas on the subject that has accumulated over the years. A sectarian conflict? Between Marie, who is a Christian, and Najah, who is a Shi‘ite Moslem, such bonds exists as to explode all clichés. And the jollity of the inhabitants of Saida, where all religions have become blurred since the withdrawal of the occupying forces. . . . Just a few furtive images that say more, much more, than any treatise could. What Leylouna also reveals, with tact and skill, is the space occupied by these women, strong but at the same time fragile, exposed to their solitude. Some men are there, but for the most part they are elsewhere: at work, abroad, in battle. Yasmine Khlat, while demonstrating great sensitivity (one never feels that one is in the presence of a camera), has made a powerful, dense film in which no image is superfluous. (Claude Thomas, in Femmes-Echo, December 1987)

NAKKAS, OLGA (1953–)


lga Nakkas (Naccache) was born on March 30, 1953 in Mersin, Turkey. Her mother is Turkish and her father, Lebanese. The family moved to Beirut in 1958. After studying Arabic literature and journalism in Paris, she worked as an assistant director–producer for the BBC in London, the French television station Canal Plus, and in Lebanon. She has also coproduced her own films through her company Les Films de L’Odyssées. Olga Nakkas has lived in Paris and Rome; after the end of the civil war she moved to Beirut.

Speaking with Olga Nakkas As a filmmaker the most important thing for me is to show the reality of this part of the world. I don’t want to call it the ‘Arab world.’ I prefer to call it the le monde Arabo-muselman, or the ‘Arab-Muslim world.’104 This term might not be used very much in the West but I think it’s more




accurate. In my films I want to show the reality of the Arab and Muslim world, which is so often distorted by Western and also Arab media. I want to show countries and the people living there as they really are. I’m very impassioned about documentary, especially this sort of documentary, which is realistic, not educational. I let the people talk and also give myself a chance, through the different interviews, to express my own views in a creative and personal way, as in Lebanon, Bits and Pieces. I never wanted to be political in my films, though Ashura is somewhat political. In Lebanon the Shi‘ites always had problems and were not respected. So I wanted to let people know who the Shi‘ites were. I was also very taken by them because my husband is Shi‘ite, while I am Christian. The film might be interesting for people who know nothing about the Shi‘ites, but if I were to do a film on Shi‘ites now I would do it differently. Being a woman in the Islamic world gives you an advantage in filmmaking, because you profit from the unexpectedness of the situation. I filmed Ashura with all these Shi‘ite men who were very political. Some of them were extremists and radically opposed to the West. I played the game by listening a lot and letting them feel that they could trust me, because up to a certain point I believed in their cause. It is easier for a woman to get people to talk. In general, people trust women more than men. That’s why they confide more to a woman than to a man. This is a big advantage for female filmmakers here, as long as we remain anomalies. But I did have to accept their rules. I shut up and let a man, my managing producer, ask my questions. Even though I was veiled from head to toe, I couldn’t attend a religious ceremony that was only for men. So I had to tell my cameraman exactly where to put the camera and then I left. I didn’t object because I had accepted their rules by putting on this horrible thing that they wear. I like documentaries, but I would really like to work on a feature film. It would have to be a feature film that is very rooted in reality. I like them to be rooted in a certain realism, like the Italian neo-realists. Ingmar Bergman is my role model. I don’t think he could have worked if he hadn’t loved his characters and the people he worked with. It is mainly important to be true to yourself and true to the people who trust you. You should make no compromises with yourself or the people who finance the


film. Be true to the people you work with and give them the space to be themselves. If they agree and if they like the idea, just work with them, and consider their participation in the film as something that makes it richer. This is why I think preparation is much more important than shooting. I prefer to shoot in two or three weeks but prepare for four or five months. For a normal producer, this is not acceptable because he calculates the costs. That’s why I’m now my own producer. I prepare for longer and don’t have to reshoot as many scenes, which is actually better for documentary films,which have small budgets. Lebanon, Bits and Pieces is the first film into which I really put a lot of myself. It deals with my relationship with my past and with a country I love and hate at the same time. Though I have been living in Paris for the last seven years, it is the story of my anger and reconciliation with Lebanon, a story of my love affair with this country. It’s a love-hate relationship, a country that I always leave and come back to, a country I cannot live with but at the same time cannot be too far from. Lebanon is the place where I grew up. I left when I was fourteen, but I’ve been back several times. I hate lots of things about Lebanon: the superficiality, the vast differences between social classes, the fact that it is supposed to be an independent country but in reality is still a totally colonized country in its mindset. On the other hand, there is the love I have for the place of my childhood and for a country which has beautiful landscapes and whose people are very affectionate, soft, and generous. Despite these good memories and the many positive things about Lebanon, the negative aspects grow stronger when I’m there—until I leave. Then I become nostalgic again and go back. I can go on forever with this love-hate relationship. I think most people who feel at home in two cultures feel this way. I never felt the need to leave Lebanon for good. I need the extremes; it gives me drive and stimulation. I was politically involved like everyone when I was eighteen. We all had our dreams about changing society in Lebanon before the war and believed in creating a more just society, with more equality and civil rights. We supported the Palestinian cause, no matter what its excesses toward Lebanon. In those days we all believed that their cause was just. We were much more involved politically than young people




today. Maybe we had more time or we were more idealistic. That was the beginning of the seventies. I would like to make a film about these days, with a critical, affectionate touch of self-irony—how we went from discussions to beach parties, smoked hash, listened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Doors. My mother is Turkish and was brought up under Kemal Atatürk when women’s liberation was important. She was very un-Lebanese because she always encouraged me to be a little man, in a way, to fight for what I wanted. At the same time she was a contradiction. She said I should get married to a Christian, which meant she was not totally liberated or else she would have rejected all religion, as Atatürk did. This is the whole problem with the Westernization of the Third World: they adopt attitudes and intellectual thought but still have their traditions inside. My mother’s admiration of Atatürk influenced how she brought me up. I had a sort of military upbringing, not like a soldier but a bit Stalinist. She had a very Turkish, militant Kemalist idea of what you do and what you don’t do. I was raised in a very structured way compared to chaotic Lebanon. It was a strict upbringing of ethical beliefs, which was very unLebanese—not that there are no ethics in Lebanon, but Lebanon was a country where everything was allowed; even corruption was accepted to a degree. The Turkey of my childhood and the Turkish education that my mother gave me were very different from the Lebanon I lived in. My mother obsessed about making a perfect human being just as Stalin thought he was going to make the perfect communist and Kemal Atatürk thought he was going to make the perfect Turk. Lebanon was very chaotic. It was considered the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’ but also the whore of the Arab world. Lebanon was not a country seriously working toward becoming modern. It was just the opposite in fact; it was a country of pleasure, of beaches, holidays, and tourism. But for many people it was also a country of poverty, inequality, and slums. It was not like Turkey. There was no army, no long-term politics. Lebanon was schizophrenic. On the one hand, its leaders had no idea about politics and the economy, but on the other hand it had banks that drew Western and Arab capitalists. At the same time you only had to go out to certain areas away from the big hotels and the beaches and the


fancy restaurants to see poverty and people living in camps. Five-year-old children were selling matches in the streets. Turkey had the biggest revolution in the Islamic world. Atatürk, and nobody else in the Islamic world, dared to tell women to throw away their chadors amd their veils, to show their heads, their faces to the world, and to educate themselves. Atatürk just gave women this wonderful present. They didn’t have to fight for their rights. I admire him very much, not only because of what he did for women, but what he did for Turkey. He brought a country that was living in the Middle Ages into modern times. Unfortunately he didn’t live long enough. Today Islamist fundamentalists say they are trying to bring Turkey back to its roots. I have plans for a historical and biographical film about four women in Turkey. The women belong to different generations and have conflicting views about Atatürk and fundamentalist Islam. It’s about a woman who was a firm supporter of Atatürk when he revolutionized Turkey and the status of women in Turkey. There’s another woman in the film, about twenty-five years old, who represents many women of her generation. She’s the total opposite of this first woman. She totally denies what Atatürk has done for women. She genuinely believes that Islam is the best solution for women. She wants to be a real Muslim and she wants Turkey to be transformed into a Muslim country. It’s a tragedy, because Turkey has done a lot to show that it can be productive and modern. I think these Islamists are finding fertile ground among people who are bitter and disillusioned about the West. People feel betrayed by the reluctance to admit them to the European Union. The Islamists tell them, “They will never accept a Muslim state in the EU. The West is making fun of you. Come, we will give you a hundred dollars, go and wear the veil.” And the women are poor, so they put on the veil. (Interview with the author, Paris, December 1994.)

Filmography 1986 Saida, portrait d’une ville (Saida, Portrait of a City) 35 mm, 19 min 1987 ‘Ashura/Ashoura (Ashura), 35 mm, 27 min, co-directed



1992 2000

Lubnan min taraf ila taraf akhar/Lebanon, Bits and Pieces, 35 mm, 60 min Halima, 35 mm, 40 min

Ashura ‘Ashura/Ashoura France 1987 A film portrait of the Shi‘ite community in South Lebanon. Ashura is the most important Shi‘ite holiday, as it commemorates the day when Husayn105 and his companions were killed in the battle of Karbala (680 106 C.E.). The celebration, which takes place in Nabatiyeh, lasts six days. Men perform self-flagellation rituals until their heads and bodies bleed, symbolizing the martyrdom of the third Imam. Politically, the ritual serves as an act of Shi‘ite self-assertion in the face of Sunni dominance.


Lebanon, Bits and Pieces Lubnan min taraf ila taraf akhar France 1994 Dir/Scr: Olga Nakkas Prod: Les Films de L’Odyssée, France 3 This film is a portrait of Lebanese women of different generations and milieus. It captures an image of Lebanon after the war, stirring feelings of nostalgia, loneliness, and sadness, and raises questions about the country’s future. The genre of documentary film has given Olga Nakkas an opportunity to reflect on her own memories. Halima Lebanon/France 2000 The Lebanese Olga left her homeland during the civil war to live in Paris. Twenty years later she is lonely, divorced, bankrupt, and on the brink of suicide. Instead of taking her life, she resolves to make a film about herself as a single woman and Arab immigrant.




ocelyne Saab was born in April 30, 1948 in Beirut. After studying economics in Paris, she worked as a journalist and then turned to film. She moved to Paris in 1985. She has made more than thirty documentary films since 1973 that have been televised internationally and was also assistant director to Volker Schlöndorff in Der Fälscher (The Forger). Saab coproduced many of her films with her company Balcon Production. She has also written several scripts and received the Special Jury Prize at the eighteenth Grand Prix du Meilleur Scénariste 2003 for the script for her film project Dunia.

Speaking with Jocelyne Saab I’m from a very bourgeois, cultured family. I grew up in a sheltered world between home, school, and a few close friends. In fact I was born in the museum where my grandfather worked. I was not aware of what was going on politically. When I was older I decided to go out and see what was happening in the streets. I wanted to know what was going on. Because I had a father who traveled a lot, I was curious. The first thing to be curious about were the Palestinians; it was our reality—they were in the city, in the country, and Israel was just around the corner. When I went to Paris to study, I became interested in the Arab world. I wanted to know who I was. I belong to a generation that was educated in French schools. We didn’t have contact with our origins. We were the generation that started looking for our roots, looking to see why we lost them. I could have found this by studying Arabic literature at the university in Cairo, for example. But as a girl in a bourgeois family, they preferred to send me to Paris than to Egypt to study. I said okay, let me be practical. I want to travel. That’s why I said I wanted to study economics. Later I started working as a journalist and accepted work all over. It was not like work for me. It was a big adventure for me to travel in different Arab countries.




It was unusual for an Arab woman to work alone with foreign teams. So people treated me like a foreigner. I didn’t think anything of it, but easily took my place as a ‘modern’ woman. None of the women I know had this opportunity. Now I understand that my situation was not normal. I hadn’t been aware that they were treating me differently. I also fascinated people. I got the chance to interview many prominent politicians and leaders, for example, like Muammar al-Qaddafi. They wanted to know who I was, where I came from, what I looked like. Suddenly they had a woman before them who could think and was an intellectual, and who was different from the image they had of women. So I was in fact received like a man. On the other hand I was banned from entering some countries for many years: Egypt for seven years, Morocco for three or four years. In Beirut I was not allowed to cross from the east to the west side where my family lived. It was not only what I said, it was how I said it. When I was younger I thought I had to provoke people to be heard. It was a sign of the times; everyone was like that then. In Lebanon, movie theaters only showed shallow entertainment—films that were mostly copies of American and Italian comedies. We had no traditional cinema. Besides me there were a few filmmakers who wanted to show what was going on in the country. But nobody used to go see these films except those who were affected, the lower classes. In the end I was criticized by the bourgeoisie, my own people, because I said, “look at yourselves, let us look at ourselves.” So they hated me. And the lowest class, they said “what’s she doing, this woman, that’s not her place. How dare she change things and talk about us.” Everybody was disturbed by what I was doing—and the more I worked, the more alone I felt. Even the right-wing fundamentalists, the Hizbullah, saw me as a target. They even tried to kidnap me once. People used to say I was big and tall and looked like a man; that I was, you know, sturdy. Many people came to me and said, “We didn’t know you were so small and feminine-looking.” I had the reputation of a big man who fights. After all, men fight men. They only break something bigger than them, a monster, not a little woman. So they had to imagine me as a very masculine person. I received more film offers after the kidnapping attempt. I made my first feature film during the war, which was a crazy thing to do. I was pregnant and they took away my apartment. I was living as a


European and they were kidnapping foreign people more and more often. So I couldn’t stay. I already lived in a mental or inner exile in Lebanon. Then came the physical exile to France. Physical exile was terrible because you have to imagine a new world. I was living in Paris and it was not my sun, my walls, my environment, and my way of living, and I had to adapt to all this. I was accustomed to Paris, to coming and going. I know the way of living here. I work here. But it’s different when you have to make it yours. You have to adopt it like you adopt a child. It’s yours, it isn’t the child of another woman anymore. You become the real mother. And it’s the same here; you have to adopt even their way of driving, of eating, of everything; you have to change, you can’t go on living in a nostalgia. Until then my films had always focused on war and death. That changed when I got very sick and had several operations. I spent years in and out of the hospital. When I was healthy again, I wanted to reflect about life in my films. I began to talk about women, dancers, the female body. It was as if not only my body but also my imagination had come back to life. I finally felt the desire to shoot another film. I made the video about in-vitro fertilization, which for me was a deep reflection about life and death. After this film I said I can do anything now. I felt totally free. That brought up memories of my country and I decided to make a feature film about Lebanon. The result was Once Upon a Time . . . Beirut. In Lebanon today the film industry favors conventional films. And the Ministry of Culture is still very ineffective. So the major problem is getting funding for a production. Film in Lebanon doesn’t really have a tradition. Just like film as an art form does not have any roots in the Islamic world. When I speak of the Islamic world, I also mean the Christian community. Religion in the Orient is not a personal idea as it is in the Western world. It is more like a culture that is passed on from one generation to the next. In the Orient only calligraphy has an artistic tradition because the Islamic world does not allow pictures; it is disturbed by the representation of things. Painting and later film only imitate European painting and film. I broke with this way of seeing in my feature films by going back to Arab narrative traditions: not like in the Occident with the beginning, the middle, the end. No, you have boxes, like Russian matrioshka dolls, one going into the other. If you show things




in this way, people suddenly identify with it. It disturbs them because the art is not foreign any more, it’s theirs. I feel I can communicate with people this way. Now after the war, because of financial problems, men are saying to me, “you’re taking our place.” When I was filming during the war I wasn’t taking their place, because if I wanted to die I was free to. But now I’ve got this place, although it is not the ‘right’ place for a woman in Lebanese society. Why is this? I think it’s because we dare to say things that men don’t want said in a patriarchal society, in a man’s society. People will need myths in the future, something to help them live. If you need the myth, okay, fabricate a myth, but try to make new ones. Because if you go on living with the old ones without adapting them, you won’t progress. Like most artists, I want to be ahead of the times and to create new myths, especially the myth of woman. I’m not against the old myths, but you need to fill them with something else. It’s dangerous because you meet opposition if you are ahead of the times; you disturb people. I provoke people this way. They think I should act and look more like a woman my age. In our country, when a woman is young, she is supposed to be beautiful, to give birth, and to have a husband, and she has to stand behind the man, and then she’s a mother. I am a mother but not married, and I keep on talking and acting the way I did when I was young. That’s abnormal in this society. I now work with a lot of young people in Lebanon. I had no role models. And that’s why I felt very alone. So it is important for me to pass this on to younger artists, to teach them, not only about film, but about this way of thinking. Especially after the war, now that the bombed buildings have been modernized, people’s attitudes and beliefs are going backward. It is important for me to say this and pass it on to the next generation. (Interview with the author, Paris, December 1994) I am moved reading this old interview I gave you in 1994 just after the war so I will add some words about my new work: my latest project, Dunia (English title: Kiss Me Not) is an actualization of this new life that breathed in my cinema, and my will to dispel old myths and pass on critical thought to the younger generation. It is a film that celebrates life, love, the arts, the


body and our right to exist on all levels as women in an Arab world of today, but also as thinking and critical human beings. It has more fantasy than all my previous films, one that emanates from the magic of cinema, but it was also less magical in the making, because of the many difficulties involved (before the actual shooting). My approach to all these themes seemed to rise in the more conservative factions of Arab society. And winning that struggle, the one against rumors and defamations and fundamentalism proved that this was the right moment for change to be initiated. It will not be easy, but the battle can be won. (Addition by Jocelyne Saab, mailed to the author on January 4, 2005)

Filmography (16 mm, unless otherwise specified) 1973 Portrait de Khadafi (Portrait of Qaddafi), 52 min 1973 Guerre d’Octobre/The October Conflict, 15 min 1973 La Syrie: Le grain de sable/Syria: A Grain of Sand, 26 min 1973 Irak: la guerre au Kurdistan/Kurdistan, 35 min 1973 Les Palestiniens continuent/Palestinians Keep On, 26 min 1974 Le front du refus (The Front of Refusal) 10 min 1974 Les femmes palestiniennes/Palestinian Women, 12 min 1975 Le Liban dans la tourmente/Lebanon in the Tempest, 75 min (Arab Critics’ Award) 1975 Portrait d’un mercenaire français/Portrait of a French Mercenary, 10 min 1976 Les enfants de la guerre/The Children of War, also 35 mm, 10 min (Catholic Jury Prize at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival) 1976 Beyrouth jamais plus/Beirut, Never More, also 35 mm, 35 min 1976 Sud-Liban: Histoire d’un village/South Lebanon: History of a Village, 13 min 1976 Pour quelques vies/For a Few Lives, 20 min 1977 Le Sahara n’est pas à vendre/The Sahara is not for Sale, 90 min 1977 Égypte, la cité des morts/Egypt, The City of the Dead, 35 min



1978 1980 1982

1982 1982 1984 1986 1986 1986 1986 178

1987 1987 1989 1991

1994 1997 2005

Lettre de Beyrouth/Letter from Beirut, 50 min Iran l’utopie en marche/Iran, Utopia on the March, 50 min Beyrouth ma ville/Beirut My City, 35 min (Golden Spike at the 28th International Film Festival in Valladolid, Spain [SEMINCI]; winner at the International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany) Bilan de la guerre (Balance of the War), 10 min Le bateau de l’exil (The Boat of Exile), video, 10 min Une vie suspendue/A Suspended Life,107 35 mm, 90 min Égypte: l’architecte de Louxor (Egypt: The Architect of Luxor), 20 min Égypte: les fantômes d’Alexandrie (Egypt: The Ghosts of Alexandria), 17 min Égypte: la croix des pharaons (Egypt: The Cross of the Pharaoh), 20 min Égypte: l’amour d’Allah—l’intégrisme (Egypt: The Love for God—Fundamentalism), 17 min Les Libanais otages de leur ville (The Lebanese, Hostages of Their Own City), 6 min La tueuse (Lady Killer), 6 min Les almées danseuses orientales (The Belly Dancers), 26 min Fécondation in vidéo (Fertilization in Video), video (Science prize, Angers; and best medical film, Montpellier; Prize of the City of Biarritz) Il était une fois . . . Beyrouth/Once Upon A Time . . . Beirut, 35 mm, 104 min Saida Saighon/La dame de Saigon (Lady of Saigon), video, 60 min Dunia/Kiss Me Not, 35 mm, 112 min

A Suspended Life Une vie suspendue Lebanon/France/Canada 1984 Dir: Jocelyne Saab Scr: Gérard Brach


C: Claudes La Rue M: Siegfried Kessler Ed: Philippe Gosselet Cast: Hala Bassam, Jacques Weber, Juliet Berto et al. Prod: Aleph, Balcon Production, Sigmarc, Ciné-Vidéo The film is set in West Beirut where fourteen-year-old Samir is a child of war. The state of emergency allows the girl to take unusual paths, away from the watchful eye of parents and everyday school life. She gets to know an older artist, Karim. He belongs to the generation of intellectuals that was influenced by Western ideas and ideals. Samar develops a dreamy infatuation with the cynical Karim. Her feelings seem as timeless and irrational as the city surrounding the two of them. Once Upon A Time . . . Beirut Il était une fois . . . Beyrouth France/Lebanon 1994 Dir: Jocelyne Saab Scr: Philippe und Roland-Pierre Paringaux C: Roby Breidi Ed: Dominique Auvray, Isabelle Dedieu Cast: Michèle Tyan, Myrna Makaron et al. Prod: Balcon Production, ARTE, Aleph A film dedicated to the memory of Beirut. Yasmine and Laila, two modern young women in miniskirts and t-shirts, love both their city Beirut and the cinema. The civil war is over. They set out in search of images of their city before the destruction. They find what they are looking for in the archives of an elderly movie buff. He takes them on a trip through a Beirut that exists only in the films



of past decades. The director uses an original style: she projects the two protagonists into scenes from old films, creating a collage of the mythical and real city of Beirut. “For a long time, Beirut was the West’s Oriental ‘favorite.’ It had no rival in the Near East. It was a city for people from all cultures, a place of business, pleasure, and drama, but also a place of myths. For a long time, it basked in this image, not overly bothered by certain realities. But, although the myths associated with Beirut did so much over the years to enhance its wealth and fame, they were also largely responsible for its downfall. The idea here is to review these great myths, which for forty years now have contributed to shaping the image of Beirut, to look into the city’s past and find the reasons it became a star. And finally, to show the real-life rifts, the heartbreak, and decline.” (Jocelyne Saab, 1994)


Kiss Me Not Dunia Egypt-France-Lebanon 2005 Dir/Scr/Prod: Jocelyne Saab C: Jacques Bouquin Ed: Claude Reznik M: Jean-Pierre Mas, Patrick Legonie S: Fawzi Thabet; Cast: Hanan Turk, Mohamed Mounir, Aida Riad, Fathi Abdel Wahab, Sawsan Badr et al. Prod: CDP, Cinematograph, Collection d’Artiste, 2M Television A young Egyptian university graduate and budding dancer appears to have the world at her feet when she wins a dance audition and acquires a leading intellectual as the supervisor of her thesis. But she soon learns that women’s burden in Egyptian society is a lot heavier than she suspects. The Egyptian authorities had at first refused permission to shoot this film, because it addressed issues of Arab female sexuality, such as circumcision.


About the Film For a young girl of twenty-three, becoming a dancer is something normal everywhere in the world. It is an artistic job; it is art. But this is not true in the Middle East where becoming a dancer means becoming a whore. As if this is not enough, Dunia has another problem, and this was the main dramatic aspect of my subject—we discover slowly through the course of the film that she has been excised. I had discovered that 97 percent of the women in Egypt were still excised. When I began to write the script, people all around said, “You are crazy to touch this subject. We are going to have trouble.” But I decided to go on. Two years ago, I had received a prize for the script in Paris. But afterward I couldn’t find a producer, because nobody wanted to deal with the subject of female sexuality—neither in Europe nor in the Middle East. Nobody imagined that I could shoot it. Even intellectuals and artists are afraid to talk about this subject, because Islamic fundamentalism is present all over the Middle East and the Arab region. I thought it was time to face the problems instead of going on hiding them like family secrets you shouldn’t talk about. I decided to produce the film on my own. That was when my troubles began. The censorship board in Cairo took the scenario—and kept it for months. Then they gave their refusal and sent it—which is very unusual—to the press. That’s how I learned I had been rejected—when I read the newspapers one morning. They said my film was anti-Islamic, pornographic, and anti-Egyptian. All these accusations just because I was talking about sexuality? Some magazines however defended me. Amongst them Rose al-Yusuf, a very old and serious newspaper founded in the 1930s by a woman. The official press also sided with me. A fight set in between these papers and the Islamist press. Only after letters of support from artists and producers all over the world, for instance from the German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff, and an audience with president Hosni Mubarak, was I allowed to make an appeal—and it passed. Now I still had to find actors. But what happened? The actors read the scenario, and got scared. They said, “You are a foreigner, you leave after the shooting, you will not have problems, but we will lose our career.” Finally, two big actors took on the job. For the part of the girl, it is Hanan Turk.



She accepted, although both her distributor and her producer menaced to stopping her shooting films. The singer Mohamed Mounir plays the leading male role. He was very courageous too. Because he is Nubian, and in Nubia, a region in the south of Egypt at the border of Sudan, female circumcision is still a tradition. (Jocelyne Saab in an interview with the author, Paris, April 2005)


From the Press French filmmaker Jocelyne Saab has had a fresh taste of the taboo surrounding female sexuality in the Arab world when Egyptian authorities refused her permission to shoot a movie addressing the issue. . . . The director of artistic censorship, Madkour Thabet, confirmed to AFP that the “censors who read the script unanimously rejected it, because it harms traditions and seeks to show that there is no hope for reform in Egypt.” Female circumcision is a touchy subject in Egypt where it continues to be widely practised in poor and rural areas despite a 1997 ban and concerted efforts by the government and international organizations to root it out, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) said recently. . . . “This movie seeks to open a way for young people without falling into stereotypes,” said Saab, indicating that several Egyptian movie stars had accepted roles in the film. (Daily Times of February 27, 2003 and http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/ default.asp?page=story_27-2-2003_pg9_4 on December 26, 2004)

SROUR, HEINY (1945–)


einy Srour was born to Jewish parents on March 23, 1945 in Beirut. While studying sociology at the American University of Beirut, she worked as a journalist and teacher. She went on to study social anthropology at the Sorbonne in Paris under the great Oriental scholar Maxime Rodinson.108 Heiny Srour became interested in film through the introductory courses to ethnological films of the famous French filmmaker


Jean Rouch. She was also a film critic for many years. Her debut film about the liberation struggle in Oman was the first film by a woman and the first from the Middle East region selected for the Cannes Film Festival. Heiny Srour moved to London in 1985, where she taught at the London International Film School and at Goldsmith College. She has written several screenplays and also coproduced her films. She has since moved back to Paris. (See essay by Srour, pages 188-95.) “Those of us from the Third World have to reject the ideas of film narration based on the nineteenth century bourgeois novel with its commitment to harmony. Our societies have been too lacerated and fractured by colonial power to fit into those neat scenarios.” (Heiny Srour, in an interview with Edward Mortimer, Financial Times, May 11, 1987)

1991 1994 1992 2000

Filmography 1968 Bread of Our Mountains, 16 mm, b&w, 3 min (Film was lost during the Lebanese Civil War) 1974 Sa‘at al-tahrir daqqat/L’heure de la libération a sonné/ The Hour of Liberation, 16 mm, 62 min 1984 Layla wa-l-dhi’ab/Leila and the Wolves, 16 mm, 90 min (Prize for Best Screenplay, ACCT, Paris; Grand Prize in the Third World competition at the International Film Festival in Mannheim) The Singing Sheikh, video, 10 min Les yeux du cœur (The Eyes of the Heart), video, 52 min Nisa’ Vietnam/Women of Vietnam, b&w, video, 52 min Woman Global Strike 2000, video



The Hour of Liberation Sa‘at al-tahrir daqqat/ L’heure de la libération a sonné Lebanon/France/UK 1974 Dir/Scr/Ed/Prod: Heiny Srour C: Michel Humeau S: J. L. Ugetto The struggle for liberation in Oman was one of the most radical in all of the Arab world. Women and children played an active part in the fighting. Hardly anything is known about this war in the West. The film documents the events with shots from the liberated territories. It shows the People’s Army during its ideological and militaristic drills, but it also analyzes the British-American presence in the Gulf countries and the mutual intertwining between the Gulf States and the British and Americans in the economic, military, and political spheres. Leila and the Wolves Layla wa-l-dhi’ab UK 1984 Dir/Scr: Heiny Srour C: Charlet Recors, Curtis Clark M: Zaki Nassif M (additional): Munir Bechir S: Eddy Tise, John Anderton


Ed: Eva Houdova Cast: Nabila Zeitouni, Rafiq Ali, Ahmed Prod: British Film Institute, Laila Films Paris, Belgian Ministry of Culture, NCO, NOVIB Leila, a young Lebanese woman, lives in London. While organizing a photographic exhibition about Palestine, she sees pictures only of men. Women don’t appear at all. Leila sets out to discover the unknown role of women in the modern history of Palestine and Lebanon. She evokes the scenes of the past to refute the claims of her friend that nowadays women do not


play a role in politics. She travels through the decades of the twentieth century, immersing herself in different periods of history. The feature film illustrates this search with impressive images and laconic sequences in which the same actors perform each time. The stereotypical picture of ‘the Arab woman’ as a weak-willed victim is taken to an absurd extreme. The visual leitmotif of the film are Arab women sitting in the hot sun totally veiled and immobile while half-naked men are happily swimming in the sea. The women gradually become impatient, take off their veils, and finally go into the water themselves.

About the Film Women are a central concern of Srour’s films, and she is particularly interested in showing the interdependence of national liberation movements and the liberation of women. Leila and the Wolves is implicitly critical of all political factions in the Middle East for their attitudes towards women. This film adopts an ‘Arabian Nights’ structure (story within story within story), taking the spectator across time and space to expose the hidden role of Arab women in the modern history of Palestine and Lebanon. Shot in often dangerous conditions and seven years in the making, this feature film has been described as a “triumph of artistic ambition over seemingly insurmountable odds” and an important contribution to Third World aesthetics. (Women’s Companion to International Film, Virago Press, London) Film Reviews Leila . . . is the antithesis of the women in black veils running sand eternally through their fingers. In her long white dress she wanders in and out of past and contemporary history as the active Arab woman who, for Heiny Srour, has made that history. “I come from such a segregated society it was only possible for me to show the feminine version of the universe. I haven’t penetrated the men’s part just as they have never penetrated ours.” One of the most complex and ambitious scenes of the film shows Leila outside five windows on a Beirut street at night. Scraps of conversation float out: a young man begging his




mother for money to go abroad to study as a ballet dancer; two men discussing the suicidal rush into battle of a friend tortured in his mind by having killed his daughter for a crime of honour. “In a society where the female sex is so strictly oppressed and shut into a corner, the male sex also inevitably suffers oppression. But it is an oppression Leila, and I, can only guess.” The scenes from history are intercut with real newsreel film of the British army in Palestine and United Nations archives of the first tent cities of the uprooted Palestinians. Using almost no professional actors, villagers portray the complex traditional dances and singing accompaniments of a wedding. These scenes were shot in Syria because of the Lebanese civil war. Heiny has made brief returns to Lebanon each summer recently to shoot parts of the film in Beirut. But the war has sent her entire family into exile in various places and has broken up the cultural community of Lebanese film-makers and other artists which is the centre of her own cultural roots and strength. Leila is likely to create a sensation when it is shown in the Arab world though its images of male violence to women’s minds and bodies are universal. “Of course the Palestinians are grateful for a film which digs into the past, shows the sophistication of two thousand years of culture and explodes the myth that Palestine was a desert where the Zionists came and planted some roses. But also I have touched on the moral terror which runs through the Arab world on the issue of women. I force them to reflect on something they don’t want to reflect on. Especially in time of war and revolution men would like to believe that women and their problems are secondary and can wait.” Heiny has spent no time waiting for what she has wanted since her girlhood—an independent and artistic life. In her Lebanese Jewish community such dreams were out of the question and her fight to go to Paris and study for a PhD under the great Orientalist Maxime Rodinson was just a foretaste of the fight to survive as a film-maker. To help get her first documentary distributed her mother quietly sold her marriage bracelets to support the stubborn, and starving, daughter tramping round Paris while her father waited for her to return home on her knees. (Victoria Brittain, in The Guardian, August 21, 1984)


More than a dozen women sit uncomfortably silent in their black hijabs at the beach, concealed except for their eyes. While next to them young men are raking the sand, the clan of women brood among themselves, uttering hardly a word, so that the contrast cannot be viewed as anything but satirical. Documentary photographs of British military raids are also added, as well as archival photos of Hitler’s and Goebbels’s speeches, evidence of ‘old boys’ war propaganda’ that also threatens to instrumentalize the Arab women. This film offers a gloomy summary: that traditional family structures that do not allow women any freedom of action whatsoever last even longer than the war and occupation. It is all as familiar as it is contradictory. And so it is hardly surprising that while the women take off their veils at the end, it is only to wade up to their ankles. Meanwhile Laila dances in a dream sequence, surrounded by skeletons and ghosts, surrounded by ‘Lebanon.’ (Gudrun Holz, in Junge Welt, September 28, 1995)



Straddling Three Stools Heiny Srour


I experienced the first day of the Lebanese Civil War in a very symbolic way: by being cast out by my father from the paternal home, after he had humiliated me to the core in the presence of a colleague who had regarded me as a heroine for having made the film The Hour of Liberation among the resistance fighters in Dhofar. To be precise, I left the house after my father had humiliated this colleague in my own bedroom and chased him off the premises. As a sign of protest, I left with him rather than submit to what for me had been more than just a slap in the face—I, who considered myself an intelligent human being after having returned in glory from Cannes, Paris, and New York. What sin had I committed in my bedroom with this colleague? I had gone into the room to fetch a poem by Muddaffar Al Nawwab, which I had wanted to show him. The man in question, the Algerian film director Abdel Aziz Tolbi, who was visiting Beirut, had innocently followed me in, and we had become engrossed in a poetic-philosophical discussion while the rest of the household was sleeping off a long Middle-Eastern lunch. As it happens, the poem in question was the prophetic Watariyat layliya (Nocturnal Melodies). The Lebanese woman and the Algerian man sensed all the disasters mounting in their respective countries and everywhere else. They had lumps in their throats but were unable to identify the source of the coming avalanche. Cassandras, but incompetent ones. . . . The Lebanese woman then took it upon herself to recite to the Algerian man the very poem that the Beirut representative of the Oman Liberation Front had recited to her—to her, who had known that the genocide of her


people was already taking place in the liberated zone but who could not yet tell this to anyone. No less significantly, the author of the poem was an Iraqi who had fled the overcrowded prisons of his country while so many Arab and Western intellectuals were rushing headlong in the opposite direction, with petrodollar signs in their eyes. “Sayakuna kharab! Sayakuna kharab! Hadhihi al-umma, la budda laha an ta’khudha darsan bi-l-takhrib” (There will be destruction! There will be destruction! This nation must learn a lesson through destruction!), I recited fervently. This was the end of Al Nawwab’s poem. Exalted, Tolbi lapped up my words. In them he had found the creative answer for which he had been searching in connection with the fiction film he had been planning. Dazzled by the poem, neither of us knew that my father was not asleep; that he was, in fact, listening intently to the noises we were making. What, he was asking himself, could this goy, or non-Jew, possibly be doing in his daughter’s bedroom? And he was probably saying “It’s one thing to let a goy into the house; I couldn’t deny this to my daughter, whom I haven’t seen for three years. She assured me that he was married and the father of four children. Furthermore, while we were eating lunch the whole family could keep an eye on him. But this goy had the audacity to stick around after dessert and coffee; to linger in the living room all afternoon, alone with my daughter, with no one to supervise them apart from the kitchen maid! And now he dares to enter her bedroom! That is beyond the pale!” “Sayakuna kharab . . . Sayakuna kharab . . . There will be destruction . . .” We knew what had already taken place in Libya, in Algeria, in Oman, in Iraq . . . and in the rest of this “self-destructive umma,” so well described in the poem. “Sayakuna kharab,” I couldn’t have said it better myself. We were soaring very high in the rarified spheres of aesthetics and Marxism when my father, still in his pajamas, burst into my room. Fuming with rage, he insulted my colleague and drove him out in the most humiliating manner possible. Poor Tolbi was flabbergasted. He had believed himself to be in the home of a guerilla filmmaker, of whom he had read in the press that she had walked 400 kilometers amid falling bombs to film the most radical guerrillas in the Arab world—something no man had




dared to do. And now, before he could even register what was happening, he had been thrown out of the house. “Ya ard, insha’i w-ibla‘ini!” (O Earth, open up and swallow me!) Alas, the earth did not grant me my wish. Beside myself with shame and humiliation, I found myself in the street alongside Tolbi. When he had recovered his breath, my poor colleague stammered “Your milieu isn’t even feudal; it’s tribal.” And to think that I had been hoping to repay the kindness with which I had been received when I had been his guest in Algeria! I was in a fine mess now, with my avant-gardism. But this was not the last time I would be torn between the harsh pressures and stimulating atmosphere of my peers—among whom I surpassed myself and gave of my best—and my familial milieu, which was light years away from my public life. It was a warm family, admittedly, but within it “I suffocate in the Malay community,” my cousin from Singapore told me. This cousin, who belongs to the Muslim branch of my family, is also an artist, and like me she suffocates within the narrow confines of her religious community. I have often asked myself whether her feelings of suffocation have to do with her being a woman or an artist. Like me, she married outside of her social milieu. But let us return to our Beiruti sheep in the midst of the civil war. So Tolbi and I found ourselves in the street, still stunned and incredulous over the resounding slap in the face that my father had dealt to our modernism and universalism. We had believed that we had wiped our slate clean of such religious rubbish, of such outdated traditions, of the disgraceful old patriarchal order for which we had held imperialism and the Arab regimes responsible. And bang! We had barely taken a few steps down the street when we received a second slap . . . or rather a cudgel-blow, in this case! Bullets started to whiz by. They were the very first shots of the civil war and this made them frightening. In Dhofar, among the resistance fighters, I had grown somewhat accustomed to shooting—although not before literally shitting my pants the first time the British Royal Air Force bombarded an area close to us, and not before my sound engineer had dubbed me a “crap director” because I compulsively screamed “Ya mami!” (Mama!) every time I heard small arms fire at close range, thereby ruining his wonderful takes. Of


course, I had carefully hidden all this from the press, from Tolbi, and the rest of my colleagues, for fear of being rejected—I, who had been the first woman director from the Middle East to have been selected for Cannes. I was much too afraid of hearing “Look what happens when a woman tries a make a film. And in the maquis, the revolutionary underground, of all places! We told you so.” Never mind that in Dhofar, with the military escorts, the desert, the rugged terrain, the armed women and children, the shooting formed part of the soundtrack of life. In Beirut, the bullets that were flying amid the Lebanese dolce vita were all the more terrifying. The belief system that we had so ridiculed would show us . . . that it didn’t give a damn about our intellectual disdain for it. If we had been guilty of using moral terrorism against those ‘bad guys,’ they would pay us back by terrorizing us in a much more physical manner over the next seventeen years. The house of the friend where I had planned to seek refuge for myself and Tolbi was still quite far away. To hell with the bullets! Returning home was out of the question. The patriarchal, imperialist, capitalist order: it was one and the same, wasn’t it? Avanti Popolo! “Al-mawt, wa la-l-mazalati” (Death before a life of humiliations) chanted the fedayeen at that time, whom we supported with such fervor. I was determined to prove to my father that I was an intelligent being and not an eternal minor, the status to which his Judaism, institutionalized through Lebanese law, had confined me. We arrived safe and sound at my friend’s house, and in the course of our ensuing discussion Tolbi learned that even though I spoke classical, journalistic Arabic fluently, when it came to reading I was only semiliterate in the language—thanks to my French school education. “And I had thought that it was out of the depth of reflection that Heiny had spent hours pouring over the document produced at the congress of documentary filmmakers!” Ah, the power of conditioning and the press! Alas! Yet another embarrassment! Well, they wouldn’t be the last of my career. I continued to cross borders. Every time professional success made me fly high against the gravitational force of tradition, the long arm of my family brought me crashing back




down to planet Earth, where the laws of gravity are merciless to an eastern woman, particularly if she happens to be Jewish in an Arab world dotted with bombs launched against Judaism. And so it was that I once again had the arrogance to regard myself as an intelligent being after I was awarded 400,000 FF (approx. US$ 95,000) for best screenplay by the ACCT (L’Agence de la Francophonie, formerly Agence de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique) for Leila and the Wolves. Much good it did me. Unbeknown to me, a member of my family, in the best tradition of the Spanish Inquisition, found and read my screenplay, having opened up and rummaged through my suitcase. “How you exaggerate, Heiny! Stop playing the martyr! You weren’t exactly burned at the stake, as happened to tens of thousands of Jews at the hands of Torquemada!” Certainly, but I was thrown out of this relative’s house, so scandalous did they find my screenplay. One has to imagine the terrible stress I was under—preparing to shoot this film with time and money so cruelly short—to understand how upsetting such an expulsion was for a filmmaker who had never gone to film school and who had set herself the task of making such a difficult historical film. I won’t even go into the public lynching to which my family subjected me after my film on Vietnam. Suffice to say that the best traditions of the pogrom were adhered to. I shot half of Leila in Syria, thanks in part to the active solidarity of my Syrian colleagues, who prevailed upon me to hide the fact that I was Jewish. As a child, I had grown up with the notion of the Chosen People. As an adolescent, I had earned a very physical slap in the face from a Hebrew teacher at the Alliance Israélite in Beirut for having dared to state that this Jewish God was unfair to non-Jews. And now I was being asked to conceal my Jewishness as though it were a venereal disease. This was asking a bit too much! Nevertheless, I obliged. My Syrian colleagues had enough problems with their government and I couldn’t in good conscience add to their difficulties. Still more painful for me was the invitation, however warm, from a friend of mine to enjoy a well-earned rest at a home owned by her family in Baalbeck. Once I had arrived, she asked me in the kindest possible way to hide the fact that I was Jewish from the local population— this time in my own country. Once again, I obliged. Just as in Syria, it was a question of sparing my hosts any trouble on my account.


In Lebanon as much as in Syria or anywhere else in the Arab world, as soon as I leave the milieu of my tiny left-wing circle, my Jewishness casts a chill, a wave of unease, or worse upon any gathering of people. And I never know what to say—I, who could never identify with this religion, in which, according to the Bible, King Solomon, the wisest of the wise and the most just of the just, kept a harem of a thousand women, 700 princesses, and 300 concubines. And the only thing that appeared to attract the wrath of the Eternal, who is so just and so good, is the fact that Solomon built temples to the idols of his favorite pagan beauties—an intolerable offense to the monotheistic monolith. After all my crusades—anti-patriarchal, anti-clerical, anti-despotic, anti-anti-anti—in the worldly sphere as much as in the familial one, I recently surprised myself by painting and repainting with pleasure, Stars of David on memorial candles lit each year in memory of my late father. The Star of David? I had gotten to the point where I found the sight of it on television unbearable, so great was the swath of death and misery that the tanks and airplanes emblazoned with this symbol had spread over the course of the Israeli military campaigns. I had gotten to the point where I sometimes felt ashamed of my Jewish origins. As a child, I had loved this star when it was explained to me that it was composed of two perfect geometrical figures—isosceles triangles— one pointing upward and the other downwards to signify the equilibrium between Heaven and Earth. A Lebanese friend who is a devotee of macrobiotic cooking told me that this same Star of David “is the universal symbol of Tao, and of Yin and Yang, throughout the whole Orient.” Jewish tradition dictates that prayers of consolation that are specific to the period in which the person died be read to relatives of the deceased. And so it is that Isaiah is read to me in an annual ritual; indeed, it was read to me recently to console me over the death of my father. These prayers begin quite symbolically by thanking the Eternal for having sent good prophets to the Jews, as there are also bad ones. According to the Bible, Isaiah was one of the good prophets. What does Isaiah say in addressing himself to the children of Israel when the Eternal speaks through his mouth? “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly!” (Isaiah 1: 4)




And later on, “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly . . . even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 13–17). My father also speaks to me thus, from the other side of death; he who was a passionate supporter of Menachem Begin. “Human beings have so many hidden treasures,” my macrobiotic friend tells me—she, who is always there to show me the unanticipated beauties of life. And that is not all. For Isaiah continues, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2: 3–4). Wasn’t this what had attracted me to Marxism in the first place, this hope that wars would disappear with the end of capitalism? This love of peace and justice is still there, another hidden treasure left to me by my father; he who tore up the Marxist books that I read surreptitiously, by the light of a flashlight, beneath the covers of my bed. I deluged my male colleagues with sarcastic remarks about their representation of women. “Male Arab filmmakers clearly have problems with their mothers,” I wrote sneeringly. And when I found the courage to look at myself in the mirror, I saw a woman filmmaker who had just as many problems with her father For from Dhofar to Vietnam, by way of Libya, Palestine, and Egypt, I always found myself siding with the David of the moment against the Goliath of circumstance. For even in the Bible, the lovely little shepherdboy who magisterially defeated the steel-clad monster, armed solely with his slingshot, abuses his power when he becomes king. . . . He is sharply reprimanded by his Eternal, “as the Eternal is always on the side of the oppressed.” And this was indeed transmitted to me by that good man, my father. He who suffered as many discriminations as any Jew could expect to


encounter in Lebanese society. He who had so discriminated against me, the female child whom he hadn’t wanted and who he had so hoped would replace the male child that had died before my birth. For him, it was a discrimination by divine order, inflicted with all the good faith that his Bible gave him and the object of so much suffering for me, in my private and professional life. And so I reinvented my own Star of David. And all this by way of explanation for why I have compulsively found myself time and again making films that are so much more difficult to make than those of my male colleagues. (Heiny Srour, London, October 16, 1998)



Palestine Introduction 196

Cinema and film in the future state of Palestine are still in their infancy. Although the Palestinian National Authority has a ministry of culture with an arts department, it has no film school and no film subsidy program. Shortly before the al-Aqsa Intifada started in 2000 the ministry of culture decided to set up a Palestinian Film Foundation. The feature film Rana’s Wedding by Hany Abu Assad (2002) was helped onto the screen as well as several short documentaries—then the project came to a standstill again. Feature and documentary films are thus coproduced by foreign institutions. The approximately thirty private and semi-private local television stations focus on daily local news coverage. In general, films are considered ‘Palestinian’ if they are directed, written, or produced by a Palestinian, or produced by companies from other countries with Palestinian participation and have a Palestinian topic. Likewise, there are Palestinian-Israeli films made by Palestinian directors with Israeli nationality, receiving support from Israeli film foundations. The first Palestinian film funded by Israel directly was Sijill


ikhtifa’ (Chronicle of a Disappearance, 1996) by Elia Suleiman; the most recent is ‘Atash (Thirst) by Tawfik Abu Wael (2004).109 The first Palestinian national film festival, the Jerusalem Cinematographic Nights, was held in spring 1992 in Jerusalem and Nazareth simultaneously. Thirty-five Palestinian films of all lengths and genres were shown in the presence of ten directors. In 2004, two major film festivals took place within the same year—The Ramallah International Film Festival, with a Palestinian section; and Dreams of a Nation, a Palestinian festival with filmmaker Annemarie Kattan Jacir as artistic director, which was held in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza, and other cities. Politically, prospects of peace in the Middle East look more promising after the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, even if they have been dismal in the aftermath of hardliner Ariel Sharon’s rise to power in Israel and in the midst of the death and fear spread by Palestinian suicide attacks. The symbol of this regressive development is the ‘security fence,’ a Berlin Wall– style structure that Sharon is erecting to separate Israel from the occupied territories. More than three-and-a-half million Palestinians still live in refugee camps—in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. They are the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians who lost their old homeland with the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Palestinians call this the nakba, the catastrophe. More than half the population living in the territory administered by the Palestinian National Authority since the signing of the Oslo Treaty are under sixteen years of age. The women, many of whom fought side by side with the men in the first intifada, are again greatly in demand in their role as childbearers and mothers. Large families have long been regarded not only as a means of securing the existence of the family but also the state of Palestine. According to figures from the Central Office for Statistics in Israel, Arabs living in Israel have twice as many children as Jewish Israelis. “This demographic bomb may be one of the main motives behind Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s insistence on separating Israelis from the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The old general and father of two grown sons realizes that this so-called ‘war of the womb’ cannot be won,” wrote the Middle East correspondent of the Süddeutsche Zeitung.110 Development in the area of film also depends on further developments in the peace process. “If the Oslo Accords granted this society a brief




respite between 1994 and 1999, giving it time to deal with questions of a more social and individual nature, everything was turned on its head in September 2000 with the beginning of the second intifada, and culminating with the Israeli invasion of the independent territories,” wrote Michket Krifa in the catalog of the sixth Biennial of Arab Cinema in Paris. “Caught in the whirlwind of the conflict and driven by an urgent need to bear witness from the inside, the directors mobilized themselves to affirm their personality rights in this highly mediaized war, transforming their cameras into weapons of resistance.”111 The renewed Israeli occupation in the spring of 2002 destroyed the infrastructure in many areas of the Palestinian territories. The controversial documentary film Jenin, Jenin by Palestinian filmmaker Mohamed Bakri had been shot in the aftermath of heavy fighting in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, where more than fifty Palestinians and twentythree Israeli solders were killed in April 2002. The Palestinian media and politicians long claimed this was a massacre. The film had been banned by the Israeli Film Ratings Board on the grounds that Bakri gave a “distorted presentation of events” and could only be shown in Israeli cinemas after a Supreme Court ruling overturned the ban. According to a report by Amnesty International,112 the Palestinian authorities are also guilty of muzzling freedom of speech and the press. In the early 1990s, German filmmaker-journalist Robert Krieg trained Palestinian television and radio journalists in a project supported by the Green party-affiliated foundation, Buntstift.113 A radio station was set up with his help. During this time, the station was a platform for free speech. But the Palestinian National Authority has since turned it into their official mouthpiece, The Voice of Palestine. Since 1999, the Palestine National Authority (PNA) has been operating its own satellite television station. Meanwhile the radio courses offered by Robert Krieg have become a permanent feature at Birzeit University. Other educational opportunities for television and radio journalists exist today only at Jerusalem University and the media center at the Open University al-Quds in Ramallah. Iraqi-born film director Maysoon Pachachi and her colleague, cameraman Kassem Abed, conduct training for filmmakers.


The development of equal rights issues has also regressed in Palestine. Leading women’s rights activists pointed to this danger after the first intifada. “The future role of women in Palestinian society will be a touchstone for the emerging democracy,” they emphasized.114 They also warned that there were “signs that women already play a totally subordinate role in the new structures established so far.” During the first intifada, many women sat on citizens’ committees, often in leading positions. Most of them did not wear headscarves. One day the Islamic groups demanded that the women cover themselves. Posters proclaimed, “She who wears no headscarf is a traitor to the nation.” Women who resisted this dictate were stoned or had eggs thrown at them. When the women turned in desperation to their political representatives, they were denied support on the grounds of “national unity.” This passivity indirectly paved the way for the Islamists. “Today 99 percent of the women in the Gaza Strip wear the hijab. Most of them do not wear it out of religious conviction but because of social pressure,” explains sociologist and women’s rights activist Hadeel Qazzaz—who herself wears a scarf by conviction. “Palestinians today are fighting for sheer survival. Demanding women’s rights appears to most women as a luxury. Furthermore, they have lost their faith in politicians and in the large women’s organizations, which are all affiliated with political parties.”115 Women no longer play a role in the second intifada, and in the Palestinian government there has not yet been room for more than two women. That male politicians are still indifferent to women’s interests manifests itself again and again. “It was murder for the sake of honor. A young woman was raped and her brother killed her—to save the family’s honor,” Hadeel Qazzaz relates. In direct response, women rose beyond all religious and ideological barriers to make a joint declaration demanding the criminal prosecution of the perpetrator, but to no avail. Women proved their fighting spirit during the national struggle for liberation against the British occupation. Heiny Srour created a film about them, Leila and the Wolves, 1984. Arab Lotfi’s Jamila’s Mirror, 1993, is a homage to the female activists of the 1960s and 1970s. Palestinian documentary filmmaker Mai Masri, on the other hand, depicts in Children of Fire, 1990, how the first intifada affected the children living in Israeli-




occupied territories. Their favorite game is ‘intifada,’ the Middle Eastern variant of cops and robbers. One group plays the Israeli solders, the others play the Palestinians. The first female Palestinian filmmaker was Khadija Abu Ali, who made the documentary film Atfal, walakin (Children, But) in 1982. To date, not a single Palestinian woman has directed a full-length feature film. In their works, the female directors examine Palestinian history, their own exile, and political conditions in their homeland. Contact between Palestinians and Israelis is extremely rare. “Even in year five of the peace process, it is looked down upon to talk to the ‘others,’” wrote Angela Grünert in a 1998 article.116 Things have not changed much since then. Israeli lawyer Felicia Langer117 spent years fighting for the human rights of Palestinians. She was awarded honorary citizenship in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, and won the alternative Nobel Prize in 1990. Amira Hass, a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, has been living among Palestinians in the occupied territories for almost ten years. For the often painful process of approaching and listening to each other, the Israeli-Palestinian women’s organization Jerusalem Link has offered discussion forums and a training program to ‘unlearn hostilities.’ The courses were attended by politicians and journalists as well as housewives. Jerusalem Link was founded in 1994 as the umbrella organization of the Israeli women’s center Bat Shalom (Daughter of Peace) and the Palestinian Jerusalem Center for Women, which was founded by politician Hanan Ashrawi118 and peace activist Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a biology instructor at Birzeit University. Their joint engagement for ‘a just and viable peace’ has led them to develop forward-looking visions at an international level. The two Jerusalem Link declarations of 1996 and 1999 have gone far beyond the Oslo Treaty (right of self-determination for Palestinians and the legitimacy of a national homeland for the Jewish people). They demand the creation of two states and the active participation of women with equal rights. As for the status of Jerusalem—a point at first excluded during the negotiations between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli delegation as too delicate—the women agreed on their demand for “two capital cities


for two states.” What they meant was the vision of an ‘open city,’ a capital city serving two peoples, two countries. The start of the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 temporarily halted the promising albeit conflict-laden collaboration and joint projects, at least on home territory. In June 2004, a women’s group of Palestinian and Israel peace activists—including many women from Jerusalem Link—founded an International Women’s Commission. The women intend the commission to be an official representation of civilians at the Middle East negotiations. Since civilians, especially women and children, have suffered the most from the violence of the conflict, they should also participate in future decision making. A women’s delegation of peace activists had already presented the idea to the World Security Council in New York City in May 2002, and to government representatives in Europe in the following year. The women hope to once again be able to participate in shaping the history of their country. Refusing to take on the role of a victim—this is also what Palestinian filmmaker Azza El Hassan wants. After the Oslo Agreement the then twenty-four-year-old, who had known Palestine only from stories and the television screen, moved to Ramallah. In the face of everyday reality not only did she have to come to terms with the harsh reality of occupation, she also learned “to leave behind the idealistic image I had been cultivating for a long time, the mystification of the distant land.”119 Azza El Hassan now ventures to make films, both personal and self-critical, which offer a look into Palestinian society.



Film in Palestine—Palestine in Film Viola Shafik.


Palestine is a subject on which opinions diverge. In the West—including the former Federal Republic of Germany—it was long labeled a playground for left-wing extremists and thus banished from the public sphere. Over the years, however, after a number of sensational political events and in view of Israel’s excesses in the occupied territories, light began to be shed on the extent of the drama. In the early 1970s, after Black September in 1970 in Jordan,120 the problems of the Palestinians began to receive more attention in West Germany. Documentary filmmakers, particularly on the left, such as Manfred Vosz, Mario Offenberg, and later, Robert Krieg, attempted to bridge the information gap with their documentaries.121 Distribution of their films was typically limited almost exclusively, however, to the noncommercial sector. In the former East Germany, however, anti-fascism and antiimperialism were viewed as being inextricably linked. The resulting criticism, also of the policies of the State of Israel, did not necessarily find expression in their own productions, however. But at least it opened up a forum for Palestinian and Arab filmmakers—such as the International Leipzig Documentary and Short Film Festival—and facilitated a number of coproductions. Film in Palestine is a sad chapter in the history of film. It is inseparable from the history of the Palestinian people, a history characterized by war, expulsion, and diaspora. While European and Jewish circles had been familiar with films from the ‘Holy Land’ since the beginning of the


twentieth century, the region’s original inhabitants did not get to know the medium of film until much later. American and European Jews, as well as some visitors, started shooting films in Palestine even before the State of Israel was founded. The first Zionist film, entitled Ha-Seret Ha-Rishon shel Palestina (The First Film of Palestine), was made in 1911. Not until the 1930s did a Palestinian, Salah al-Kaylani, make some documentaries.122 The economic and political obstacles posed by the British occupation soon proved to be insurmountable, so the director finally saw no other alternative but to emigrate to Cairo. It turned out to be difficult in practice for ‘foreign,’ that is, emigrated Palestinians to participate in the respective regional developments. Also, despite all their lip service, the Arab states were interested in tolerating Palestinian public relations work only to the extent that it furthered their own political interests. An impressive example of this is the Palestinian architect and filmmaker Ghalib Shaath. After completing film school in Austria, he returned to Cairo in 1967 to work for Egyptian television. After having encountered various ‘nouvelle vagues’ in Europe, he co-founded—in the spirit of the Oberhausen Manifesto—the New Cinema Association with a number of progressive film critics, authors, and directors. As a foreigner he was personally excluded from acquiring formal membership. His feature film Dhilal ‘ala al-janib al-akhar (Shadow on the Other Side, 1971) remained under lock and key for two years. At the same time, Palestinians elsewhere began expressing interest in film. As with Ghalib Shaath, the 1967 Six Day War and the defeat against Israel served as a significant catalyst. Once additional Palestinian territories were occupied, the need for independence and self-determination became ever clearer to a broader range of political currents; this ultimately led to armed struggle. The attention that Western media paid both to the war and the battle of Karameh123 underscored the significance of reporting and photographic documentation. As early as 1967 a film group in Jordan joined Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. Young, sometimes inexperienced filmmakers took advantage of the limited offerings of a small photography laboratory. They established an archive and, using the rudimentary equipment available to them, tried to document living conditions, everyday life, and the culture of their people; the camera, for instance, was borrowed. The




head of this ‘film unit’ was Hany Jawhariyya. Other members included ‘Abd al-Haris al-Asmar (alias ‘Umar al-Mukhtar) and Ibrahim Mustafa Masr (alias Mu‘ti Ibrahim). The first Palestinian woman to shoot a film, Sulafa Jadallah Mirzal, even had formal training—in contrast to her male colleagues—as a cinematographer at Cairo’s Higher Film Institute. The degree to which these filmmakers were involved in the political struggle, the Lebanese civil war, and the war against Israel is apparent through the circumstances of their deaths. Jawhariyya was killed by a bomb on March 11, 1976 while filming during the Lebanese civil war. ‘Umar Mukhtar and Mu‘ti Ibrahim both died in South Lebanon in 1978 from shots at the hands of Israeli soldiers. And Sulafa Jadallah sustained permanent physical injuries from the war. In late 1969 the film unit was able to buy a 16 mm camera and a tape recorder, enabling sync-sound shooting. This achievement made it possible for Mustafa Abu Ali to shoot the first Palestinian documentary film (No to the Surrender Solution).124 After the Jordanian army’s bloody excesses during Black September and the expulsion of Palestinian organizations from Jordan, the Fatah film unit also had to relocate to Lebanon. There it was declared the official film organization of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) a year later. Despite obstacles in Beirut related to the civil war, the destruction of domestic studios, and so on, this organization managed to build up a certain infrastructure, including archives, editing rooms, and equipment, and thus to maintain continuous production. Other Palestinian organizations and departments started showing an interest in producing films. This included the PLO’s Department of Information and Culture, the Arts and National Culture Department under the direction of Ismail Shammout, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP). In 1980 about fifty (mostly short) documentary films were produced. Even Samed, the economic arm of the PLO, produced three films: al-Miftah (The Key, 1976), Yawm al-ard (The Day of the Land, 1977), and Ghisn al-zaytun (The Olive Branch, unfinished). Ghaleb Chaath directed all three of these films, which owing to their complexity and sensitivity are among the best Palestinian documentaries produced during this time.


Not only Palestinians, but filmmakers from other Arab countries received the opportunity in the 1970s to work for Palestinian organizations. Under the economic conditions of the diaspora and in view of the Lebanese civil war it is not surprising that this peak in Palestinian filmmaking has been limited to the documentary film genre, which is sometimes overloaded ideologically. Plans to expand the sphere of possibilities by bringing all cinematographic activities together under an umbrella organization were thwarted by political events. After the Israeli siege and occupation of Beirut forced the PLO to move on to a new place of exile in 1982, a large portion of the archives fell into the hands of the invaders.125 Palestinian film production took a step backward due to the exodus, from which it has yet to recover. New paths were taken in Tunis126 as regards film policy, certainly due in part to its geographic remoteness. In order to secure distribution of pro-Palestinian films, the organization increased the proportion of coproductions with foreign directors, both Arab and European. This includes filmmakers such as Lebanese-born Jocelyne Saab, who lives in France, and Arab Lotfi, also Lebanese, who lives in Cairo. Palestinian directors based in Arab countries, however, have been left to their own devices. Very few, such as documentary filmmaker Mai Masri, have been able to turn their exile to an advantage by using artistic closeness to their subjects to make up for the physical distance from their homeland. (Viola Shafik, in Die 7. Tage des Unabhängigen Films (The 7th Days of Independent Film), Augsburg, 1991 (last updated on December 31, 2004)).



Palestinian Society as Reflected in its Cinema Irit Neidhardt 127


The second intifada, which began in September 2000, started as more than just an uprising against the Israeli occupation; it was also a revolt against the regime of Yasser Arafat. Large segments of the population in the West Bank and Gaza had expected the signing of the Oslo Accords to bring relief to everyday life, political independence from Israel, and an improved economic situation. These hopes have not been fulfilled, except for a small, new economic elite. Especially in the area of security policies, which hits the most sensitive nerve among most Israelis, the Palestinian Authority committed itself to work together with the Israeli authorities. Within the Palestinian population at large, the mistrust of their own regime has grown considerably in recent years. Even if the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has always been viewed as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, there has long existed a number of different visions for Palestine. Like the national cinema in other countries, Palestinian cinema is a mirror of its society. Associations with Palestine are usually linked to the territory of a future state. Yet Palestine is much more than that. For a long time it has also been an idea, a symbol of a people’s resistance to expulsion and of the struggle for self-determination. After the defeat suffered by the Arab countries in the Six Day War in 1967, the PLO, which had been founded only three years earlier in Cairo, gained significance. Enormous numbers of Palestinians turned to the PLO


after seeing that the solidarity the Arab ‘brother states’ showed with the Palestinian people was more rhetorical than real. In the course of this atmosphere of rising to new challenges, Palestinian cinema developed in the diaspora as a contribution to the liberation of Palestine, especially considering that Palestinian filmmakers working in the film branches of various Arab host countries had been able to gain technical expertise but their subject matter found little interest. Their own cinema would make it possible to present and interpret their own history and situation. There was also a desire to use film to document the struggle of the Palestinian people for independence and the suffering of the refugees. Palestinian activists had acknowledged the role that media could play in the war and put their hopes in the impact of films. Their interest first and foremost in these early years of Palestinian cinema was to document the suffering of their people in the refugee camps in Arab countries as well as to gather information. This material was edited into weekly newsreels and documentary films. The film unit of the PLO did not want merely to ‘connect’ the scattered Palestinian people and to explain to them the goals of the struggle against Israel; they also wanted to reach out to an international audience and inform them about the plight of the Palestinian people. In the early 1970s, writers, filmmakers, artists, and journalists founded a Palestinian film group. In their manifesto they summarized the tasks of Palestinian cinema as follows: to produce films made by Palestinians that are incorporated into the Arab context and inspired by democratic and progressive subject matter; to work on developing a new aesthetic; to place the film industry in the service of the Palestinian revolution and the Arab cause; to produce films such that they can represent the Palestinian cause throughout the world; to establish a film archive and further contacts to groups of progressive and revolutionary filmmakers worldwide; to participate in film festivals in the name of Palestine; and to support the work of all supportive film teams working to realize the goals of a Palestinian revolution. Because they are living in exile, many filmmakers were and still are not permitted to travel to Israel and the occupied territories, so some have never set foot in Palestine. Nevertheless, in order to obtain the necessary pictures and film material, the directors hired foreign film teams and sent them to




Palestine/Israel with specific instructions, and the directors later worked with the materials the film teams brought back with them. When the PLO infrastructure was crushed in Beirut during the Israeli invasion in 1982, the film department and film archive of the PLO were largely destroyed. Many films have been lost since then. In subsequent years, the PLO cut down their film production considerably, shifting to coproductions with Western companies. When the PLO moved its exile headquarters to Tunis, the film department and archives were never rebuilt as extensively as they had been previously. At the same time, in the early 1980s, a new direction of Palestinian film developed among Palestinians in exile in Europe and the United States: independent cinema. The most prominent representative of this current is director Michel Khleifi, who lives in Belgium. His film ‘Urs al-Jalil (Wedding in Galilee, 1987–88) contributed to the international breakthrough, both for Khleifi himself and for Palestinian film. These films deal not only with attacking the Israeli occupation; they also question critically the structures of their own society and government. Up to the mid-1990s, virtually all independent Palestinian filmmakers lived in exile in Europe or the United States. Negotiations between the PLO and Israel, and the signing of the Oslo Accords, initially triggered hope among many of them that cultural life in Palestine could be revitalized with the support of the Palestinian Authority, and some filmmakers then returned to Palestine. These developments shifted the focus of Palestinian filmmaking to Palestine itself. During the period of hope and the development of a Palestinian society and state, Palestinian film also became more varied. Predominantly nationalistic cinema and independent cinema are juxtaposed and to some extent overlapping. A recent development shows that independent directors such as Elia Suleiman (Intervention Devine, 2002), Sobhi al-Zubaidi (Women in the Sun, 1998; Light at the End of the Tunnel, 2001; Looking Awry, 2001), and Azza El-Hassan (News Time) no longer approach their stories from the perspective of broad national identity, but rather from more personal, subjective experiences. According to Sobhi al-Zobaidi, what results are “ . . . films that are as fragmented and hybrid as the filmmaker’s own sense of identity. They are personal films, constructed from memories rather than historical ‘facts’ and fused with irony and sarcasm rather than romanticism and/or patriotism.”128


Palestine’s Filmmakers ABU ALI, KHADIJA Khadija Abu Ali was the first Palestinian woman filmmaker. The wife of Mustafa Abu Ali, founder of the Palestine Film Organization, was in charge of the organization’s archive in Beirut. She has made only one film, which was sponsored by the Federation of Arab Documentary Filmmakers in Baghdad.

Filmography 1980 Atfal, walakin (Children, But . . . ), doc, b&w, 16 mm, 23 min Images of Palestinian children in refugee camps are contrasted with the idealistic intent of the UN’s Declaration of Children’s Rights.



zza El Hassan was born on April 21, 1971 in Amman, Jordan, where her Palestinian parents live in exile. In the year of her birth, her family moved to Beirut in the aftermath of Black September.129 Eleven years later, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, she returned to Amman. At first, against the will of her parents, El Hassan studied film and sociology in Glasgow, Scotland between 1989 and 1993. She received her master’s degree in television documentary from Goldsmith College in London in



1994. In the years that followed, she was a director for various Arab satellite television stations, first in London and later in Jordan and Dubai. After the Oslo Agreement Azza El Hassan traveled to Palestine to shoot a film in 1996; she has been living between Ramallah and Amman as a freelance documentary filmmaker ever since. (See essay by El Hassan, pages 237-43.)


Filmography (beta SP) 1997 Maysun wa Majida/Arab Women Speak Out, 40 min 1998 Koushan Mousa/Title Deed from Moses, 29 min (Best Documentary Film at the Independent Film Festival, London 1999) 1999 Sindbad is a She, 30 min 2000 al-Saha/The Place, 7 min, part of the 40-minute project “The Last Five Short Films of the 2nd Millennium” within the scope of the Bethlehem 2000 Project.130 2001 Zaman al-akhbar/News Time,131 52 min (Jury Special Award at Arab Screen Independent Film Festival, Qatar; Grierson Award for the Best Newcomer film) 2002 Talata sintimetar/3 cm less, 60 min 2004 Muluk wa kumbars/Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image,132 60 min Arab Women Speak Out Maysun wa Majida Palestine 1997 Dir: Azza El Hassan Prod: John Hopkins University This film is a portrait of two women, Maysun and Majida. In the first portrait Maysun rebels when her father wants to marry her off at sixteen. She endures his physical punishment and continues going to school. At university, she falls in love with Nafez from her home village. They marry against the will of his family, who rejects Maysun because she is educated. Today Maysun has five children, whom she wants to give a good life. In


the second portrait, Majida is active in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. She gets arrested and tortured while she is pregnant and Israeli soldiers threaten to rape her. Her husband divorces her, because he considers her dishonored after her imprisonment. Today, Majida is in her second marriage and works constantly empower women in the villages to become aware of their abilities and rights. Title Deed from Moses Koushan Mousa Palestine 1998 Dir/Scr/C: Azza El Hassan Prod: Jerusalem Legal Aid Center A film about Israel’s settlement policies. Armed with a handheld camera, the filmmaker tours the territories occupied by Israel after the Six Day War in 1967. Her trip begins in Ma’aleh Adumim, an Israeli settlement at the western edge of Arab East Jerusalem. There are plans to expand the settlement onto the land of five Palestinian villages, meaning that the residents would lose their homes and land. The film depicts their struggle against the expansion of the settlement. They hold up their property deeds but the Israeli settlers tell them that God promised them this land long ago and they don’t recognize the claims of the villagers. News Time Zaman al-akhbar Palestine 2001 Dir: Azza El Hassan Prod: Yamama “Now is not the time for movies, now is the time for the news,” the director is told again and again whenever she tries to get together a crew for her new film. Shot during the first few months of the second intifada, Azza El Hassan takes pictures of the dreary everyday life in Ramallah. By juxtaposing these pictures with the news of the world’s most-filmed conflict, she questions mechanisms at the root of this conflict.



Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image Muluk wa kumbars Palestine/Germany/UK 2004 Dir: Azza El Hassan Prod: MA.JA.DE.Film, Yamama, BBC, WDR, ARTE The films of the PLO Media Unit were supposed to show a self-determined image of Palestinian reality—and they went missing during the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982. In a ‘road-movie’ from Palestine to Jordan, Syria, and then Lebanon, the director follows the contradicting and confusing clues in search of the lost archive. The increasingly absurd search finally leads her to a martyr’s graveyard, where the films are said to be buried— but no one really wants to dig up the whole place.

HATOUM, MONA (1952–) 212


ona Hatoum was born on February 11, 1952 in Beirut to Palestinian parents. She has lived in London since 1975, when the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war prevented her from returning from a stay in England. She then studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art until 1979 and the Slade School of Art until 1981, both in London, after which she made video productions in Canada and the United States. From 1986 she was a guest professor at various universities throughout Europe. In 1987 she became a member of the editorial advisory board for Third Text, a journal of Third World perspectives on contemporary art and culture. Her videos, installations, and performances have been presented widely in Europe and North America, Cuba, and Russia.

From Interviews with Mona Hatoum How is your work influenced by your specific cultural background and your life history? MH: I never make a conscious effort in my work to speak directly about


my own personal history. But the fact that I grew up in a war-torn country and that my family ultimately ended up living in exile in London very definitely affected my way of seeing things. This comes into my work in the form of a feeling of insecurity—the feeling of not taking anything for granted and even doubting the firmness of the ground. In addition to work that treats political themes in a rather basic way, you also made the video Measures of Distance, which is closely linked to your own life. MH: Yes. For me this was not only the high point of all my thematic projects thus far, it was also the most complex and narrative work I had ever made. The performances were about fundamental statements on the relationship between the Third World and the West, whereby I always tried to keep my own story out of it. In Measures of Distance, I deliberately started with my own personal autobiography, since it affected me when the news reports about Lebanon always showed Arabs en masse—hysterical women crying over the bodies of those who had died. But you heard very little about the personal feelings of those who had lost their relatives. It was as if the people from the ‘Third World’ were always seen as a mass or a herd and never as individuals. Of course I was also greatly influenced by the feminist slogan ‘the personal is political.’ The film is first and foremost about the close relationship between mother and daughter, but also about exile, abduction, lack of orientation, and an enormous feeling of loss in the face of separation due to the war. I also tried in this film to oppose the stereotype of the Arab woman as a passive mother and an asexual being. How do you relate to feminism and feminist theory? MH: For me feminism was something like a springboard to more fundamental examinations of power structures, racial issues, and so on. Of course I quickly became aware that the subjects and discussions within Western feminism were not necessarily relevant for women from less privileged parts of the world. When I produced Measures of Distance I was criticized by some feminists because I showed a woman’s naked body. I was accused of exploiting and fragmenting the body the way this is done in pornography. I found this to be an extremely narrow-minded and literal



interpretation of feminist theory. I saw my work as a homage to the beauty of the full body of an aging woman who resembles the Venus of Willendorf133 more than the ideal beauty portrayed in the media. A wonderful and complete picture of this woman’s personality develops in the work as a whole, including her feelings, her desires, and her principles. (Interview with Claudia Spirelli, in Das Kunst-Bulletin, September 1996)

Filmography 1983 So Much I Want to Say, video, b&w, 5 min 1984 Changing Parts, U-matic, b&w, 24 min 1988 Eyes Skinned, video, 4 min 1988 Measures of Distance, beta SP, 15 min 1994 Corps étranger (Foreign Body), video installation


So Much I Want to Say Canada 1983 Dir: Mona Hatoum Dist: London Electronic Arts Prod: Western Front Media This video consists of a series of silent images, each eight seconds long, that show a close-up of a woman’s face. Two male hands keep on gagging the woman’s mouth and blocking out parts of her face, sometimes covering it entirely. The soundtrack is an infinite loop repeating the words So Much I Want to Say. Changing Parts Canada 1984 Dir: Mona Hatoum Dist: London Electronic Arts A personalized experimental video about the contrast between interior and exterior worlds. Well thought out, slow, and deliberate, similar to a film by Tarkovsky, Hatoum’s video begins with a series of plain, domestic still-lifes. Radiators are examined, accompanied by classical music—a true symphony


of order, harmony, and reason is undermined and turns into a horrific vision of imprisonment and impending death. The video is a metaphor for two different realities that are juxtaposed but remain separate. “The tape has been constructed using shots taken inside my parents’ home in Beirut and some footage from the documentation of a live performance entitled ‘Under Siege’ (London Film Makers Cooperative, May 1982). The soundtrack uses Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4, which fades into a multiscattered track of noises, busy street sounds, and two different layers of news reports.” (Mona Hatoum, in High Performance, no. 30, 1985)

About the Film Displacement is a central theme of Mona Hatoum’s Changing Parts. Hatoum’s performance work has been concerned with the divisions between the privileged West and the Third World. Changing Parts starts with a series of stills of the interior of a bathroom probably somewhere in Beirut and a soundtrack overlayed with Bach’s Suite No. 4 for unaccompanied cello. This is a very private world. The details of the taps and the tiling remind us of our desperate need for familiarity. An abrupt change in action shows Hatoum trapped behind a glass screen struggling to survive. The sound of the short-wave radio signals the exterior world of Beirut today, of the so-called Third World countries. Hatoum struggles to escape, smearing the image (as if with blood). Her struggle is an infinite one. We are all locked into our own past but displacement is a cross that minorities have to bear. Hatoum has carefully juxtaposed the ordered reality of the interior/privileged space against the exterior world of chaos. The work is shot in black and white and has a supreme austerity, which controls the underlying violence. (Tamara Krikorian, in Elusive Sign catalog) Measures of Distance Canada 1988 Dir: Mona Hatoum Dist: London Electronic Arts




In this film the director deals with the issue of her separation from her family in Beirut. Hatoum paints a collage of pictures of her parents’ home in Beirut in a slow showering sequence. She contrasts this with a series of letters from her mother that bring news of the family and express her mother’s desire to see her again sooon. The correspondence is faded in with the photographs, each photograph appearing through the pattern of the Arabic text. Although the film focuses on the mother-daughter relationship, other farreaching themes are touched upon—Hatoum’s personal experience of exile within a wider framework of a family’s tale of uprootedness and expulsion. Toward the end of the video, in view of daily street fighting in Beirut, Hatoum’s feelings for her family become painfully clear. Now the destroyed telephone lines and the bombardment of the local post office make even this basic form of keeping in contact more difficult.

Film Reviews Hatoum’s work tends to be contradictory, in a positive sense. Recently, on British television there was a program comprising interviews with three Lebanese women, who described how the various conflicts affected them, their work, and their social lives. Their lives seemed pretty much the same as anyone’s anywhere: people need to work, have relationships, eat, and so on, except that occasionally buildings fall down, people shoot at you (any of the armed factions, and freelancers), bombs and missiles explode, people die, and the future, to say the least, is uncertain. These mutually irreconcilable elements are present in Mona Hatoum’s work. Sensuality isn’t presented as the opposite of, or a de Sadean aspect of, violence and oppression, but as an emulsion of almost unrelated elements. (From P.D. Burwell, in High Performance, no. 30, 1985) Minimalist in mood, close-to-the-bone in content, Mona Hatoum’s work mixes austerity and emotion, intimacy and detachment. . . . A


sense of fragmentation in her work seen as a symptom of a modern-day Palestinian identity. (Steven Bode, in City Limits, July 14–21, 1988) The voice-over and script of Measures of Distance narrate a paradoxical state of geographical distance and emotional closeness. The textual, visual, and linguistic play between Arabic and English underlines the family’s serial dislocations, from Palestine to Lebanon to Britain. . . . Measures of Distance also probes issues of sexuality and the female body in a kind of self-ethnography, its nostalgic rhetoric concerning less the ‘private sphere’ of sexuality, pregnancy, and children. The women’s conversations about sexuality leave the father feeling displaced by what he dismisses as “women’s nonsense.” The daughter’s photographs of her nude mother make him profoundly uncomfortable, as if the daughter, as the mother writes, “had trespassed on his possession.” To videotape such intimate conversations is not a common practice in the Middle Eastern cinema, or for that matter, in any cinema. Paradoxically, the exile’s distance from the Middle East authorizes the exposure of intimacy. Displacement and separation make possible a transformative return to the inner sanctum of the home: mother and daughter are together again in the space of the text. (Ella Shohat, in al-Ra’ida 16, no. 86–87, summer/fall 1999, pages 23–33, here: 31, 32; see also Ella Shohat, Framing Post-Third Worldist Culture, New York, 1997, here: para. 28.)



orn on July 5, 1951 in Bethlehem, Norma Marcos has been living in Paris since 1977, where she studied Arab studies and journalism. Her work experience as a print and radio journalist earned her a scholarship from the Reuters press agency, which allowed her to spend 1987–88 studying at Stanford University. She gained her first experience in film as an



assistant director for television reports. At the Expo 2000 World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany, Norma Marcos gave a seminar on Arab and African documentary film. She is a film critic for the Jerusalem Times and won the Grand Prix du Meilleur Scénariste 2004 for her screenplay for a feature film project Nozha, a film adaptation of Sahar Khalifeh’s L’Impasse de bab essaha (France, 1997).


Speaking with Norma Marcos I do not think very much of Western filmmakers who go to an Arab country for a week, pretend they know everything about the ‘Third World,’ and then go back and make a documentary about us. It is not impossible, but you have to stay for a while. I am Palestinian and a woman, and I have suffered from political and social oppression. But it took me three years to really understand the ‘woman’s question,’ although I am part of this society. It took me three years of interviewing women all over Palestine, reading all the articles and books that have been written on Palestinian women and the Palestinian issue. Only then, after three years, did I feel I might be able to make a good film. These women in my film, they trusted me so much. When you make a film, you need people who trust you, otherwise it will be superficial. They will not talk from deep down. They will not tell you the stories they want to, especially when they see the camera. Only if they trust you can you make a truthful film, a documentary. Documentary is an art form that requires a lot of imagination. It is very difficult to make a documentary, since if you do not have a script, you don’t really have a scenario. You have to let go and accept the spontaneity of the shooting. In documentaries you need symbols. It’s not so good to have a strictly illustrative film. Documentary shouldn’t be illustrative; it should be artistic. In my film the whole scene where the women are putting on traditional dress is completely symbolic. When the photographer started to take pictures of them, I stopped the music. This is very symbolic. I stopped the music to show how these women, who were so vivid and alive while putting on make-up and laughing together, became very rigid when the photographer arrived. That is why I stopped the music. They became like stones in front of the photographers. This is also symbolic of


Palestinian society. It is a society full of contradictions. It is a society that is very alive, but it can also be very dead with its traditions. This scene was also very ironic. I was happy that at least a few people understood these symbolic images in the film. I also made my film for Palestinians, so maybe it is sometimes confusing for Westerners who do not know the Arab world. This is also a problem for other filmmakers from the ‘Third World.’ We want our films to be sold in the West so we can get our message across. But we also want our films to have a message for our country. Television broadcasters do not understand this. They come and say, “this is too talkative” or “people will ‘zap’ to another channel.” I understand them, but still I am torn. If I want to show the film in Palestine, I can’t use only symbolic imagery, because in Palestine they deal with images differently. The women in my film all resemble me in a way. They are all very strong women. And they are women who have made it, especially the young one who comes from a poor family as I do. She had to fight as I had to fight—for her studies, for her liberty, everything. She resembles me the most, the little one, Hanan. When I came to Paris, I had no scholarship, and my parents couldn’t help because they had no money, so I had to work. While shooting the film, Hanan and I became close. She now says I am like her mother, although I am far too young for that. I’m a role model for her and that helps her to survive. She knows that I have gone through many problems and still I made it. She is leading a schizophrenic life—she is politically very active, she works with Hanan Ashrawi,134 and is well respected. But then she goes home and she is a little girl, she is nothing. I wanted to break the Western stereotype of the refugee, of the peasant. I am not saying that they don’t exist, but the type of woman I show in my film had never been shown in the West. Audiences were so shocked to see these middle-class women. That is why it was very successful. We always show the Palestinians as a wretched people, as victims and refugees. It is true. But on the other hand, it is a society trying to improve—like these women in my film. I was occasionally attacked at film festivals; they said I didn’t show the other side, they said, “These are all bourgeois women, why didn’t you shoot refugee women to have a balance, an equilibrium?” I didn’t want to have an equilibrium. It is risky if you take an angle, but I




wanted to take this risk. They also warned me against putting in interviews about the peace agreement135 because the film would date more quickly. I hesitated, but I finally included them. I felt it was important to show these women as witnesses of the time, expressing how they felt about the peace agreement, so the film becomes a historical document—and the women’s point of view has turned out to be right. In my film I also wanted to say that the image of the Palestinian woman is also a myth in Palestinian society, not only in the West. In the Western myth, she first had an Oriental image like that in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, then she became a refugee, later a terrorist. In Palestinian society, as in many civilizations, woman symbolizes the land. But woman is absent in Palestinian art, because she has no mouth, no eyes; she is covered, all her parts are covered. If she symbolizes the land, this means the land is also absent in the Palestinian mind—that the land, Palestine, is becoming a memory. In a way I have experienced this personally in Palestinian society: the woman exists and doesn’t exist. She exists because she has to give birth to her children and she has to raise them, but in the mind of most Palestinian men, she is absent, she does not exist, she is not allowed to voice opinion. When I showed my film in Tel Aviv, they were very astonished to see these Palestinian women. We live in the same country, but we don’t know each other. I also wanted to show the Palestinians that there are no women in politics. It’s a joke, you know, when the PLO says otherwise. Hanan Ashrawi herself said she was just a token. There are no women in politics. And there never will be if women continue to be oppressed. On the other hand it’s a positive film. It’s good for Palestinians to see that some women are liberated, to see these positive images that contrast with Joumana’s colleague who had an abortion because she knew it would be a girl. In the first three months of the intifada, women were very active and joined citizens’ committees. They rebelled against their fathers and brothers, and went out in the streets. It was very beautiful. Israel understood this and banned the committees. So the women went back home. The Israelis also use sexual harassment in prisons. When you come from a strict society and you know that you might be sexually abused in prison, it makes you think twice before becoming politically active. The


Israelis understand this and they do it to Palestinian women. I met a woman who was in prison for three years; her husband did not visit her once during that time. Then her daughter went to prison, and no one would marry her because they thought she might have been sexually assaulted. The Israelis know this and use it to their advantage. Christians make up just a little more than two percent of the population in all the occupied territories, including Israel. I am Christian, but my religion has no effect whatsoever on my work. I feel I am an Arab first. Just because we are not Muslim doesn’t mean we are not Arabs. We are Arabs, we talk the same language, we have the same culture. I never felt there were any differences between me and my Muslim friends. And I didn’t like the nuns where I went to school. They were not so nice. I was born Catholic, but I am not very religious. I’m spiritual, I like spirituality and pacifism. I like reading about metaphysics, Buddhism. But I’m against the institutional church and mosques and temples. I think they have done a lot of harm. Many Palestinians, Christians as well, still marry their cousins, even if they studied in France. This incest and marriage of very young girls who are still children are the real problems in Arab society, not the veil. Of course the veil is a problem, but for me it’s not the main problem. Sexuality is still a big taboo. I once tried to write a book on Arab women’s sexuality. But I didn’t get far; the only one that I interviewed was my mother. I managed to get her to talk after one month. But she was the only one. The young ones would not talk to me, c’est tabou. I come from a poor background, my family lost its fortune in Chile a few years before I was born. My father was only strict because society is strict. He always treated us girls like my brother, his only son. He never differentiated between us and my brother, never. That’s very unusual in an Arab society, where the brother is God, and the girls are there to serve the brother. That was not the case in my house. My father never showed his feelings directly. He would bring us chocolate instead. He used to take us to see American films. He didn’t like Arab films. I was also very happy that he did not push us to marry, which is very unusual. In my society, if you are thin and brown like me, you are not so desirable. You have to be white with a lot of meat on your bones. It didn’t bother him in the least that I didn’t want to get married. When I said I wanted to go to France to study, he said,



“okay, I have no money to give you, but if you want to go, that’s okay.” That’s not easy for a father to say, especially as he couldn’t help me out financially. All the successful women in my film and most of the successful women I interviewed had a father or a husband or a brother behind them. If a woman has this in Arab society, she is saved. (Interview with the author, Paris, December 1994)

Filmography 1994 al-Amal al-ghamid/L’espoir voilé/The Veiled Hope, 35 mm, 55 min 1999 Land Development, video, 15 min In preparation: Nozha


The Veiled Hope L’espoir voilé France 1994 Dir/Scr: Norma Marcos C: Peter Chappell, Soheir Mousa, Abdel Salam Shehadeh M: Abed Azrié Ed: Dominique Paris, Juliette Garcia, Claudia Veloso Cast: Hanan Ashrawi, Hanane Arouri, Joumana Odeh, Rima Tarasi, Yusra Barbari Prod: Solera Films, France 3 Through an encounter with five women from Gaza and the West Bank, this documentary film shows the courage of these Palestinian women in facing the challenges of their society. They actively take a stand, even on questions of international policies, and do not shy away from breaking taboos. Nevertheless, as one of the women says, they have yet to achieve that which is most important: their right to self-determination. “The Veiled Hope is first and foremost a personal journey taken with five Palestinian women. The women have been chosen by an emotional


rapport and their voices stand as examples of other Palestinian women. The vastness and the complexity of the subject make it impossible to focus on one portrait. Even such a strong personality like Hanan Ashrawi cannot represent the whole of the women’s movement. I have attempted to understand and explain their historical and personal lives. The women are all sincere, ambitious, attached to their country, breakers of Palestinian and Israeli taboos. . . . With the archival history destroyed and rewritten by the Israelis, they invent new forms of encoding resistance, of remembering. Although the fundamentalists’ behaviour is affecting their lives, it is not as simple as the media presents it. Joumana explains, ‘We should not be trapped. I know many women who were given two choices: either the veil or stay at home. They chose the veil in order to be able to go to work.’” (Norma Marcos, in the 1994 London Film Festival catalog)

MASRI, MAI (1959–)


ai Masri was born on April 2, 1959 in Amman, Jordan. Her father is Palestinian and her mother is American. She received a BA in film direction, cinematography, and film editing in 1981 from San Francisco State University. Together with her Lebanese husband Jean Chamoun she shot and coproduced her first films with their companies MTC and Nour Productions. Her films have been televised in many countries and have won numerous awards. As of 1990, the couple have been directing their films separately and producing one other’s films. Mai Masri has lived in Paris and London; after the war she moved back to Beirut. “I grew up with a profound sense of injustice. This forced me to ask myself: Who am I? Why don’t I live in my own country? The sense of belonging and feeling different are two opposing feelings that are integral parts of my identity.” (Mai Masri at the DisORIENTation event in Berlin, April 2003)




Speaking with Mai Masri My father is Palestinian, from Nablus; my mother is American, from Texas, so we were not an ordinary household. I grew up with two languages. We spent my early childhood in Amman and Nablus. At that time the borders [between Jordan and Israel] were still open so we could go back and forth without any problems. The Masris are one of the big families in Nablus, so I remember countless aunts and uncles from there. When war broke out, we went back to Algeria. We had already lived there for a while shortly after the Algerian revolution [1954–62]. That was a very exciting time, of change and euphoria. It was an atmosphere that I remember well even though I was only five years old at the time. We went to Beirut in 1966. The [Six Day] war with Israel was a year later. I can remember that we had to paint our windows blue because of the bombing. Since we weren’t in Nablus during the war, we were only allowed to return there as visitors with a permit, but we were no longer authorized to live there. We were considered ‘absentees.’ That was the time of the student movement; all my generation was interested in politics. Like my older brother, I went on demonstrations. My parents supported this and my father was very proud of us. Since I am Palestinian, we often visited the refugee camps and would help out digging trenches and filling sandbags. During the 1973 war between the Arab states and Israel—I was still in school then—we would go outside and watch the battles over the city; you could see the fighter planes. I read a lot and often lay awake at night wondering what I should do with my life. I got the idea to study film because I thought film could be a medium that would combine several of my interests: as a Palestinian exposed to social events and politics, meeting people, the arts, travel, research. I wanted so desperately to escape boredom and normality. In 1975 the civil war erupted. The following year I went to Berkeley, California, without knowing it was an important place. Although my mother is American I had no identification with the United States. I knew nothing about this country and had even totally forgotten that I had an American passport. My brother was already in college in California. I traveled there and it was just luck that I walked into a lecture on film theory and I was fascinated. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about film and I spent all my time in the library. At seventeen I was


one of the youngest students in the class; you could still feel something in the air from the student protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Once I had had enough of theory I transferred to San Francisco State University and got my degree in film production and technique. During that time I met students from all over, especially Latin America. I think I learned more about Latin America while I was in California than about America. I also learned Spanish and Portuguese. When I was on vacation in Beirut in 1977 I met Jean Chamoun, who became my husband. He was shooting with the Palestinian Film Institute. That seemed surprising to me. In Lebanon the name Chamoun immediately brings up connotations of the former president Kamil Chamoun in the 1960s. The Chamouns are known to be a very conservative, even right-wing Maronite family, so I was surprised that a Chamoun would work together with the Palestinian Film Institute. I went back to Beirut in 1981 after graduating from college and we started working together on a film project that we never completed due to the Israeli invasion the following year. We left everything and instead tried to capture events as they were happening during the siege of Beirut. After that it was clear that we wanted to help each other and work together as a team. But we didn’t want to make classical documentaries; that’s dull. We filmed without a preconceived plan. While we were shooting, we had conflicting ideas and often asked ourselves if we were acting responsibly and whether it was ethical to film instead of helping the people we were filming. It was a real question, but I am convinced that there is a value. I felt it was not a job, but a commitment; that it is important to document such events because people have short memories, especially in our region. The atrocities that we show in our first film. Under the Rubble seem too strong today, even to me. But at the time it was normal for us; it was surreal and emotional. We wanted to show the world what we had experienced daily, an inside view without any cover-up. We maintained this philosophy in our later films. We didn’t want to make films like the people who go in to film and then leave. We wanted to learn from the people and live with them. In Women of South Lebanon we spent months living in the villages of the women we wanted to film.




After our first film we bought our own equipment in order to be independent and do everything ourselves, so we could produce low budget films exactly the way we wanted to. We lived in Paris for a few years and made our initial contacts with the outside so we could produce and distribute films abroad. War Generation was commissioned for Inside Story by the BBC although we had no track record. It was our big break. Conditions have become much harsher since. It has become almost impossible to receive a commission and there are not enough funds to go round. Luckily we learned how to make films on a very low budget without compromising quality. With Children of Fire the common preconceived notions about women in the film business proved to be extremely lucky for me. The Israeli soldiers who kept an eye on us knew I was Palestinian, but they never imagined I was also the director. They thought I was the secretary or a translator for the British film crew. They never would have thought it possible that two British men would be working for a Palestinian. It didn’t sink in. So it was no problem at all getting the film out. What really annoys me, though, are the reactions of the media, who completely ignore me in films that I made with my husband—even if I did all the camera work and editing. They behaved as though I were an extra, not as though I had done something important. This attitude is unfortunately very widespread, even among female film critics. It’s hard to generalize, but when filming, women and men differ to the extent that they set different tones to a film. They direct their attention to different things. Women pay more attention to detail. In my film about Hanan Ashrawi, for example, I thought it was important to show how her career and the fact that she was away a lot affected her family life and her relationship with her husband. I wanted to show the personal, intimate side of Hanan Ashrawi. One of my producers didn’t like that. He is brilliant but he wanted to focus on the issues; he was only interested in showing Ashrawi the politician and her public accomplishments. There are also differences in camera work. Men often use wide shots, while I like close-ups, faces, hands. I came into contact with politics early on through my father. Back in the 1960s the PLO was still in its formative stage. The leaders were


ordinary young men with big ideas. They were friends of my father and were often at our home. As a little girl I sat on Yasser Arafat’s lap, and Abu Jihad136 visited us when we were living in Algeria. Palestine and having a Palestinian identity played an important role in our family, as did politics in general, since my father was a minister in Jordan in the 1970s. We moved to Beirut when I was in the first grade. As a Palestinian I spoke a different dialect so I often argued with Lebanese schoolmates about the proper pronunciation of words. I started learning what it was to be different and had to either assimilate or be proud of being different. I never tried to assimilate and have always been proud of being Palestinian. For a long time I didn’t tell anyone that my mother was American, because I thought I had to be ‘real,’ ‘authentic.’ But I came to terms with that and feel very comfortable. Countless Palestinians come from culturally mixed marriages. It is definitely an advantage to be clear about who you are. In fact, this situation and the fact that I grew up in Lebanon have enriched my personality and have furthered my personal and professional development. I only remembered Nablus from very hazy memories from my early childhood. While filming Children of Fire, the first film I directed on my own, it seemed to me as if I were discovering the city for the first time. I felt like I had a role to play, as though I were part of history, part of a movement, because at that time at the peak of the intifada there was no one in Nablus; there were virtually no journalists. It gave the people hope to know that here was someone from Nablus documenting the events with a film crew. There was definitely a bonding between me and the city. A link was forged that reminded me of Beirut when it was besieged. There, too, the people were unified through a sense of belonging, self-reliance, and hope for the future. (Interview with the author, London, December 1995)

Filmography 1983 Taht al-anqadh/Under the Rubble, 16 mm, 40 min (Special Jury Award at the Festival of Mediterranean Cinema in Valencia, Mostra de Valencia Cinema del Mediterrani)











Zaharat al-kindoul/Wild Flowers: Women of South Lebanon, 16 mm, 71 min (Critics’ Award at the Carthage Film Festival; Special Jury Award and Prize for Best Music at the Festival of Mediterranean Cinema in Valencia 1987; Special Jury Award at the Damascus Film Festival, 1987) Jil al-harb/War Generation, 16 mm, 50 min (Bronze Apple at the National Educational Media Network [NEMN] Apple Awards Video Competition, United States, 1990) Atfal jabal al-nar/Children of Fire, 16 mm, 50 min (Prizes from the Feminin Pluriel Festival, France, and the Rosebud Film Festival in Arlington, VA; grand prize at the Television Film Festival in Cairo, 1995) Ahlam mu‘allaqa/Suspended Dreams, 16 mm, 50 min (Part of a BBC series; won more than 26 international prizes, including Grand Prix at the Film Festival of L’Institut du Monde Arabe [FIMA] in Paris, 1993; Gold Award at the Damascus Film Festival, 1993) Imra’a fi zaman al-tahaddi/Hanan Ashrawi: A Woman of Her Time, 16 mm, 50 min (Best Documentary at the One World International Media Awards, London; Audience Award at the 3rd Biennial of Arab Film, Paris, 1996) Atfal Shatila/Children of Shatila, for Channel Four TV, beta SP, 50 min (Nominated for the Amnesty International Award; Special Mention at the CMCA, Palermo; Award for Best Director and Best Camera at the Arab Screen Film Festival, London, 1999) Ahlam al-manfa/Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, beta SP, 56 min (Received many awards, including 1st Prize at the International Women’s Film Festival, Torino, Italy, and at the Ismailia International Film Festival, Egypt; Earth Vision Award, Tokyo; Special Jury Award at the Beirut International Film Festival; Best Film Award from the Egyptian Film Critics’ Association and the Egyptian Documentary Filmmakers’ Association)


Film Review Mai Masri and Lebanese filmmaker Jean Chamoun have been collaborating for ten years on documentary films dealing with the Lebanese civil war or the Palestinian conflict. In their film Under the Rubble, which is technically not necessarily one of their masterpieces, Masri and Chamoun depict with an almost unbearable meticulousness the horrors of war, death, and destruction that Palestinians and Lebanese were subjected to during the Israeli attacks on Beirut. In War Generation, on the other hand, they describe the influence that unceasing wars have, especially on children and adolescents. A film that is as dense as it is moving is Children of Fire, which Mai Masri directed alone. With utmost sensitivity and without hiding her personal involvement, Masri shows Palestinian children who grow up unnaturally precocious as they confront daily violence and abuse during the intifada. (Viola Shafik in Die 7. Tage des Unabhängigen Films, Augsburg, 1991) Wild Flowers: Women of South Lebanon Zaharat al-kindoul UK 1986 Dir/Scr: Mai Masri, Jean Chamoun C/Ed: Mai Masri S: Jean Chamoun M: Jawed Berri, Ali Jihad Racy Prod: MTC for Channel Four, London


Opposites and contradictions characterize everyday life in occupied South Lebanon. The people coexist with the horrors of war. The film illustrates the role that women play in this struggle for survival. Children of Fire Atfal jabal al-nar UK 1990 Dir/Scr: Mai Masri C: Andy Jillings, Stephen Ley


S: Alastair Kenneil, Mike Thomas M: Ali Jihad Racy Prod: MTC for BBC 2, London Hundreds of children died in the course of the first intifada and more than 60,000 were wounded. The psychological impact was devastating. The filmmaker, who returned to her hometown of Nablus in the West Bank after fourteen years, casts a personal look at the lives of these children. Suspended Dreams Ahlam mu‘allaqa UK 1992 Dir: Mai Masri C: Hassan Neemani Ed: Hussein Younes Prod: MTC for BBC 2, London 230

From the perspective of two ex-militiamen, a woman who is searching for her kidnapped husband, and a playwright from South Lebanon, the film tells the story of a Beirut community as it tries to rebuild destroyed lives after seventeen years of war. Hanan Ashrawi: A Woman of Her Time Imra’a fi zaman al-tahaddi UK 1995 Dir/Scr: Mai Masri C: Richard Gibb, Stephen Ley, Butheina Khoury S: Damon Osborne, Jade Carmen M: Anouar Brahem, Ali Jihad Racy

Ed: Peter Sago Prod: Nour Films, TVE for MED MEDIA, One World Group of Broadcasters


A portrait of the well-known Palestinian politician and human rights activist Hanan Ashrawi. Masri films Ashrawi in her home in the West Bank, which, ironically, stands opposite an Israeli prison. The film examines Ashrawi’s relationship with her two adolescent daughters, Amal and Zeina, and with her husband Emile, who is a photographer and househusband.

Film Review In the moving times after the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Hanan Ashrawi emerged on the international scene as an excellent mediator and convincing voice for the Palestinian people. Ashrawi’s high public visibility and personal integrity have brought her both friends and enemies. In this personal portrait Ashrawi reflects back on her Christian upbringing, the formative influence of the years she spent at the American University of Beirut, and her first encounter with Yasser Arafat. She also describes the complex peace negotiations and the challenges ahead to build a viable homeland for the Palestinians. (Feminale (biennial women’s film festival), Cologne 1996) Children of Shatila Atfal Shatila Palestine/UK 1998 Dir/Scr: Mai Masri C: Fouad Sleiman S: Salim El Saleh Ed: Hussein Younes Prod: Nour Productions, Channel Four Fifty years after their grandparents fled Palestine, the children in the Shatila refugee camp grow up in an environment that survived massacre, siege, and hunger.137 This film focuses on two children—eleven-year-old Farah and twelve-year-old Issa—who are given a video camera and show all aspects of their lives through the lens. Their personal narratives reveal the history of the entire camp; and their pictures and words express the feelings and hopes of their generation.



Frontiers of Dreams and Fears Ahlam al-manfa Palestine/Lebanon/USA 2001 Dir: Mai Masri C: Fouad Suleiman, Hussein Nasr, Jimmy Michel S: Mouhab Shaneh-Saz M: Anouar Brahem Ed: Michèle Tyan Prod: ITVS-International Television Service, Nour Productions Mona and Manar are two girls growing up in different Palestinian refugee camps. Despite apparently impassable borders they manage to communicate with each other and become friends. The film shows their lives, their developing friendship, and their dramatic meeting at the barbed wire fence on the Israeli-Lebanese border. When the second intifada erupts the two girls are suddenly confronted with tragic changes. 232

From an Interview with Mai Masri Can you explain a bit about the history of and ideas behind the film? How did you meet Mona and Manar? MM: Frontiers of Dreams and Fears is the third in a series of films I made on Palestinian children. . . . I met Mona [thirteen years old] at a youth center in Shatila camp for children who had lost their parents in the war. I chose her because of her creativity and imagination. I was inspired by the wisdom and poetry of her words that seemed to defy her age. Then one day, I discovered that she had been corresponding by Internet with Manar [fourteen years old] from Dheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem in Palestine. At that time, the Israeli army had begun withdrawing from South Lebanon after twenty years of occupation. I heard that hundreds of Palestinian refugees were flocking down to the Lebanese-Israeli border to see their relatives on the other side. I had the crazy idea of arranging a meeting between the two girls. Amid hundreds of Palestinian families who were being reunited on the border for the first time in fiftytwo years, the two girls met each other, hugged, and kissed through the barbed wire.


Can you describe conditions in the two camps—Dheisha and Shatila? How do they compare to one another? MM: The first time I filmed in Shatila camp was after the horrific massacre of 1982 [of Sabra and Shatila]. Since then, I have witnessed its destruction and reconstruction three times. Located in the heart of Beirut’s ‘Belt of Misery,’ the camp consists of a maze of tight alleyways packed into a single square mile with families as large as ten sharing a single room. The fathers are unemployed and the children end up dropping out of school at the age of eleven or twelve to help support their families. Many suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. Dheisha camp is home to 14,000 Palestinian refugees. Many of the young people are university graduates. I started filming in Dheisha camp in August 2000, a month before the beginning of the second intifada. When I was filming, I noticed that the living conditions seemed slightly better than in Shatila camp. The Pope had just visited the camp and the walls had been painted white with colorful murals and graffiti. But much has changed since I finished making Frontiers. In March 2002, the Israeli army invaded the major Palestinian cities and refugee camps. Dheisha camp was occupied and 600 people were arrested, including many children who appeared in the film. I was also shocked to hear that Israeli soldiers had killed Manar’s grandfather on a street near his home. What sorts of obstacles did you have to face in shooting and gaining access to the camps? MM: The most difficult obstacles I faced was when I returned to film during the intifada. By then the area around Bethlehem and Dheisha had been reoccupied by the Israeli army. The Israeli soldiers had sealed off the whole area with checkpoints. I was lucky to get in. On every hill I could see settlements. It was like being in a cage under siege and constant surveillance. While filming in Bethlehem, I was shot in the leg by an Israeli soldier. Luckily, the rubber-coated steel bullet didn’t hit me in the eye. These so-called rubber bullets have proven to be lethal if fired at close range. Many Palestinians have been killed or maimed by them. It all happened on one sunny day in November when I was filming near the entrance of Bethlehem where the Israeli army had set up military watchtowers



on Palestinian occupied land. A few days earlier a twenty-one-year-old American photographer for the Associated Press was shot on the same spot. An Israeli sniper shot her with a live bullet that shattered her pelvis. She is one of seventy western and Palestinian journalists who have been shot by Israeli soldiers in the last two years. In the film, the fact that fathers are missing, in prison, deceased, comes up. What percentage of young people are in this situation living in a household where there is no father? MM: I would say that at least half the Palestinian male population have been in Israeli prisons at least once in their lives. Many have spent several years behind bars. It is common to find households that are run by the women because the men are either missing, in prison, or deceased.


One thing that many people have not experienced is this sort of permanent separation from one’s land, one’s family, and perhaps even one’s heritage. Can you comment on this idea, particularly in terms of how the kids feel about it and talk about it in the camps? MM: Mona articulates this feeling when she says, “I wish I were a bird so I could fly back to my homeland, Palestine.” Somewhere else in the film she says, “Why should we study. We have no future. We are refugees with no rights. Our dreams are dying.” The children are being brutalized and traumatized by the violence around them. They see their parents humiliated, their fathers powerless to provide for or protect them. What amazes me is the fact that despite their miserable conditions, the teenagers in Shatila and Dheisha camps still manage to laugh, love, and dream like any other teenagers around the world. Their greatest strength is the fact that they haven’t lost their humanity or their spirit. (Interview for Human Rights Watch, New York, 2001)

Film Reviews The form of the interviews and the content of the conversations for Children of Shatila that were selected post-production make the children appear as young adults. The films aims to show that they are denied a childhood due


to the political situation—the occupation and the impossibility of return. At the same time, the cinematography and the conversations—that is, the presentation of the children—give the impression that they are deliberately made to appear melancholy in order to underscore Masri’s political message. In the tradition of early Palestinian films the suffering of the children in the camps is captured in order to inform the world about the fate of the refugees. The children tell their stories, which include the expulsion of their grandparents from Palestine. They also express the desire to return to their land, but they remain totally caught up in their own victimization. (Irit Neidhardt, “Die palästinensische Gesellschaft im Spiegel ihres Kinos” (Palestinian Society as Reflected in its Cinema), January 2001). The emotional foundation of Frontiers isn’t despair but hope. The film uses injustice as the single moral imperative underlying the Palestinian condition to argue that this condition must change. Frontiers cuts through the cynicism that ossifies in brains numbed by too much faceless violence on the evening news. In making it possible for the audience to feel, it fulfills a primary function of documentary film. (Jim Quilty in Daily Star, Lebanon, May 10, 2001) Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri’s latest documentary Frontiers of Dreams and Fears was inspired by a need to return to the children she portrayed three years earlier in the film Children of Shatila. . . . Mai is struck by how bright the children are and says, “I feel obligated; I can’t just make a film about them and leave them in their situation, because they have so much potential.” This is why she has set up the scholarship fund for them, which she intends should fund them through university when the time comes. (Susanah Tarbush, in Saudi Gazette, September 10, 2001)



ajwa Najjar was born on July 31, 1965 in Washington, D.C., where she later studied film and worked as a research assistant at American University. She started out making commercials. Today she lives in Jerusalem as a freelance filmmaker. She produces some of her films herself. After having made several documentaries she was awarded first prize for



the screenplay of her feature film project Pomegranates and Myrrh138 in 1999 from the Screenplay Development Fund in Amiens, France.

Filmography (beta SP) 1995 Women in Development, two 12-minute documentary films 1995 Jerusalem: Dealmaker or Dealbreaker, 30 min 1997 Sesame Street, video clips 1999 Naim and Wadee‘a, beta SP, 20 min (Award for “Films of Conflict and Resolution” at the Hamptons International Film Festival 2000) 2000 Jawhar al-nisyan/Quintessence of Oblivion, 45 min 2001 A Boy Named Mohamed, 10 min Naim & Wadee‘a Palestine 1999 Dir/Prod: Najwa Najjar 236

This is a documentary film with archival photos edited in. Based on the oral history of the director’s family, it tells the story of a couple that had to leave their house in Jaffa and their homeland, Palestine, in 1948. Quintessence of Oblivion Jawhar al-nisyan Palestine 2001 Dir/Prod: Najwa Najjar The documentary reflects life in Palestinian Jerusalem during three eras—1948, 1967, and 2001. Based on archival material and the oral history of Jerusalemites—both in the city and in the diaspora—the film merges interviews from the present, the filmmaker’s experience, and her diary, which she kept during the 2000 intifada.


When the Exiled Films Home Azza El Hassan When you come from a nation that has experienced a national tragedy and found no means of resolving its aftermath you find yourself caged inside public pain. It is in this space, the cage, that the private and the public become so intertwined that you wish you could resolve your own pain in order to preserve your private space. That is how being in exile makes you feel. This is how oppression makes you feel. It is a feeling that crosses class, gender, and individual identity. And it is only by negotiating how all these constraints have affected your soul that you can start regaining your sense of existence as an individual and not just as the member of an injured nation. I am a Palestinian filmmaker who was born and raised in exile. Following the Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement some Palestinian refugees were allowed back into the West Bank and Gaza; I was one of them. Today, I strongly feel the need to negotiate my return. I need to question how my relationship with an imagined Palestine, while I was in exile, has changed upon my return. And I need to look at how I’ve been trying to film my long imagined home.

Exile Is about Seeking a Place Exile carries with it various kinds of feelings, which are manifested in different ways. Yet, whatever the story of exile is, it always comes down to one desire: the desire for a home that you have once lost. It has been five years since I ‘returned’ to live in Palestine. I say I returned although I had never been in Palestine before in my life. Yet dreaming of being here, of returning to a land from which my family was dispossessed was very vivid in my mind.



Before returning to Palestine, my identity used to be dominated by my exile, which in turn dominated my work. Everything I produced dealt in one way or another with dispossession and its effect on one’s being. So when I returned to Palestine I thought that finally the theme of exile would be replaced by the theme of return. I believed that now I would end up producing endless films about returning and the magic that accompanies it. Yet the reality proved to be very different. Since 1996 I have directed three documentaries, and in all of them I dealt with the present reality in Palestine. But in none of them did I negotiate my own return; only after five years had passed was I finally able to produce a short (seven minute) film in which I touched on the theme of my exile and return. For the first time, in The Place, I actually questioned my own identity in relation to a desired space—land.


Filming Home from Exile Before I came to live in Palestine I worked for various Arab satellite television stations. Each of them indulged in Arab nostalgia for the lost land of Palestine, a predilection which I willingly pandered to. I documented their, and my own, nostalgia; I gathered archival photos and paintings of the lost paradise to exhibit to my viewers. Being a Palestinian dominated my identity and I never questioned either my nostalgia or theirs. For both my viewers and myself, Palestine was an icon for the desire for justice and hence, a soft emotional spot. I can still remember my feelings whenever I edited material about a Palestinian issue: I always felt that the image I was creating was somehow sacred. Yet my feelings did not only derive from the fact that Palestine was a symbol of unfulfilled justice, but also from the fact that it was unreachable by our cameras. The footage which I used to construct my images/texts were usually shot by foreign television networks—be it American, European, or Japanese—but never by Arab television networks, which were forbidden access to this much-desired space. I would then insert this [foreign-shot] material into our Arab programs and recycle the images again and again, giving my viewers a glimpse of Palestine. Sometimes locating real footage proved to be problematic, so I look for paintings of the place. This was how I constructed images of home in exile. Filming Palestine in this way made it seem distant, unreal, and divine.


Redefining Identity—Redefining Home In 1996 I decided to change my own map of identity. By that time the PLO and the Jordanian government had signed agreements with Israel. I had a Jordanian passport so I went to the Israeli embassy and applied for a tourist visa to go to Palestine. This was seen by many of my friends and family as an act of abandonment. To them, I shouldn’t have gone to Palestine as a tourist. But I didn’t care; I wanted to be there and see what it is I have longed for. The idea that I could go and point my camera at the landscape, houses, and people was worth everything and anything. And so I went and directed my first film as an independent filmmaker, which was entitled Maysun and Majida (Maysun wa Majida). While researching the project I had to travel throughout the country, and thus I was discovering Palestine. It was something I secretly enjoyed doing but constantly pretended to be familiar with. After all, I should know Palestine—it cannot be an alien subject to me, since I have spent most of my life dreaming of it. But much as I pretended to know Palestine, I often found myself having to face a painful reality. Such was the case when I interviewed people and couldn’t understand their dialect. My obsession with discovering Palestine soon dominated the film. Long shots of landscape took over the film subject. I shot reams and reams of material mainly capturing my Palestine. I chose to start the film with a long shot of Maysun sitting in a green field. I used my own voice-over to introduce the space and the subject by saying: “In this country there are many stories to be told but this is Maysun’s story.” Today, whenever I play back the film I know that there was really no reason to insert my voice into the introductory shot; but it is as if I wanted to claim the space and the subject for myself. My words were there to claim, first, that I knew the country, and second, that I knew the stories of the people here. I was determined not to be a stranger. Silent Return Becoming an observer rather than an active player in my own narrative was not a unique position. Among “the returnees”—that is what we like to call ourselves and what other Palestinians who live in Palestine like to call us—among us, there were many prominent artists who spent their creative careers expressing the pain of exile. On return, many of those writers,




painters, filmmakers, and poets chose silence. Some pretended that they had never returned and carried on producing the theme of exile. Others, who did speak about it chose to praise exile instead of return. Mahmood Darwish, a prominent poet, wrote saying, “The road to home is prettier than the actual arrival.” Many critics argued that these different positions taken by the artists and writers were simply a natural reaction to a political reality, which was imposed upon them by the Oslo peace agreement. They argued that these artists and writers in exile formed a vision of ‘return,’ one based on full justice for the Palestinians, and in which all the refugees will return to their homes. Most importantly these artists envisioned a democratic Palestinian state. The Israel-PLO peace agreement did not fulfill any of these expectations. Critics argued that the actual return was seen as being incomplete. This silent return disturbed me, and it probably disturbed everybody who seeks to return. Could it really be that we all felt like traitors to our friends and relatives who are still in exile and that is why we became unable to negotiate our present reality? But also, isn’t art a form of expression that should be able to present and reconstruct discourses regardless of political situation? For years I have been asking myself these questions. Today, I believe that our return was not silent. We, ‘the returnees,’ belong to two different generations—one that was forced to flee Palestine and another that was born in exile. Yet we all had a clear understanding, both of our identity as Palestinians and of the idea of Palestine as a discourse of exile. Following our return we suddenly found ourselves having to reconstruct our own identity and redefine our own Palestine as a real space. Both of those tasks required a process of observing and learning and relearning, a process which sometimes meant facing demons that each of us had long managed to avoid.

Demons of the Exiled The biggest demons that haunt the dispossessed are the possibilities of change in time and space. That is because the exile seeks to return to the past, something which she knows cannot be achieved if the homeland does not remain as she left it, and if time does not stand still, awaiting her return.


Exiled Palestinians have long recognized their fears, so they firmly held on to their constructed images of ‘Palestine.’ In Iraqi director Kassem Hawal’s film ‘A’id ila Haifa (Return to Haifa, 1982), which was produced by the Palestinian Media Unit in Beirut, those two demons are consciously controlled. The film, based on a novel by Ghassan Kanafani, tells the story of a Palestinian couple who, following the 1967 war, decide to return to Haifa, the city they were forced to flee in 1948. Since access to Palestine was impossible, the scenes of Haifa were shot in Lebanon, a location seen by many to be perfect (it’s been said that Palestinians loved Lebanon because of how much it resembled Palestine). As the couple arrive at their house they are amazed that nothing has changed. True, the house is now occupied by an Israeli woman yet everything inside the house is still as they had left it, even the artificial flowers left behind in a vase. Space and time in their Palestine have stood still, awaiting their return. The couple soon discovers that their own son whom they had left behind and thought to be dead is in fact alive and has been adopted by the Israeli woman who now occupies their home. To them the son symbolizes a betrayal. Yet as long as Palestine continues to wait, his betrayal becomes irrelevant. The couple then returns to the refugee camp in the West Bank where they now live, to tell their children what has happened and to inform them that the house is still intact. Malula tahtafil bi-damariha (Maloula Celebrates Its Destruction, 1983) by Michel Khleifi, takes the idea of a static Palestine a step further. In this documentary film a group of men and women find it impossible to bear the nostalgia for their village, Maloula, so they hire a painter and ask him to paint their village on a bare wall. The whole film is about these villagers sitting around the painting, recalling their life in their lost eden, which is now finally captured in the form of an image. Not only is the image of the village intact, just as they left it, but the painting is fixed in time, bound not to change in the future either. My learning process after returning to Palestine had to be about facing the feared demons. My silent return was very much connected with the fact that Palestine seemed to be changeable and tangible. I started by searching for a static Palestine in Maysun and Majida and later denouncing it in The Place.




Filming Home After five years I was now finally ready to reflect on my own return. This time I did not wish only to construct exile and then to construct Palestine. Instead, I wanted to question the relationship of the dispossessed to the imagined Palestine. I hoped to bring to the surface all my demons and deal with them. I wanted to ask myself what is it that really matters now that I have returned? Since my journey was one of return, the subject of The Place emerged in exile, and so I had to begin my film in exile. But how do I construct exile? How do I set the space in which the exiled is placed? At first I thought of a refugee camp, since it is the main space that absorbed masses of us; it is also the space where many Palestinians were and are born. Yet, for me, a refugee camp could not have told my true story. I, for one, never lived in a refugee camp, so why should I use a camp to construct my own exile? While searching for the right space I questioned what was the most painful thing about exile. I thought about what it was that made me so eager to return? As I remembered my own exile I remembered feeling as if everything around me was temporary. Exile seemed to be more like a bus station where you sit around waiting to leave. The only difference is that in exile the bus supposedly never arrives. Those thoughts made a deserted road going on infinitely seem like the ideal place, since it suggested movement and lack of stability. On this road I placed an actress in her thirties; that is the age of the second generation of the dispossessed. I then defined her space, ‘Out of Heaven.’ By referring to exile as being ‘Out of Heaven’ I was then suggesting that the place from which she was dispossessed is heaven itself. This was a clear reference to the collective memory of Palestinians in exile; I was simply reproducing how we viewed home and how we expressed our longing to be there. Heaven was an image often drawn by Palestinian artists. But the strongest tool in forming our collective memory had been the oral stories about home. It is what our parents told us. “My Parents Used to Say Where We Were It Was Heaven” is a title that dominate the heavenly image of home. I then go to my grandmother’s house, the first place that I actually returned to in 1996. This house is consistent with the fantasy of the dispossessed, since it is intact just as they left it. I mentioned earlier


that exiles are haunted by demons, but after my return I discovered that returnees are haunted by yet other kinds of demons—by the dispossessed who are still in exile and whose pictures dominate my grandmother’s house. My camera observes my new demons, which seem to have had a life here in this house. Still, I, who belong to the second generation of exiles, have a strong desire to survive. It is time for me to redefine my identity. I do so by accepting change in space and time. I then try to settle into my new modern flat, which carries no resemblance to my grandmother’s house. The bare walls of my new flat stand waiting for me to form my memory and not the memory of previous generations. My return has definitely changed how I view myself and how I now view Palestine, which in my mind is no longer magical or divine. But most importantly, Palestine no longer defines me. Instead, it is myself and the people around me whose harsh reality now define me. (From an article in Framework 43, no. 2 (fall 2002), 64–70; © Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan, abridged and modified) 243


Syria Introduction 244

The film history of Syria begins in 1963 when the socialist Ba‘th party took power. Like its neighbor Lebanon, Syria is made up of many different peoples, languages, and religions: Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, and Circassians, who are in turn mainly Muslim (Sunni or Shi‘ite), Christian, Druze, or Alawi. The result is a cultural melting pot in which each culture maintains its own identity. Under the rule of Hafiz Al Asad, a member of the religious minority of the Alawis, a certain political stability was maintained—but without democratic structures. In a situation unusual for a socialist state, private enterprises and state control coexisted for a short time. This was true also of the film industry, which produced commercial films and maintained a relatively high annual film production ratio. Also unusual for a state that has been ruled by a one-party system for nearly forty years is the creation in the larger cities since the autumn of 2000 of so-called debate clubs—private discussion forums, which have sprung up like mushrooms in Damascus, Aleppo, the coastal cities, and even northern Syria. This flourishing of democratic clubs was preceded by a petition signed by a group of ninety-nine prominent intellectuals, artists,


and journalists in September 2000. The signatories listed their demands, which included the lifting of the state of emergency that had been in effect since 1963, the release of all political prisoners, and more democratic election laws. The year before, the new president Bashar Al Asad had, in his inaugural speech, called upon all Syrian citizens to participate in the modernization of the country. Later he even authorized the publication of a satirical magazine.139 But the ‘Damascus Spring’—this atmosphere of openness and movement for change—was quickly crushed. A few of its leaders are still in prison. Yet the development continues. During Operation Protective Shield, the Israeli invasion of the occupied territories in the spring of 2002, people once again took to the streets of Syria to demonstrate. And before the outbreak of the Iraq war, there were boycotts of U.S. goods and daily demonstrations in the streets, always linked with the demand for civil rights from its own regime. During the Iraq war, civil rights activists demanded that the Syrian government start a dialogue with the extraparliamentary opposition before it was forced to do so by a foreign power—the United States. The reorganized Ciné-Club in Damascus, once the major forum of intellectual and artistic life in the1970s, lost its social significance. At its peak the club, with a movie theater and a film library installed at its main office, had up to a thousand members. This meeting place for young artists and intellectuals was founded by filmmakers such as Omar Amiralay and Nabil Al Maleh of Syria and Iraqi Kais Al Zubaidi. Here they showed films from the festivals in Mannheim, Leipzig, and Oberhausen, and were visited by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jacques Tati. They were therefore constantly harassed by the government, and the club activities were finally suspended in 1984. Fourteen years later a group of young filmmakers called upon some of the previous members of the Ciné-Club, and together they set the activities back on track. Without the main office and with no movie theater and library, however, its previous strength could not be restored. Most members see its importance today in connection to other cine-clubs throughout Syria. Nowadays most films come from the workshop of the National Film Organization (NFO). Though the organization is careful to adhere to




political standards, its productions are not propaganda films, as Martin Girod explains in his essay in this book.140 Artistic film in a small, economically weak country such as Syria requires support from the state, as it could not survive with only the financial resources of private film grants. Even in the social realm, the coexistence of traditional and modern forms of life is gradually gaining acceptance. Under the Family and Inheritance Law of 1953, girls can be married at age fourteen and women can file for divorce. Although the illiteracy rate among women has declined in the past few years, it is still twice as high as that among men. Yet nearly half of all university students in Syria are female. In the cities women are occasionally seen in senior positions, as hotel managers, members of parliament, journalists, and CEOs. The first film presentation in Ottoman Syria took place in Aleppo in 1908 on the initiative of a Turkish businessman. Starting in 1912, a coffeehouse in Damascus regularly hosted extremely lucrative film showings.141 Nevertheless, before national independence was declared in 1946 only three feature films appeared in Syria under native direction,142 although the first feature film had already been made in 1928—parallel to the first Egyptian feature film Layla by Aziza Amir. Because Syria did not have any institution as financially strong as Egypt’s Misr Bank in Cairo, four years passed before the second silent film was completed there. At the same time, the first talkie was already causing a sensation in Cairo. Syria’s first talking picture, Nur wa zalam (Light and Darkness) directed by Nazih al-Shahbandar, came out in 1948. But it was not only lack of financial means that kept cinema in Syria a fallow field for so long. The French colonial administration and its restrictive cultural policies led many talented artists and intellectuals to emigrate to Egypt, weakening the artistic life of the country. During the Second World War, private companies founded a Syrian film corporation, with which they hoped to profit from the absence of western film imports. In contrast to Egypt, however, where the film industry experienced its greatest boom in the years during and after the Second World War, mismanagement and lack of experience quickly foiled Syrian plans.143 When Syria formed a political union with Egypt in 1958— the United Arab Republic (UAR)144—a Ministry of Culture and National Guidance was established that included a department for film. But the


entire Syrian market was still monopolized by only a few film traders who imported mainly commercial productions from Egypt and Hollywood.145 Syrian-made full-length films remained limited to individual ventures. This did not change until after the revolution in 1969 when the NFO took over the importation and distribution monopoly. The following year the organization produced its first film made without the aid of foreign expertise; this was followed in 1975 by its first ever color film. The Arab defeat in the Six Day War marked the beginning of the end of pan-Arabism for Syria, which lost the Golan Heights to Israel. Many Arabs felt their own camp also carried some blame for the defeat. Filmmakers and writers began to treat the defeat and its causes more or less openly. In doing so, they directed their criticism mostly against their own regime. Along with the issue of Palestine, which received new impetus from the civil war with the Palestinians in Jordan, social problems moved to the center of attention in film and on television screens. In the face of their dependence on state subventions, however, most filmmakers hid their criticism in vague plots without a clearly defined time and place. The search for new political models received fresh impetus when the first Damascus International Film Festival took place in Damascus in 1972. The term Alternative Cinema (al-Sinima al-badila) was coined and loaded with far more radical demands than those of Cairo’s New Cinema Association (Jama‘at al-sinima al-jadida). But it did not lead very far. After the so-called reform policies of Hafiz Al Asad in 1970, contract work was awarded virtually only by the president for several years. In contrast, commercial film in the country clung to the “Egyptian apron strings,” as Viola Shafik put it,146 far into the 1970s. This was true not only of screenplays, directing, design, and know-how, but also of technical services. Syria lost its most important allies with the disintegration of the Eastern bloc and began to extend its feelers toward the West in order to come out of its political isolation—after all, the United States had placed Syria on its list of ‘rogue states.’ During the second Gulf War in 1990–91, the government in Damascus even dispatched a Syrian contingent to fight in Operation Desert Storm with the Americans against Iraq. Peace talks with Israel produced no significant rapprochement between the two countries. While Syria was willing to negotiate matters relating to the Golan Heights




and access to the Sea of Galilee, Hafiz Al Asad immediately broke off the talks when he realized that US President Bill Clinton had accepted the position of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The state, with its monopoly on film imports, imposed restrictive market regulations on the private sector, which also prohibited film theaters from raising their prices. This policy did not only gradually destroy the private production companies and movie theaters, but also the importance and even the existence of cinema in the everyday lives of Syrian citizens. The new companies that finally emerged have survived only because they focus on producing inexpensive videos and productions for the Gulf states. The state-run television broadcasting company, however, has recently taken over this lucrative market by producing series that have driven even Egyptian productions out of the top rankings. With commercial and professional cleverness, and the help of talented young directors and scriptwriters, including many novelists, they are creating outstanding television series. These productions veer away from Egyptian slapstick and are artistically sophisticated. They address every imaginable popular topic, such as the everyday life of people with disabilities or the lives of peasants in the countryside. For this very reason, the series are extremely popular—as are Syrian’s export hits throughout the Arab world. Syrian television has actually replaced commercial film production. Nevertheless contemporary Syrian film does not suffer from a lack of artistic potential. Instead its greatest adversaries were and still are political and bureaucratic barriers and a lack of funding options. The NFO has never been able to fulfill its production target of six to seven feature films per year; in some years not a single one was produced. All in all, around 150 films have been produced for movie houses since Syrian independence.147 The qualitatively superior Syrian film technology and direction have suffered particularly under uncertain production conditions and bureaucratic decision-making structures. Since the 1980s a new generation of filmmakers has become internationally known. Having studied film in the former socialist states, they have given filmmaking in Syria a completely new artistic character and Syrian cinema owes its good reputation to them. Generally it is notable for


being a cinema of ‘content’ not of ‘stars.’ But even in this generation Syrian cinema remains a world dominated by male names such as Mohamed Malas, Samir Zikra, and Oussama Mohamed. To date, two women have succeeded in making a name for themselves as television directors. One of them has also made a film for the screen. The total national feature film output from 1991 to 2004 amounted to only four coproductions. Oussama Mohamed, one of the most internationally acclaimed Syrian directors, was not able to make a second film (Sanduq al-dunya/Sacrifices) until 2002—fourteen years after his first production.148 His new film, which was shown at Cannes, was coproduced by private French companies. Syrian directors might, however, soon be freed from their dependence on state subsidies and the ensuing delays in production, sometimes lasting years. Coproductions with France in particular is increasing. This is also because Syria is home to one of the most modern facilities for developing film. French producers bring their films more and more often to Syria because the developing technology there is just good enough—and cheaper. Filmmakers—including those from the NFO—have prepared an official concept of how films in the future can be produced, not by the government, but with its assistance. The paper was later even supported by the trade union. Whether the government will go along with this concept remains to be seen. At least it has lifted the state monopoly on film import. The future of Syrian cinema depends on how the country develops under President Bashar Al Asad, who succeeded to the presidency after his father’s death in 1999. After the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, Syria, which was widely blamed for Hariri’s death, began to withdraw its military and secret police from Lebanon under increasing pressure from the United States. Bashar al Asad’s reputation as a reformer is based largely on his interest in the Internet, his modern and non-martial lifestyle, and the fact that he never openly elbowed his way to power. Since he assumed office, an international film festival has been held twice in Damascus. Nevertheless, Asad very quickly and thoroughly disappointed hopes from liberal circles. Birgit Cerha, correspondent for the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, reported in September 2000 during the period of the ‘group of 99,’ “Prime Minister



Mustafo Miro, once praised as a reformer, recently reminded Syrian film producers that their job was to make exclusively tourist and propaganda films to serve the revolution. Intellectual Anton Maqdisi was dismissed as the director of the translation department by Culture Minister Maha Qannout in August because he had dared, in an open letter, to urge the president to change the status of the Syrian people ‘from subjects to citizens.’” Cerha surmises in this connection “that Bashar did not have the experience and political backing to push through his reforms against those whose power would be threatened by changes.”149 No official bans are necessary in Syria to know what is permitted and what is not. An unofficial hint is enough to know whether a book can be sold over or under the shop counter. Even displeasing films are not banned: they are simply not shown.



Few Oases in the Desert Martin Girod 150 The National Film Organization (NFO) was founded in Syria shortly after the Ba‘th Party seized power in 1963. The NFO is responsible for film production, import (a state monopoly), and distribution. It also releases publications on film and, since 1979, has organized a biennial film festival in Damascus. Not unlike the former socialist states of Eastern Europe, in Syria, state-funded films are selected by a special body set up for that purpose. Although private productions are permitted and in recent years television (also state-run) has become active in film production as well, the image of Syrian film is influenced primarily by NFO productions. While political considerations in Syria might also play a role in the selection of film projects, these are by no means propaganda films. They demonstrate a diversity of style and subject matter that do not correspond to the images one associates with state-run cinema. Instead, over the course of years, a policy of cinéma d’auteur has developed, with a clearly cultural focus. Since the 1970s, Syrian film has been characterized largely by one generation of filmmakers, born between 1936 and 1954. Most of these directors learned their trade at VGIK, the Moscow Institute for Cinematography. Some also studied at other Eastern European film schools. But the model for Syrian filmmakers does not appear to be the rather academic style of Mosfilm. If any stylistic common ground can be made out at all, it is more in the realm of imaginative poetic and humorous cinema in the style of a fable. For filmmaking in the former Soviet Union, this corresponds most closely with Georgian cinema.




Syrian film experienced an initial peak in the first half of the 1970s, when Hamid Merei, then director of the NFO, gave a number of younger filmmakers an opportunity to shoot their first films—in a very unbureaucratic way, as is emphasized again and again. Some of the films of this period are now considered classics of Syrian film, including al-Fahd (The Leopard) by Nabil Maleh; al-Makhdu‘un (The Betrayed) by Egyptian director Tawfik Saleh, al-Yazirli by Iraqi-born Kais Al-Zubaidi; Qafr Kasim by Lebanese director Bourhan Alaouie; and the full-length documentary film, al-Hayah al-yawmiya fi qarya suriya (Everyday Life in a Syrian Village) by Omar Amiralay. The latter caused a sensation in Europe, but because of its critical, realistic presentation, it was not well-received in Syria. It still cannot be shown today and probably contributed significantly to Merei’s replacement as head of the NFO. In the 1980s, other prominent scriptwriters appeared with feature film debuts. In the 1990s, the NFO under the direction of Marwan Haddad seemed interested in making it possible for talented directors to continue their work. This continuity in creative work is unfortunately very atypical for Syria. The economic basis for film production is precarious. In the last thirty years less than forty full-length feature films have been produced. In other words, the NFO budget generally sufficed for only one feature film each year. Therefore, even scriptwriter-directors who have been very successful with a film usually wait years for their next opportunity. For the younger generation of filmmakers the prospects are almost nonexistent. As varied as the feature film productions of the NFO are, they all seem to reflect the prevailing trend in Syria of emphasizing an individuality that dissociates itself both from Islamism and from the dominant influence of the West. This cinema cannot necessarily be considered representative, as is obvious to moviegoers. Whereas half of all women on the street wear some form of head covering, a curious look around the audience in the movie theater reveals only around one woman in ten wearing a headscarf. (From: Martin Girod, epd-Film 3/2000, Frankfurt am Main, abridged)


Syria’s Filmmakers AL RAHEB, WAHA (1960–)


aha Al Raheb was born on April 27, 1960 in Cairo, the daughter of Syrian parents. Because her father, a novelist and painter, was in the diplomatic service, Al Raheb spent her school years in various cities, including Moscow and Khartoum. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Damascus, then transferred to film studies at University VIII in Paris. Her thesis dealt with the image of women in Syrian cinema from 1963 to 1986. Waha Al Raheb lives in Damascus, where she works as a television and film director and an actress. She has appeared in several films, including Mohammed Malas’s film Ahlam al-madina (Dreams of the City, 1984). In addition, she has written two screenplays and a book on the feminist presence in Syrian cinema, tracing the situation of Syrian women on film during the period between 1963 and 1986.

Filmography 1987 Nos grand-mères (Our Grandmothers), 35 mm, 30 min (Silver medal at the Kélibia Film Festival, Tunisia, 1987; Bronze medal and Prix des Femmes presented by the Union of Syrian Women at the Damascus Film Festival, 1991) 1997 Perles de verre bleu (Blue Glass Pearls), television film,120 min (Silver Award and Best Actress at the Cairo Festival for Radio & Television Programmes)




2001 2003



Une valise pour la nouvelle année (A Suitcase for the New Year), television film (Silver Award and Special Mention as Director at the Cairo Festival for Radio & Television Programmes) Maison de famille (Family House), a seven-part television series Ru’a halima/Visions chimériques (Dreamy Visions), 35 mm, 125 min (Bronze Torch at the 2004 Pyongyang International Film Festival, North Korea; Best Actress at the 2004 Asila Film Festival, Morocco, and Tanit de Bronze at the 2004 Carthage Film Festival) Tilka allati (This is the One), TV children series (Gold Award at the Cairo Festival for Radio & Television Programmes)

Our Grandmothers Nos grand-mères Syria 1987 Dir/Scr: Waha Al Raheb C: Haitham Qwatli Cast: Nora Murad et al. Prod: General Cinema Authority, Damascus A combination of documentary and fictional scenes, this film features interviews with women in the Syrian countryside, where now and in the past most women in Syria live. These scenes are intercut with a second story line in which a young actress moves through Syrian history searching for different women’s lifestyles and ways of thinking as they have changed over the ages. Dreamy Visions Ru’a halima/Visions chimériques Syria 2003 Dir/Scr: Waha Al Raheb C: Mark Konink Ed: Haythem Koatli


Cast: Nadin Salameh, Rim Ali, Salim Sabri et al. Prod: National Film Organisation Jamila is a dreamy young girl from a middle-class family whose life is dominated by her hardhearted father, himself torn between cruelty and kindness. The district where they live is inhabited by the full range of human personalities. Jamila escapes from her painful existence through visions and daydreams that blend reality with nightmares. Then one day Jamila vanishes.

Film Review The heroine of Waha Al-Raheb’s ambitious and uneven Dreamy Visions is burdened with iconic expectations. Her father named her Jamila Bouhired, after the Algerian freedom fighter, for he cherishes the age of Arab revolutions. He is also an old-school autocrat. The film is a paean to the anguish of youth as well as women under the fist of patriarchal oppression. Its weighty political purpose somewhat hinders the film’s exploration of its characters. Echoes of the Mahfouzian model are sounded in Jamila’s family, but the film advances some daring innovations on its themes. It frankly broaches Jamila’s sexuality, which is the source of the tortured dreams of the film’s title. A childhood experience of sexual abuse, coupled with a fear of her father, have left her wary of men. The psychological burden of being a woman is constantly reinforced by the despair of Arab youth, giving the film a tortured intensity. This leads to a suitably melodramatic conclusion: Jamila leaves home to become a guerrilla fighter. The scenes of dreams and fragmented memories in which reality and fantasy combine to besiege Jamila are creditably innovative. But Dreamy Visions suffers from an uneven mastery of its medium. Rather than using the camera to register gestures and fleeting expressions of violence, Raheb gives us tirades magnified at a painful volume on screen. However laudable her intent to reveal unspoken violence one wishes that the director had not crossed the line into melodrama. (Sonali Pahwa in al-Ahram Weekly, no. 660, October 16–22, 2003; http:// weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/660/cu5.htm on December 29, 2004)



Yemen Introduction 256

“We cannot say ‘history of cinema in Yemen’ since we do not have any cinema at all,” said Saad Hassan Al Zubaidi, a freelance filmmaker in Yemen, in an interview with the English-language Yemen Times.151 Al Zubaidi was the first Yemeni to complete his studies in feature film at the Moscow Film Institute in 1981. Since then he has been able to make only one 60-minute feature film. His main source of income is his company Yemen Cinema, with which he has made more than seventy documentary and promotional films for foreign organizations, Yemeni ministries, and private individuals since 1983. Al Zubaidi’s difficulties during the shooting of his second feature film illustrate the general situation for filmmakers throughout the country, “For example, if one actor was absent, the whole work stopped. Actually they were not real actors. I had to train them myself. I stopped working due to the absence of three actors and due to insufficient funds.” Since the time when the legendary Queen of Sheba lived in Yemen, living conditions in the country have not changed for the better. Conquered by the British in 1839 and officially divided into North and South Yemen after


1905, the country ranks among the conservative, but poor Arab states even after it was reunified in 1990. Indeed it is one of the least developed and most arid countries in the world. Until forty years ago, many parts of the present national territory were cut off from the outside world—radio, telephones, and cars were unknown. Even today Yemen is extremely dependent on foreign aid. Half the Yemeni population is illiterate and lives in poverty, the average life expectancy is about fifty years, and one third of the population is unemployed. The situation for women in this strictly patriarchal tribal culture is dismal, and in some places reminiscent of the Middle Ages. Men with distended cheeks from chewing qat,152 who carry jambiya daggers in their ornate sashes or belts, are still a common sight on the streets, even though President Ali Abdallah Saleh has declared the ‘campaign against qat’ to be a national priority. Dietmar Quist, who has worked in Yemen for ten years as a university professor, and tourism and government advisor, said, “The country’s misery is due more to a ludicrously inefficient, incredibly overblown administration, and to corruption than to the fact that qat is chewed even in offices. . . . What the people here most certainly see right through is the staging of a campaign when the real, dramatic problems of the country lie elsewhere.”153 North Yemen was declared a republic after the revolution in 1962. Until then movie houses had been banned on religious grounds, even though the Imam Ahmed, the political and religious leader of the country, was a film lover and documented many of his trips on film.154 Later the country had two film distribution companies, but no domestic production companies. Living conditions in the country were austere. The illiteracy rate was still over 60 percent in 1990, affecting more women than men. South Yemen remained a British protectorate until 1967. The new People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) nationalized the film industry in 1973 and established the General Film Organization. For years this organization imported films for both North and South Yemen as well as for East Africa. In the 1980s South Yemen opened up increasingly to West European and American investors. Basic civil rights were guaranteed, and the first opposition parties were permitted. This development initially continued after the reunification of the two countries. New laws guaranteed the freedoms of press, speech, and




assembly. More power was granted to the provinces where local municipal authorities were elected for the first time. Political prisoners were released, and a host of new newspapers and magazines appeared. At the same time extensive investments began improving the infrastructure. Especially in previously neglected northeast Yemen, asphalt roads, schools, and health centers were built. The euphoria of these days has since subsided. After tourism declined following two Islamist terrorist attacks in 2000, the country is still struggling for its economic survival. Yemeni journalists may criticize their government—as long as they refrain from mentioning names. The chief editor of the weekly al-Wasat received this well-meant advice; men with guns abducted him in an army vehicle, beat him up, and threatened to cut his tongue, should he dare to speak critically about government officials again. Al-Wasat had published a list of prominent politicians whose children had supposedly been guaranteed scholarships to study abroad. The Association of Journalists condemned the gesture, but at first the authorities did not react at all. Reporters without Frontiers ranks Yemen as 135 out of 167 with respect to freedom of the press—still far ahead of Saudi Arabia. That lead could diminish, however, if new press legislation comes into effect. Prison sentences tailor-made for journalists are to be replaced by ruinous fines, and obstacles to the reestablishment of newspapers or television channels widened and reinforced. Any ‘critique of the head of state’ and ‘monarchs and heads of brother states’ remains explicitly forbidden.155 The Republic of Yemen, however, is the only multi-party state in the Arab world. President Ali Abdallah Saleh has integrated all the important social groups from all over the country into his cabinet. A woman, Amat Al Alim Al Suswa, has become minister for human rights—the only woman in such a position worldwide. Before her, the daughter of an illiterate mother was Yemen’s first female ambassador. The forty-seven-year-old, unveiled and eloquent, is the heroine of all ambitious young Yemenite women. She dares to pinpoint abuses which were considered a “disgrace of our culture” before, like trafficking children. Yet although women have suffrage in Yemen, Amat al-Alim al-Sowsa is still the only woman in parliament—among 300 men. The National Woman’s Committee installed by the government has therefore demanded that one third of


parliament seats be filled by women. President Ali Abdullah Salah has promised ten percent for the time being. Before unification, a politically active woman was unthinkable in the strictly Islamic North Yemen. In the South, however, schoolgirls in the capital Aden in the 1960s demonstrated—unveiled—against the British. Later, during the twenty-three years of the socialist People’s Republic, the South Yemeni women had the best legal status in the region, the lowest birth rate, and the highest degree of education. Yet progress was transitory; the unified Yemen quickly came under the dominance of the North, because its population was four times that of the South. Moreover, the religiously and culturally deep-rooted conservatism of the north was more enduring than the fleeting secularization and modernization of the South.156 One and a half decades later, an Islamic party called Islah (Reform), not the socialists, is the most important opposition group in Yemen. Rauffa Hassan, university professor for mass communication, had to flee the country in 1999 for years. Radical Islamists had collected signatures against her women’s research institute. The university caved in to the pressure and closed the institute. Later her name was on a death list—the only woman among fifty-one men. “But this was not a special honor,” says Hassan. Shaykh Hammoud Al Hitar, judge at the Supreme Court, is heading an extraordinary experiment: a theological dialogue with imprisoned Islamists. The aim is to make them change their minds about their radical views and convince them that Islam teaches tolerance and peace. This program of dialogue is the first of its kind worldwide. Hardly anyone believed such a change could be possible—until the first positive results. Nearly 400 prisoners are said to have so far been convinced of the ‘true Islam’ and released on probation.157 Other things are also in progress. Although women in the countryside and the desert valley of Wadi Hadramut are hidden behind double-glazed windows, mashrabiyas, and curtains, in the captial Sanaa some outspoken women challenge archaic partriarchal structures. When a few years ago lawyer Nabila Al Motfi and two female colleagues founded the first women’ chambers, she put a sign on the office door ‘The pioneers.’ They had been warned: women would never find clients. Yet within a fortnight they had enough customers. Thirty-three-year-old Al Mofti is now a defense lawyer




who is very much in demand. When she addresses the jury in court, she is veiled, her concession to custom.158 By contrast, Fatimah Al-Huraibi, a trained engineer, reads the news on television unveiled. After her nomination for the district elections her well-known face won the most votes. Now she is the head of the district council, which is made up of twenty-five men. Filmmakers can only dream of such success. Very little has so far improved for other filmmakers, who can only dream of similar success stories. “The government is motivated to support us financially only if we are willing to make propaganda films,” complained Saad Hassan Al Zubaidi. Those in power are not interested in artistic works. Films are also still subject to strict state censorship. To date we know of only three Yemeni women who are film directors. They studied overseas, in part still live there, and have created documentaries for Yemeni television or for European organizations. In contemporary Yemen, film and cinema are overshadowed by a state-run television that feeds censored images to the masses. Almost all domestic films, especially videos, are produced for television. The heroic and romantic dramas from the film factories of India are extremely popular, and not just among the numerous Indians who live in Yemen. Particularly in the coastal regions where the weather is as hot and humid as it is on the giant subcontinent, people love Indian films. The similarities in climate make it easy for them to identify with the film heroes, explained director Al Zubaidi, “There are many poor people in Yemen who try to escape from their reality just as in the stories of Indian films.”


Yemen’s Filmmakers AL SALAMI, KHADIJA (1966–)


hadija Al Salami was born on November 11, 1966 in the village of Mabar in North Yemen. At the age of eleven she started hosting a weekly children’s program for Yemen Television in Sanaa. Later she presented cultural programs and a nightly news bulletin. After studying film production and communication in the United States, she worked as a program director for Radio Orient in Paris where she now lives as a documentary filmmaker and producer. She was also the director of the Yemeni Communication Center, and since 1993 she has been the public relations representative for the Yemen embassy.

Filmography (selection–beta SP) 1990 Mar’a fi Yemen/Femmes du Yémen (Women in Yemen), 24 min 1991 Hadramawt, multaqa al-hadarat/Hadramout, carrefour des civilisations (Hadramawt, Crossroads of Cultures), 45 min 1997 Ard al-saba/Terre de Saba (Land of Saba), 55min 2004 al-Mar’a wa-l dimuqratiya fi-l Yemen/Les femmes et la démocratie au Yémen (Women and Democracy in Yemen), 54 min 2005 al-Ghariba fi madinatiha/Une étrangère dans sa ville/ A Stranger in Her City, 28 min



A Stranger in Her City France 2005 Dir/Scr/Prod: Khadija Al Salami C: Abdel Karim Al Chaimi, Khadija Al Salami S: Nabila Aoun Ed: Yehya Essami Defying the patriarchal culture of her country, Najmia, whose name means ‘little star,’ decides not to wear a veil. The thirteen-year-old also rides a bicycle—an activity forbidden for girls in Yemen. Yet she is full of spontaneity and optimism amid the rebuffing and slander that fill her daily life because of these choices.




The Maghreb 263

Algeria Introduction Algerian cinema is a child of the war of liberation against the French colonial power. In their eight-year struggle between 1954 and 1962 Algerians discovered the camera as a weapon. Some of them formed a film unit to document images for the Algerian government-in-exile in Tunis to use them to counter the propaganda of the colonial cinema. More recently, it has been an internal enemy that refuses to let the country come to rest. The fundamentalist terror that struck Algeria in the early 1990s, and which has since cost the lives of 200,000 people has also had a devastating impact on the artistic climate in the country. Many filmmakers have turned their backs on their homeland out of fear for their lives and have had success with their films in other countries.



The situation has calmed down since the government under Abdelaziz Bouteflika negotiated a pact of national reconciliation with the Islamists, and consequently the FIS (Front Islamique du Salut), the Islamic Salvation Front, continued to lose popular support. In March 2001, however, a new massacre occurred not far from the capital city, purportedly by Islamists, and shortly afterward there was a Berber uprising in the Kabylia region. “At least in the large cities it is possible to shoot a film outdoors without risking your life,” said filmmaker and producer Belkacem Hadjadj.159 People are no longer afraid to go out on the streets. “You want to pinch yourself in disbelief because it’s hard to trust normal everyday life,” commented Samuel Schirmbeck, a correspondent for the German television company ARD.160 “It’s like after a war and yet it’s completely different because you don’t see any destroyed buildings.” The facades are all still intact—it is the souls of the people that have suffered enormous damage. In 1986 Algeria had more than 400 movie theaters. Only a few dozen are still standing today. The number of viewers has dropped from 40 million to 50,000,161 since even movie theaters became targets for attacks by fundamentalists who considered films shown there to be immoral. The film archive Cinémathèque Algérienne and its director, Boudjmaa Karèche, appear like a bastion in hostile territory. “The heart and soul of this institution since 1978, this former law student-turned-cineast has made it a point of honor never to close the cinema’s doors,” wrote Jacques Mandelbaum162—all the more so now that movie theaters in the region have been blown up one after the other. Not once did Boudjmaa Karèche let himself be intimidated, not even when his film archive was targeted by an attack—fortunately without causing major damage. Founded shortly after national independence was declared in 1962, the Cinémathèque today houses 15,000 film copies (mostly feature films). It is thus the largest institution of its kind in the Third World and the only institution in Algeria not subject to censorship. Although it receives state subventions, the money suffices at most to repair a few movie house seats but certainly not to restore old film copies, much less purchase new films. Karèche recorded videos during the last few years when foreign films could no longer be brought into the country. Algeria’s cultural life today is a shadow of its former self. One hundred years have passed since the colonial rulers, and in their wake the French film


pioneers, took possession of the country. In 1899 Félix Mesguich, a native Algerian, was commissioned by the Lumière Brothers to film landscapes. In 1908 the colonial government had the first movie houses built and in 1911 it began to commission documentary propaganda films. Other types of documentaries appeared only after 1957 with a new generation of filmmakers. Of the roughly 200 feature films produced in the Maghreb during the colonial period, only eleven were made by native directors, and not one of them in Algeria. In contrast to the British in Egypt, the French colonial rulers in the Maghreb insisted on the unconditional assimilation of the native population. French became the official language and the traditional Algerian school system was replaced by a French one. On May 8, 1945, the end of the Second World War, an uprising took place in which thousands of Algerians were killed. From then on French films avoided depictions of anything resembling the social and political reality in their colonies. On the day Algerian independence was declared, France left behind hardly any usable technical infrastructure. The new Algerian government nationalized the film industry in 1964 and soon afterward founded the Office National pour le Commerce et l’Industrie Cinématique (ONCIC). This, however, resulted in a fiveyear dispute with the US distribution monopoly. Not until 1974 was the ONCIC able to obtain the right to exclusive control over importation and distribution. It did this by supplying Algerian cinemas only with films it had acquired from socialist countries and Western Europe before nationalization, thereby circumventing the boycott by the large US distribution companies. For the first time a Third World country had won a test of strength with overseas distribution giants. After achieving independence, the struggle for liberation remained the dominant theme in Algerian films. Even the socialist revolution in 1965 that installed Houari Boumedienne as president did not really change this at first. Two years later the first Algerian feature film Le vent des Aurès (Rih al-awras) by Mohamed Lakhdar-Amina was presented at Cannes and awarded Best First Work. Some filmmakers borrowed from commercial genres, packed social criticism into comedies, or let heroic Algerian resistance fighters take care of law and order in their films in the style of American westerns. This




allowed filmmakers to attempt to satisfy ways of seeing shaped by colonial cinema. Another great help in this respect was the national network of ciné clubs, which were established in the colonial period and modeled after French film clubs. Together with ciné buses, they played an important role in spreading socialist land reform themes to rural areas through propaganda films. Like the movie houses, ciné clubs have also ceased to exist. The socialist revolution prepared the groundwork, but only the reform policies of the 1970s, most notably the socialist agricultural reform of 1971, expanded the range of topics open to filmmakers. The idea of a sinima djidid (new cinema) was born—filmmaking as a means to write history and create a new society that would also break new ground aesthetically and stylistically. Largely lay actors (rather than professional actors) were used in an attempt at greater authenticity. New topics came to the fore—conflicts between urban and rural life, bureaucracy, crises in the cities (housing shortages, unemployment), emigration, as well as the issue of equal rights and women’s liberation. Socialist land reform brought significant changes. Rapid mechanization guaranteed families a minimum income regardless of their yield. As a result, however, women in Algeria—in contrast to neighboring countries—were no longer in demand as fieldworkers. This had drastic consequences for the women, as journalist Sabine Kebir explains:163 “Female peasants who used to work unveiled in the fields now suddenly found themselves shut up in their homes. Their traditional meeting places—springs, wells, steam baths—were replaced by home water faucets before the women could establish new places of communication.” The resulting social isolation gives reason to wonder, Kebir continues, why women yearn for a past that seemed more harmonious, and therefore join Islamic movements: “Islamism in the Maghreb offers them a new equality in religion. Women are entitled to a small, sealed-off area in the mosques. This permits women who are isolated in their homes by Islamic law to win back a tiny public space. Only educated women are generally aware that this is not the return to true identity as proclaimed by the Islamists.” In fact, societies in the Maghreb have always been multicultural. They have their roots in a mixed Arab-Berber culture. Many regions still uphold


traditional Berber customs in which women have a certain degree of autonomy, at least in their sexuality. These customs range from trial marriages in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains to the right to divorce among the Tuareg. The Algerian women’s movement flourished briefly in the 1980s, triggered by a new family law that put women’s rights at the discretion of a male ‘scholar.’ According to the Code de la famille the husband, among others, is allowed to forbid his wife to work outside the house. A woman needs the consent of a male tutor when she wants to marry or get a divorce. If a couple separate, the mother may obtain custody, but not the guardianship of her children; the couple’s flat belongs to the husband. After the law was passed in 1984, women from all classes of society founded the first independent women’s organization APEDEL (Association for the Equality of Men and Women in the Eyes of the Law). Its goal was to have the law repealed. When the new constitution in 1989 guaranteed Algerians the right to found associations and political parties, another thirty feminist organizations were founded. On International Women’s Day in 1991, 10,000 women marched through Algiers; four years later 50,000 women marched in protest against discriminatory laws and fundamentalist terrorism. In the election year of 1991 they strove in particular to defeat Article 54 of the election code, which permitted men to vote on behalf of their female relatives. On the eve of the election the constitutional court yielded to the women’s demands and repealed Article 54. But there was no reason to stay hopeful. With its bloody crushing of the youth unrest of 1988, the government sowed the seeds of fundamentalist terror, which proliferated after President Mohamed Boudiaf was assassinated in 1992. The civil war began after the parliamentary elections in December 1991. When it became clear that the FIS would win, the army forced the government in a putsch-like coup to annul the second ballot, imposed a state of emergency, and outlawed the FIS. Since then the regime and the Islamists who went underground have been engaged in a bloody battle. More and more information has been surfacing, however, indicating that many of the atrocities attributed to Islamist terrorists in the following years were actually committed by Algerian security forces and the secret police.164




Filmmaker Assia Djebar described this period which she herself lived through:165 “When the FIS was recognized in February 1989 as a legal political party contrary to the constitution, the women had to join together. Of course, I mean women with a modern lifestyle, who back then numbered not hundreds but thousands throughout the country, not only in Algiers or the large cities. Women who are now between thirty and fifty years of age worked and still work in every area of Algerian society. These women and their organizations immediately realized that their status was threatened when they heard the openly misogynist speeches of the FIS leaders. The period of violence finally began when author Taahar Djaout was murdered, because the Islamists first turned against the intellectuals, journalists, professors, and physicians. They threatened all women who worked and lived independently. Whether teachers or secretaries in a town hall, women everywhere became targets. Women working as journalists in particular received letters with death threats. They had to protect themselves and go into hiding. “In reality, a few women who lived in the cities during the Algerian War [of Independence, 1954–62] were able to move about freely and attend schools. Although very few in number, they joined the partisans. Other women fought in the battle for Algiers, and some became famous. I myself wanted to document the memories of these women from this period in my film La Nouba, but I turned instead to simple peasant women, because I knew the majority of women who participated in and supported the liberation struggle were illiterate peasants. Later in the 1980s it was often said in Europe that Algerian women who participated in the liberation struggle were sent back to their kitchens. That’s not true. At any rate, it was not true for most of the urban women. It happened more to the women in the countryside—peasants who didn’t have any intellectual qualifications to pursue a career and live independently. These women were very frustrated after national independence was achieved because they too had fought and spent time in prison. And the leading freedom fighters met them with mistrust when they came into the villages, because they thought that no one marries a woman who is a fighter, because she had been in the company of other men. That’s the way it was. While shooting my film, I met many women in their forties. The government party FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) still placed them on the candidate lists in


the villages and they still had a representative role. But they were opposed by the strict Muslim tradition in the countryside. Of course, the women were heroes, but their lives as women were taken from them.” The problems in the country’s cultural infrastructure began long before fundamentalist terrorism. They stem from mismanagement, bureaucracy, and the financial deficits that have accompanied the nationalization of the film industry. Coproductions with television were more common in Algeria than in other Maghreb countries. Private productions started only in the early 1990s. At the end of the decade, a shortage in funds then forced all state-run film institutions to close. Meanwhile even television lacks the funds for coproductions. Film production, distribution, and importation lie in the hands of only three private companies. Since even television no longer has the resources necessary for coproductions, producers are dependent on foreign films and sponsors. Only with their support was filmmaker Mohamed Chouikh able to organize a film festival in Timimoun, in the middle of the Sahara.166 Even filmmaker Belkacem Hadjadj, who lives in Brussels, produced his own film Machaho (1996)—the first film in the Berber language. Machaho is one of only three films that have been produced in Algeria in the last five years. There has been a color film laboratory in the country since 1991, but the state refuses to let filmmakers use the technical equipment of the now defunct institutions. There is also a subsidy fund at the culture ministry, but its coffers are empty. Of six feature film projects that were waiting for funding in the year 2000, only two of them have received any assistance to date.167 In view of this dismal situation, the fact that the city of Algiers has renovated six movie houses offers a ray of hope. Since the country’s independence, around one hundred films for the cinema have been made in Algeria,168 only three of them by a woman. Most Algerian filmmakers still live in exile; in France, the second and third generation of North African immigrants are now making films. A recurrent theme in these films are the varied problems of integration. Cinéma Beur has long since developed into a film genre in its own right. Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been Algeria’s president since 1999. He has succeeded in achieving “a noted improvement in Algeria’s international




image. This is even more the case since the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington. Since then the Algerian government and the heads of the army and secret service in particular have been courted by the governments in the United States and a few EU states, especially France, and supported with money, logistic resources, and weapons.”169 Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former officer in the Algerian army, has denounced the real power relations in the country through the vehicle of a detective-novel trilogy written under the pseudonym Yasmina Khadra.170 He could disclose his pseudonym only after going into exile in France with his family. The major human rights violations that armed Islamist groups as well as state security forces committed in the conflict during the 1990s have been neither accounted for nor prosecuted. “If you base judgment on values such as democracy, equality before the law, or at least efforts to strive for social justice,” wrote Hasel, “then the Algerian government under the heavy influence of army leaders has utterly failed.” In the parliamentary elections in May 2002, the former government party FLN still won an outstanding victory. Five women sit in the government, including Khalida Toumi, Minister of Culture and Communications. Once on the death list of the FIS, at the time with ex-husband’s surname, Messaoudi, the former mathematics teacher went underground in the 1990s and has become a symbolic figure of resistance to fundamentalism. But women’s rights activists do not want to rely on her influence and support in their struggle against the antiquated family law, even less so on the expressed intentions of President Bouteflika, who repeated his promise to revise the law after his re-election in April 2004. Women’s rights activists are instead taking the offensive. Under the umbrella of a joint Association for the Defense and Promotion of Women’s Rights (Association pour la Défense et Promotion desDroits des Femmes), they won male and female supporters from the entire population for their nationwide campaign “Twenty ans barakat” (Twenty years are enough). Filmmaker Djamila Amzal attacked the law in her short feature Madam Minister’s Guardian (2004). Sympathizing male and female journalists showed video clips on state-run television that promoted a modern family law. On public radio, songs from a CD recorded by artists in support of women’s rights can be heard in Arabic, French, and Berber. “The terror of the past few years has brought about


something good,” said women’s rights activist Miriem Belaala. “We Algerian women finally understood that we must defend ourselves and fight for our rights.” One woman who has consistently put this lesson into practice is the former medium-distance runner Hassiba Boulmerka. In 1992 she won the Olympic gold medal for the women’s 1500 meters in Barcelona. All of Algeria basked in the glory of her success. But on the road to success, the religious Muslim had to defend herself against the animosity of religious fanatics. She received death threats almost daily. Today the thirty-five-yearold manages her own distribution firm for pharmaceutical drugs in Algeria. Her sixty-five employees are women who would otherwise probably have been failures in society: divorcees, outcasts, former athletes who did not go as far as she herself did.171 For many women, Hassiba Boulmerka is one of the greatest bearers of hope for a modern Algeria.



Algeria’s Filmmakers ALBOU, KARIN (1968–)



arin Albou was born in Paris on March 12, 1968, the daughter of a French mother and an Algerian Jewish father. She studied acting, dance, French literature, Hebrew, and Arabic. Later, she enrolled in a film school in Paris, from which she graduated in 1992. In the same year she toured Algeria with a theater group. She has taught direction at the EICAR (École Internationale de Création Audiovisuelle et de Réalisation) film school in Paris since 1999.

Filmography 1992 Chut (Psst!), short film about a sexually abused girl (Prize from the television program Ciné-Cinéma for the best directing debut) 1993 Mon pays m’a quitté/My Country Left Me, documentary about a group of young Tunisian Jews, 52 min 1998 al-‘Id al-kabir/Al Aid El Kebir (The Big Feast), 35 mm, 34 min (Grand Prix winner at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, 1999) 2001 L’innocente (The Innocent), 35 mm, 90 min 2005 La petite Jérusalem/Little Jerusalem, 35 mm, 96 min (Grand Prix du Meilleur Scénariste for the screenplay, Paris 2004)


The Big Feast al-‘Id al-kabir/Al Aid El Kebir France/Algeria 1998 Dir/Scr: Karin Albou C: Michel Sourioux S: Jean-Francois Mabire Ed. Barbara Bascou Cast: Soria Moufakkir, Smail Mekki, Hichem Mesbah et al. Prod: Gloria Films, Paris In a town in eastern Algeria marked by political tensions, a family is preparing to celebrate the traditional al-‘Id al-kabir.172 The father is dying and still hopes to marry off his youngest daughter. In this somber atmosphere, Hanifa chooses the impossible—her love for her brotherin-law. Little Jerusalem La petite Jérusalem France 2005 Dir/Scr: Karin Albou S: Jean-Francois Mabire, Steven Ghouti C: Laurent Brunet Ed: Christiane Lack M: Cyril Morin Cast: Fanny Valette, Elsa Zylberstein, Bruno Todeschini et al. Prod: Gloria Films, Film par Film


Nicknamed ‘Little Jerusalem,’ the Parisian suburb of Sarcelle is populated mostly by Jewish emigrants. Laura, a philosophy student, is thrust into the emotionally disquieting whirlpool of the principles of religious law and philosophy, which open windows on another worldview as well as another lifestyle. While her sister is grappling with her marital problems, Laura is experiencing an emotional and sensual awakening. A desire for new experiences shakes her firm beliefs and sound principles.



Film Reviews Juxtaposing the most ancient of rituals with absolutely modern concerns, pic sharply portrays a low-income suburb outside Paris that, for most viewers, will be a visit to another planet. Laura’s widowed mother is a kindly but superstitious matriarch who was born and raised in Tunisia. Also living in the modest apartment are Laura’s sister Mathilde, her husband Ariel and their four young children. While Laura wears her long dark hair uncovered, Mathilde covers hers with an opaque snood at home and a wig in the outside world. Mathilde follows religious law to the letter; Laura is respectful of her heritage but near fanatical in her study of philosophy, sometimes staying up all night to read Kant. When she’s not studying or attending the university classes in central Paris, Laura has a job on the cleaning crew at the school where Mathilde teaches Hebrew to children. Djamel, an exiled Algerian Muslim, works the same shift. Laura’s reading and reflection have led her to conclude that romantic love is a harmful illusion that can only lead to a loss of personal freedom. But the way Djamel looks at her throws her intellectual and spiritual beliefs for a loop. Centered on people of limited means, pic intelligently explores the ways in which the demands of a tightly knit religious community can be stifling or liberating depending on one’s own temperament. Highlights include scenes at the ritual baths where an unnamed woman wonderfully played by Aurore Clement reminds sexually reserved Mathilde that God wants women to have a blast in the bedroom, assuring her that Jewish law is in favor of sexual pleasure—within the confines of marriage. (Lisa Nesselson in Variety, May 18, 2005 and http://www.variety.com/ review/VE1117927138?categoryid=1929&cs=1&s=h&p=0 on August 18, 2005) In her debut feature, Karin Albou shows the matter-of-fact specter of anti-Semitism in contemporary France and explores intense emotional disarray. This intensely charming movie has been presented at the Festival of Cannes 2005 at the ‘Critics Week’ and is definitely a conversation starter for festivals in search of new talent. (festival du film européen Bruxelles/europees filmfestival Brussels, July 1– 9, 2005; http://www.fffb.be/2005/en/films/jerusalem.html on August 18, 2005)


Perhaps the debut film that deals most trenchantly with the problems of women, however, is Karin Albou‘s first dramatic feature, “Little Jerusalem.” The protagonist, Laura, is a philosophy student who chafes at cultural constraints but does not dare, at first, to break loose from them —even when she falls in love with an Algerian. Rather than becoming a French version of “West Side Story,” the film is warm and tolerant in its outlook. (Laura Winters in Special to The Washington Post, May 22, 2005; http:// www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/20/AR20050 52000767_2.html)



amina Bachir-Chouikh was born on March 20, 1954 in Algiers. At the Centre National du Cinéma she specialized in editing. She has worked with numerous Algerian directors and written several screenplays. In 1996 she began working on the screenplay for her debut film Rachida, which could not be completed until five years later due to lack of funding. To date, it is the only Algerian film to have been screened at the Cannes International Film Festival in the “Un certain regard” section. Yamina Bachir-Chouikh lived in Algiers during the phase of Islamist terrorism in the 1990s.

Filmography 2002 Rachida, 35 mm, 100 min (the Audience Award and Golden Unicorn for best feature film at the Amiens International Film Festival; Satyajit Ray Award at the London Film Festival; Cinema of the South Award at the 2nd Film Festival at Marrakech; Golden Bayard and Youth Jury Award—Special Mention at the Namur International Festival of French-Speaking Film, Golden Spike at the Valladolid International Film Festival)



Rachida France/Algeria 2002 Dir/Scr: Yamina Bachir C: Mustapha Belmihoub S: Rachid Bouaffia, Martin Boisseau Ed: Cécile Anréotti M: Anne-Olga de Pass Cast: Ibtissem Djouadi, Bahia Rachedi, Hamid Remas et al. Prod: Arte France Cinéma, Ciel Production, Ciné-Sud Promotion/Thierry Lenouvel


A young teacher, Rachida, is on her way to school when she is held up by terrorists in a poor district in Algiers. They try to force Rachida to plant a bomb in her school. When she refuses, the gang leader shoots her and leaves her to die. In contrast to the true story that inspired the filmmaker, that of Zakia Guessab, the young teacher in the film does not die. Rachida survives and flees with her mother to the countryside. But the atrocities of Islamist terrorists are everywhere.

About the Film Challenging and moving. About the horrors of war and the threat of terror, filmed, seen, and experienced primarily from a women’s perspective. It is one of the first films from Algeria in years. For years, it was practically impossible to make a film in Algeria; filmmakers could do little else than shoot in French locations. Recently, however, the situation has improved somewhat. . . . Rachida is a moving story about a community, especially about the women in this community who live under the threat of terror. It’s a world where you can be kidnapped, raped, shot, where an unmarried woman with a scar on her belly can’t go to a bathhouse because people might think she has had a Caesarean. (Rotterdam International Film Festival, 2002; http://www.filmfestival rotterdam.com/2003/en/film/11030.html on March 12, 2003 and http://www.filmfestivalrotterdam.com/en/film/11030.html on March 20, 2005)


From Interviews with Yamina Bachir-Chouikh The whole drama of the situation in Algeria is presented to us through the account of the everyday life of this village. YBC: When I started to get interested in this subject, toward the end of 1996, it was above all the cities that were being affected. It was more ‘secure’ to live in a village. Then the locus of the violence shifted. Through the microcosm of a small village, I was able to enter into the characters with greater precision; into the fear as it is experienced in everyday life. It is impossible to imagine this terror if you haven’t lived through it. I spent sleepless nights moving from one window to the next, on guard, scared stiff, asking myself, “When are they going to arrive?” You have to take every day as it comes. In the morning, you tremble as you watch your kids leave for school. “How many children are going to return home this evening?” You have to control your fear, overcome it. You mustn’t communicate it, to prevent it from turning into a psychosis. And above all, in order to keep on living, even if just from day to day, you mustn’t throw in the towel, but you must continue to live. When Rachida is terrorized for a second time in the village, her mother tells her, “Courage is the child of fear.” Through Rachida and her mother, you paint a portrait of two wounded women. YBC: In fact, I show three generations of women: there is Rachida, her mother, and little Kalima, who dreams of going to the moon. She, Kalima, represents the Algeria of tomorrow. Rachida suffers from the violence of terrorism; her mother had suffered from a different kind of violence, the violence of society, of tradition. She is a divorcée, a pariah. She had left her husband when he had taken another wife, yet she is the one who is subjected to scandal-mongering. “A divorcée remains a divorcée, even if she is a saint,” she says. Rachida is a young modern woman. She is a child of her times: she is carefree, cheerful, likes to wear make-up, has a boyfriend. She doesn’t want to ask herself questions, like a lot of Algerians at the time. When the terrorist activities began, everyone thought that they were outside the conflict. In this state of terror and incomprehension, one could always find a justification for an assassination. If they killed this person, then he must have done something. We came up with excuses, not for the dead person, but for the terrorists! It’s unbelievable, but that’s how



it was. No one dared to raise their voice. We mistrusted one another, our own fathers, brothers, cousins. Society began to be built upon suspicion. It is very difficult to pursue one’s daily life in such a poisoned atmosphere. Rachida is no militant. She just wants a normal life.


We see the mother praying, but not Rachida. YBC: Yes, but this isn’t meant to be a sign of emancipation on Rachida’s part. Islam is lived culturally. I don’t want to fall into the Manicheanism of “In the name of Allah,” etc.; otherwise I would have written a thesis. I think that the conflict goes beyond religion. I always saw my mother praying; women of her generation pray. Rachida doesn’t wear a headscarf; she doesn’t pray. To the young, veiled schoolmistress who reproaches her for not wearing the hijab, she responds, “God is merciful and kind, but he also knows how to punish those who would put themselves in his place.” This phrase, which I didn’t invent, is from the Qur’an. I wanted to show that this girl is educated. She knows the precepts; you can’t fool her. On this point, it is very important to make a distinction between fundamentalists and Islamists. Fundamentalism exists within all religions and ideologies. It is not a subject that is exclusive to Algeria. Rachida is a young teacher. The school is a symbolic location in the film. YBC: It is important to see the connection between this story and the school, the place where young minds are formed. One mustn’t forget that these young indoctrinated people are often children of fourteen or fifteen. We think of a fundamentalist terrorist as someone wearing a beard and a kaftan. This isn’t the reality. In Algeria, one is more afraid of a boy who looks like everybody else, with an earring, Nikes, and jeans. Recently, the young people who opened fire on people at a beach were dressed in Bermuda shorts and carrying beach towels. That’s the terrorist system— they have to blend in with the crowd. Those people are beautiful, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re our children! You also show the weight of tradition. Rachida refuses to go to the hammam out of fear that people will the think that her wound is a scar from a Caesarean section.


YBC: Those are other forms of violence that I think are important to portray. Rachida has been wounded to the core. Nevertheless, she cannot disregard the barriers imposed on her by this society. After this drama, she also refuses to see her fiancé again. She can no longer imagine herself leading a normal woman’s life, having a normal future. A father repudiates his daughter after she was kidnapped and raped. YBC: I don’t blame the father. Algerian society has been turned upside down. This man has been emasculated by other men; they have damaged his honor. He is incapable of protecting his daughter, and his honor is passed on through her. He is incapable of defending his conception of the code of honor. He is also a victim of a society, of traditions and rules that he himself had put in place and which other men have broken. I tried not to judge but to show the paradoxes and the rifts in these people, who are torn between tradition and their desire to survive. The nephew of the young girl who was raped and who had tried to defend her is beaten up by other children. YBC: The question regarding this generation has already been posed, “Do the children want to follow the pattern that people are trying to impose on them, or—on the contrary—do they want to be able to choose another model of society?” This child defends his aunt, who was raped; the other children cruelly beat him up in the name of that social pattern. And it’s a girl who has the courage to come and rescue her! YBC: Yes, because I believe that a society is always a kind of partnership: between this child who defends his aunt, and this little girl who, while aware of her condition as a female, still dreams of going to the moon. Rachida was the only Algerian film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. What is the state of Algerian cinema at the present time?



YBC: Can we even speak of an Algerian cinema when a film only comes out once every six years?! Those rare projects that do get developed only do so thanks to individual initiative. The government doesn’t have a cultural policy, much less a cinematographic one. There is no film school, just a drama school, which incidentally is where I found Ibtissème Djouadi, the young actress who plays Rachida. You dedicate your film to your brother Muhammad, to Zakia Guessab, and to all the others. YBC: My brother was one of the numerous victims of the situation in Algeria. Zakia was the inspiration for the character of the schoolmistress. And there are all the others. I had the chance to express myself, to tell a story based on a painful reality, but I don’t feel that I have the right to monopolize this pain. (From an interview with Jean-Yves Gaillac in the press materials on the film) 280

Rachida’s mother cries: “What kind of religion gives people permission to kill like this?” Do people in Algeria today still believe in the terrorists’ religious faith? YB: Muslim fundamentalists have played on people’s religious feelings, but people aren’t fooled any more. It is mainly young people who have fallen into the trap of this discourse, because they no longer have any reference points. This spurned and forgotten generation of youth felt that someone was listening to and respecting them for the first time. Once they entered this movement, there was no turning back. It’s a failure on the part of Algerian society that our youth have become involved in this most horrible barbarity. The fighters we see in your film are extremely young. YB: They’re just kids! They’re cannon fodder. Other people came and tricked them, pushing them to the extreme. This was possible because the time was ripe for them to be deceived yet again. Terrorists aren’t the stereotypical tousle-haired guys with big beards and gleaming eyes. No, they are youngsters, they are good-looking, they are our children who


have been taught hatred and have become involved in something that is beyond them. Do you think your film risks giving the impression that there is no way out? YB: There is a lot of hope in the film. But I simply say that I don’t have the answers. If there wasn’t any hope, the country would have descended into total chaos. All these children, who in real life are just as they are in the film, have prevented the country from foundering. It’s not my role to judge. I wanted to speak about what I was feeling, what hurt me, and what I found unjust. The film’s ending seems to call for the restoration of a school that promotes the notion of citizenship. YB: We have no right to indoctrinate children. Children are not bad; they turn bad because it is instilled in them. I am hopeful that we can teach them something other than hatred and rejection of the other. Your main character is a woman, which brings to mind Rachida Krim’s Sous les pieds des femmes and a discussion with René Vautier173 that if women had been given the right to speak out more in Algeria, things would be different today. Is that something that your film tries to suggest? YB: I don’t want to reduce the Algerian problem to the segregation imposed on women. It is true that it’s a huge issue, but I don’t think that only women are affected by it. Perhaps I chose a woman as my main character because I am a woman and a mother, and because women give life, not death. I didn’t want my discourse to be feminine at all. It is true that women and children are the first to pay in all the conflicts in the world. Men are afraid of women; they are also afraid of the feminine part of themselves; hence this segregation. But I never meant to say that only women suffer in Algeria, or that it is only women who are courageous. It is the anonymous masses depicted in my film who are brave and who swell the lists of the dead. The Arab Film Biennial in Paris in 2002 screened a number of films that referred to the denial of sexuality in Algeria, suggesting that not recognizing our duality could be a factor that generates violence.



YB: These are ancient, age-old systems. They diminished somewhat in the West with the advent of democracy, but deep down, our viewpoint has not changed. The problem is that we are too closed up in ourselves and in our inflexibility, that we value things that aren’t in keeping with the times anymore. Women are considered weak all over the world, not just in Muslim societies; it’s just that in certain countries laws have been made and things have evolved. Things have yet to change in our country. You can’t change ancient ways by making a film. It takes time. We will manage. We won’t change things by confronting them head on. Only with intelligence.


Your character claims to be in exile in her own country. What can people trust in today? YB: Rachida isn’t alone. There’s her mother, the little girl who dreams of escaping to the moon, the young man who loves, for example. The problem is for us to create a harmony, each with his or her hopes and visions. The common link is our quest to be ourselves, to be free inside, to be able to think as we wish and not be considered a pariah or an outcast because we don’t fit into the mold people try to fit us into. I start out with a teacher and a school; everything is built from there. Society entrusts its children, who are blank pages, to schools. The media mentions Algeria less and less. Sometimes one gets the impression that the terror is history, a thing of the past. Were you worried about losing out on topicality by choosing a film that took so long to make? YB: No, because the news hasn’t changed, even if it is on a smaller scale now. I didn’t want to follow the news; I wanted to speak about violence and hope. I can’t see any difference between what’s going on in Algeria and what’s going on in Palestine today—in the means used when one group believes that the other group doesn’t have the right to exist. I still find current affairs in Algeria very painful, but the question isn’t whether this violence is outdated or not. It’s our planet that will be in danger if we continue to reject one another. (Interview by Olivier Barlet, Cannes, May 2002; http://www.africultu res.com/index.asp?menu=revue_affiche_article&no=2356&rech=1 of March 20, 2005)


Film Reviews In the end, children walk to school through the devastated village. A dark allegory for the future, since one asks oneself how these children are going to be able to survive in a country that has been decimated by death. On the blackboard, Rachida writes “topic of today’s lesson” and then interrupts her gesture. There is no lesson to give, just the confrontation with her shattered gaze afforded by the camera, which cuts to the grave heart of the matter while still retaining a belief in the beauty of the world. (Charles Tesson in Cahiers du Cinéma, January 2003) Movingly and usefully, it shows, despite some obvious imperfections, the suffering of the common people through characters who touch us and with whom we share this terror that grips them. Free of any militancy, the director tells of the horrors of everyday life for Algerians. She puts a face on those terrorists who appear out of nowhere and who stop at nothing, neither the slaughter of innocent people nor the rape of young girls. (Danielle Attalie in Le Journal du Dimanche, January 5, 2003) Criticizing Rachida for a certain tendency to academicism is akin to an unfair imputation of bad faith. Rather, it is with courage and prudence, tact and great energy that Yamina Bachir-Chouikh has tackled a subject which today seems to be at the unhappy epicenter of an Algerian cinema that is economically devastated but determined to be reborn. (Bertrand Loutte in Les Inrockuptibles, January 8, 2003) The film generally refrains from showing acts of violence. No blood spatters and we do not become witnesses to any atrocities. We see only the before and the after, the panic, the mourning, and the fear. This indirect approach to the violence gives the film a vividness and sense of urgency that no scenes of horrors could have created. (Catherine Newmark in Berliner Zeitung, December 11, 2003)





orn on July 27, 1963 in Algiers, Amal Bedjaoui studied filmmaking at New York University and then graduated in 1985 from the Parisian film school IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques), going on to earn a DEA degree in cinema at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University Paris I in 1987. She has worked as assistant director and production manager for film as well as assistant director for the theater. In 2002 she founded her own film company ML Productions.


Filmography 1993 Une vue imprenable (Look Out), short film 1995 Shoot Me Angel, short film (Panorama Prize for best short film at the 1996 Berlin International Film Festival) 1999 Suite saturnienne (Saturnine Suite), about French painter Claire Pichaud and her exhibition at the Beaux Arts Museum of Caen, doc, video, 15 min 2003 Un fils/A Son, 35 mm, 58 min A Son Un fils France, 2003 Dir: Amal Bedjaoui Scr: Amal Bedjaoui, Isabelle Pichaud C: Nara Keo Kosal M: Matthieu Charter Ed: Gwen Mallauran Cast: Mohamed Hicham, Olivier Rabourdin, Hammou Graia et al. Prod: ML Productions, Paris Selim is a young male prostitute. He seems to be seeking from his customers the fatherly affection that he doesn’t get from his own father. Selim’s work is lucrative enough for him to offer his father the money for an operation that could save his life. But his father rejects his offer—and with it also the relationship that Selim so desperately longs for.


Film Review Un Fils (A Son) is not an optimistic film, as the death makes clear, nor is it scandalous. The intelligence of the staging places it on another level— that of a profound inquiry into the consequences of a father’s inability to communicate. This is where both its importance and its beauty lie. (Olivier Barlet in www.africultures.com, 2004; http://www.africultures. com/index.asp?menu=affiche_article&no=3433 on March 20, 2005)



amina Benguigui was born on March 9, 1958 in Valenciennes, France. Her family immigrated from Algeria. In addition to documentaries and television series Yaminia Benguigui has made promotional and video clips. With her company Bandits Productions she has also produced numerous films for television and the Danielle Mitterand Foundation—including several portraits of musicians and concert films. Based on her film series Woman of Islam and Immigrant Memories she has published two books by the same names (in French, Editions Albin Michel, Paris, 1996 and 1997). (See Benguigui’s essay, pages 324-26)

Filmography (selection) 1994 Femmes d’islam/Women of Islam, video, 3 x 52 min Part 1: Le voile et la république/The Veil and the Republic (Prizes: FIPA174 and Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, New York, 1995; special jury prize at the Visions D’Integration Festival, 1995) Part 2: Le voile et la peur/The Veil and Fear (Best television film at the Festival National du Film D’Histoire: Prix Futura Berlin 1995) Part 3: Le voile et le silence/The Veil and Silence (San Francisco Golden Gate Award 1995 in the category



1995 1997 1997





“Television and Sociology”; Jury Special Prize, FESPACO175 1995) La maison de Kate, un lieu d’espoir/Kate’s House, a Place of Hope, video, 52 min Un jour pour l’Algérie (A Day for Algeria), video, 26 min Mémoires d’immigrés—L’héritage maghrébin/Immigrant Memories—The North African Heritage, video, 3 x 52 min (Several international awards, including the Golden Gate Award, San Francisco, and the special Michel Mitrani Award at the FIPA 1998) La télévision: une compagne bruyante pour une solitude muette (TV: A Noisy Companion for a Mute Solitude), 11 x 5 min (a series about elderly immigrants and their television viewing habits) al-Hadiqa al-mu‘atara/Le jardin parfumé/The Perfumed Garden, beta SP, 52 min (Best Documentary at Torino International Festival of Women’s Cinema 2001 and Prix de la communication interculturelle at the Vue d’Afrique Film Festival 2001, Montreal) Inch’Allah dimanche/Inch’Allah Sunday, beta SP, 98 min (Numerous awards including International Critics’ Award [FIPRESCI] at the Toronto International Film Festival; Golden Wave for Best Film and Best Actress as well as Audience Award at the Arcachon Film Festival; Grand Prize of the City of Amiens and Prix Oecuménique at the Amiens Film Festival)

Women of Islam Femmes d’islam France 1994 Dir: Yamina Benguigui Prod: Bandits Production, Canal + Three-part documentary series about women in Islamic societies. The series was filmed in different countries: France (Part 1); Algeria, Egypt, and Iran (Part 2); and Mali, Indonesia, and Yemen (Part 3).


Immigrant Memories—The Maghrebi Heritage Mémoires d’immigrés—L’héritage maghrébin France 1997 Dir: Yamina Benguigui Prod: Bandits Production, Canal A three-part documentary series in which immigrants tell the history of immigration from the Maghreb countries to France: fathers (part 1), mothers (part 2), and their children (part 3). Yamina Benguigui analyzes the immigration process on the basis of archival material. The fathers came in the 1950s without their families, lived in barracks, and worked hard. The mothers joined them in the 1960s, took off their veils, and strove for greater independence. The children, most of whom were born in France, are even more strongly exposed to the contradictions of both cultures.

About the Film This film is the story of my journey to the heart of Maghrebi immigration to France. The story of the fathers, the mothers, the children. The story of my father, my mother, my own story. I thought I could use film to free myself from my history. But that is precisely what led me back to it. It’s not that I had forgotten where I was from or who I was. It is just that I had hardly wasted a thought on the why. . . . Film has given me an identity—as a filmmaker—so I could reconstruct the identity I had neglected—as the daughter of immigrants. In their search for this difficult identity many felt drawn to Islam; others fell into crime. And many of them have managed to become integrated. But no matter what, every child of immigrants carries in him or her the stubborn will to restore their dignity in order to fortify themselves. The fathers know about that, but their self-esteem was too often ridiculed and disrespected in the host country. Memory is essential in order to give the children of the immigration back the dignity that their fathers sometimes missed. (Yamina Benguigui, in freiburger film forum, May 11–16, 1999) Her remarkable documentary was a milestone in the histories of film and emigration. Due mainly to the debates organized after screenings, the



film’s impact on the Maghrebi community was remarkable. Benguigui has toured France with the film and has also taken it abroad, as the problems it poses are mirrored throughout Europe. (From Magda Wassef in DocBox of the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, December 2000; http://www.city.yamagata. yamagata.jp/yidff/docbox/16/box16-3-e.html on December 25, 2004) The Perfumed Garden al-Hadiqa al-mu‘atara/Le jardin parfumé France 2000 Dir: Yamina Benguigui Prod: Bandita production, Dominant 7 The realm of sensuality and sex is a world of both taboos and erotic literature in Arab society. In this documentary men and women from different generations tell of how they experience sexuality in everyday life. 288

Inch’Allah Sunday Inch’Allah dimanche France/Algeria 2001 Dir/Scr: Yamina Benguigui C: Antoine Roch S: Michel Vionnet Ed: Nadia Ben Rachid Cast: Fejria Deliba, Rabia Mokedem, Amina Annabi et al. Prod: Bandits Longs, ARP An Algerian woman Zouina, together with her three children and her mother-in-law, moves in with her husband Ahmed, who has worked in France for ten years. Zouina has trouble settling in. She suffers from her mother-in-law’s spitefulness and her husband’s reticence. The radio is her only window to her new world. One day she discovers that another Algerian family from her native village lives nearby. She sets off to find them. But going out alone is haram—forbidden.


From an Interview with Yamina Benguigui Were your parents like the couple that Zouina and her husband form in the film? YB: My mother was a rebel, but at the same time she was the one who safeguarded traditions. My father gave us lessons in Arabic. At home, he deciphered information in his own way. He played a large part in forging my Algerian identity. My father was a musician; that was one aspect of his personality. Deep down, I actually think I take after him more than I do my mother. He was so atypical! The man in the film who puts his all into playing “Apache” on his electric guitar—that was him. He played with a score, which was pretty unusual for a man of his generation. He adored The Shadows. He was well versed in Anglo-American musical culture. He was very gifted. Did you move on to directing right away? YB: I worked on numerous feature-length films. On the day I received my equity card, I waited for it. It was like receiving a diploma. I burst into tears. At the bottom they had placed an enormous stamp, “Valid until the date upon which the residency permit expires.” Even that was provisional. Then, I met Rachid Bouchareb and we set up a production company together, Raya Film. . . . Rachid directed and I produced. This was during the 1980s, when people were just starting to think about the beurs, about the banlieues. That was the time when people were trying to organize in order to try and put their mark on French society, which was also our society, even if they didn’t see us. The first films I directed were for the Danielle Mitterrand Foundation, one of which was on the Slave House (Maison des Esclaves) on Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, a project that was halfway between fiction and reality. Already a film about memory . . . YB: You have to know that I don’t have the capacity to lie down on the psychiatrist’s couch. It would be a cultural impossibility for me. Childhood, the moral violence that French society perpetrated on my parents, Algeria, France . . . how does one talk about all this? That was my memory. Then I directed another film, on the agreements in South Africa between the ANC (African National Congress) and Botha’s National



Party, which was still in power. I filmed the first theatrical troupe in the ANC. For me, it was about having found a new cause to fight for. Little by little, these films helped me to center in on my own story. I was obsessed by the following questions: Did I have the strength to make a film about our history? Wasn’t it just a minor subject that no one was interested in? Who would trust me? Who would take seriously the approaches of a filmmaker just starting out—a product of the Algerian immigration— who felt a personal investment in performing a task of memory?


You nevertheless took the plunge with Women of Islam. YB: In finishing the sections on the mothers, I felt like I was crossing over into the realm of fiction. One of them told me that her arrival in France was the hardest of her life, and this brought me back to my mother. My mother didn’t come under the rubric of family reunification, but the conditions under which she came were equally dramatic. Just as she was leaving, my grandmother threw herself at her feet and cried, “Don’t go!” My father said, “If you don’t come, I’m taking my son with me.” So my mother had to choose between her mother and her son. She went with her son and her husband. My grandmother crossed a pine forest barefoot to see her off. She threw herself on the ground and buried her head and mouth in the sand. It was over for her: She had lost her daughter forever. While gathering the testimonials for Immigrant Memories, I met women like Malika and women like Zouina: women who can never be uprooted. The pain of exile is something I inherited; it’s in the genes. My mother never called it exile, but I know that for her, it is the inexpressible pain of picking an orange or a bunch of mint. I remember that my mother was sick a lot, like most of her friends. But as her doctor told her, “I can’t do anything for you. . . . There’s no cure for homesickness!” Was it the memories of women that inspired Inch’Allah? YB: The memories of my mother and all the testimonials made me want to tell the story of these women, who had been pioneers. They had been forced to endure an exile that they hadn’t chosen. It’s for economic reasons that they find themselves in this strange world, surrounded by the greatest


indifference. Who remembers them at that time? What did their faces look like? They were very young women, not wives or mothers. They were between twenty and thirty years old, their lives had just begun, but who knew it? One testimony really shook me up and inspired me. A young woman, who looked like Malika in the film, told me that when she was leaving Algeria, her mother gave her a photo of herself in an envelope with her address on it and told her: “Take this envelope with you. If you’re not happy, if things don’t work out, send it to me and even if it takes me several months, I’ll come and collect you.” She held out for six months; then she posted the letter and waited for news from her mother. She received none and fell into a depression. Two years later, having had children, she was in a very bad state. A social worker came to visit her. She told her the story of the letter that she had sent to her mother and she showed the woman where she had posted the envelope. The letter had never been sent: She had deposited it in a trashcan, believing it to have been a mailbox! (Michèle Halberstadt in the press materials) 291



alika Chalabi was born in 1964 in Algeria. Her father is Algerian, her mother German. They moved to Germany in 1976 and Chalabi completed secondary school in Copenhagen in 1984. She studied eurhythmics in West Berlin and then worked as a dancer and actress at the Hamburg State Opera and other houses, and as a choreographer for contemporary opera in Frankfurt. Since 1995 she has worked as a freelance television journalist in Berlin, and since 2000 also as a producer. In 2002 she founded her own film company Chalabi Film. Malika Chalabi makes video installations and art and promotional videos, and shoots documentaries, including some for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Filmography (selection) 1995 Travelogues on Istanbul, Cairo, Copenhagen, for the Pro 7, private German television station



1997 1998


2000 2002 2004

Awakening to Tomorrow, 60 min, documentary about Waldorf pupils in South Africa, Russia, Israel, Brazil; a Waldorf production Short portraits of Robert de Niro, Vivienne Westwood, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini, Julia Roberts, and others Frauenknast Lichtenberg, a long-term documentary study about the Lichtenberg Women’s Prison, 16 min, for the ORB German television station Die Musik der Tuaregs (The Music of the Tuaregs), for Kulturzeit, a cultural program on the 3 SAT German television station Wandel der Bilder, a portrait of German filmmaker Wim Wenders, 30 min Nach dem Terror kam die Flut (After the Terror Came the Flood), about the flood catastrophe in Algeria, 26 min Documentary report on the festival of popular arts in Marrakech, for the 3 SAT German television station


From an Interview with Malika Chalabi You shot most of your film [After the Terror Came the Flood] in Bab al-Oued, a district of Algiers that was once considered an Islamist stronghold. How did people there react to you? MC: What really moved me was that people talked first about what happened to their families during the flood disaster. But the longer we talked, the more I felt that ultimately terrorism has affected them even more. Bab al-Oued is the most popular district in Algiers. A lot of people live crowded into this very tight space. This is where the major soccer games and festivals are held. On the one hand the Islamists have a lot of support here, but they also face fearless opposition. In Bab al-Oued everyone knows who belongs to what. Of all places this seething district was hit by a natural catastrophe. The people ask themselves again and again, “Why us? Is it a sign from God?” Did the Islamists profit from it? MC: Not really. The state stepped in quickly and tried to dispense aid


efficiently. Of course, the Islamists did this as well, but they did not appear as an organized force. Which does not say anything about the existence or nonexistence of an Islamist underground. MC: Certainly not. You can feel that it’s there, but at present it is not outwardly militant. Why not? MC: Because the state is acting with diplomacy and tact. For instance, it is preserving a mosque in the center of Bab al-Oued that was constructed by Abassi Madani, a founder of FIS, the Islamic Salvation Movement. Great care is being taken right now to make sure this building will not have to be torn down. And this is in an area where many buildings are being torn down. They know that a lot of emotion and memories are attached to this mosque. The Algerian state has learned not to risk another outburst of desperation, as happened in the 1980s with the hunger and youth revolts in Algiers. MC: I’d say that the state has learned to make gestures. I won’t say that it has learned not to be corrupt. It was impossible for me, for instance, to get any exact figures about donations: how much, how they were distributed, and where. In your film you say that after the flood disaster of November 10 [2001], Algiers would be even more vulnerable today if another major flood occurred. Is this also a metaphor for Algerian society? If the terror returned, would Algeria be more vulnerable now than it was ten years ago? MC: Yes, Algeria has become more vulnerable, especially since for years now there has been an insidious, obviously growing impoverishment that is unraveling a social fabric that has existed for generations. A middle class had established itself in Bab al-Oued. It was not wealthy but it had what it needed. For generations they had shops, bistros, a trade—these people are becoming impoverished and they are getting bitter.



A time bomb? MC: Maybe. I don’t know if it will be vented in an Islamic uprising again as in 1991–92. But I have heard people who fled to Algiers from the countryside in order to escape the terror say, “Someday we’ll have had enough, someday we’ll take up arms.” On the other hand this can be understood as the voice of a people who have not yet given up. Can the dangers you refer to be attributed to a culture of lawlessness that has done little against Islamist crimes? MC: It is particularly the traumatic experiences that weigh heavily on many families. Brother fought against brother, brother denounced brother—the wounds run deep. Now people want to talk about it and are thinking about setting up a truth commission, as in South Africa. Who will be the Desmond Tutu of Algeria? MC: Nobody—because immense fear still exists on the one hand, and too many Algerians profit from the chaos in the country on the other. 294

Does a political climate exist for a critical examination of the past? The Concorde Civil, which has been in effect since 2000, is, strictly speaking, a general amnesty. Why shake it and rouse the perpetrators? MC: Exactly. People are very grateful to President Bouteflika for the relative peace they are enjoying right now. But this peace is more external in nature. It does not prevent people from taking revenge on each other. I experienced that very vividly in Algiers, when a policeman recognized a former terrorist on the street and immediately assailed him with the words, “You were there when my colleague was shot. Why are you running around free?” Such incidents can lead to unbelievably dramatic confrontations. Such cases would be ideal for a truth commission. MC: Of course, but ultimately I don’t see any chance for such a forum. The only thing that makes me feel optimistic is that people are beginning to talk openly about their experiences.


How did people in Algeria react to September 11th? MC: It was very polarizing—there were Islamists and many young people who celebrated Usama bin Ladin in graffiti. On the other hand the government and many intellectuals were pleased that the West is finally forced to take the threat of Islamist terrorism seriously. It is often said, “We told them again and again to help us in the fight against terrorism but to no avail. Now they, too, know what it means to be vulnerable to terrorism.” When the Saudi regime joined the anti-terrorist campaign, and everyone knows that Wahhabi dogmatists are responsible for the terror in Algeria, then . . . MC: . . . then everyone knows that it is only lip service, a hypocritical gesture taking advantage of the situation. Will these influences continue? MC: Of course. (Interview with Lutz Herden, in Freitag, February 15, 2002; http://www. freitag.de/2002/08/02080902.php on March 22, 2002) 295



adia Cherabi was born on July 18, 1954 in Algiers. After completing her studies in sociology in 1977, she moved to Paris. In 1987 she received her doctorate in theater studies at the Sorbonne. For several years she worked with the selection committee for screenplays at the CAAIC (Centre Algérien pour l’Art et l’Industrie Cinématographique), the Algerian center for film art and the film industry. Cherabi has worked as assistant director for several film productions. Today she lives again in Algiers as a lecturer for sociology at the University of Algiers and as a freelance filmmaker.

Filmography 1993 Fatima al-hawata/Fatima et la mer/Fatima and the Sea, 16 mm, 22 min (co-director)


1993 1997

Fatima Amaria, 16 mm, 22 min (co-director) L’éxile de Bougie (The Exile of Bougie) Fatima Amaria Algeria 1993 Dir: Nadia Cherabi, Malek Laggoune Scr: Nadia Cherabi C: Smail Lakhdar Hamina S: Nabil Ouhib

Ed: Miloud Bouamari Prod: CAAIC, Algiers


Young Amaria is a member of a religious community in a village in southern Algeria. The women there live alone most of the time, since the men work far away in the oil fields. Amaria dreams of becoming a famous singer. She sings in several music groups whose repertoire ranges from religious songs to rai and reggae by Bob Marley. When she travels to the city to do a recording, she exchanges her full-body hijab for a headscarf.

From an Interview with Nadia Cherabi Why did you want to make a documentary film? Does it have to do with your interest in sociology and your studies? NC: Perhaps, but I am also fascinated by people and real life. They are often much more interesting than fiction. I’m not interested in creating a faithful reproduction of reality, although I observe it closely. I’m more interested in portraying people and in ‘reconstructing’ them as I perceive them. This kind of documentary emphasizes the filmmaker’s personal point of view more than that of those being filmed. The people being filmed are still the center of attention, but the filmmaker’s subjectivity plays an important role. You said your point of view is expressed in the film. To what extent in your interviews with people do you take into account their need to see themselves portrayed in a certain manner?


NC: It’s very important for me to first establish a relationship of trust. I didn’t want to make a film about women, but with them. I spent a lot of time talking to them and was very aware of my responsibility toward them. They had never been filmed before; nobody had ever shown any interest in them. They even asked if they were interesting enough to be filmed. In a documentary, a faithful reproduction of reality means presenting people’s aura and the status they give themselves in their environment. I wouldn’t show anything that might hurt them, even if they confided such things to me. That’s why I left out a few details that might have been very interesting to the film. Why did you choose Amaria for your first film? NC: I thought it would be wonderful to make my first film about a black Algerian woman. Algeria lies between sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a Mediterranean, Arab, and African country that also has roots in Berber culture. We have a little of everything. Blacks are a small, but important segment of our society. I had planned another film about women in Algiers, a cosmopolitan city with so many contradictory influences. I wanted to show how women live these contradictions. How did you meet Amaria? NC: I met Amaria by chance while shooting another film, a year and a half before this film. I was working as an assistant director for a documentary report about young people on the subject of vacation. Of course, this was only a pretext to talk to them about everything imaginable. Talking about vacation with young people who are on strike against their schools is really a paradox. I met Amaria in the south while we were shooting the film: a young woman who was so covered up that you could see only a small part of her face, and who scurried through the alleyways of her seemingly deserted village. This haste did not seem to fit the situation and that made me curious. I simply started talking to her. At first she couldn’t believe that I wanted to make a film about her, but she accepted. But when I returned more than a year later, she suddenly didn’t want to hear about it anymore. I understood that as a member of a religious community she couldn’t do anything without its consent. I had to speak with the leader of the community and show him the screenplay—and he agreed.



What kind of religious community is it? NC: It’s called Tijani, an Islamic community that is well known for the role it has had in spreading Islam, especially throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The Tijani have followers in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, for instance. They cultivate a special kind of hospitality, and the village is like a place of refuge. But I didn’t want to make a film about this community. That’s why I didn’t mention it even once.


If Amaria couldn’t be filmed without the permission of the community, how can she do all the things she does? NC: That is truly a paradox. Getting permission to do something is a way of showing respect toward the leader of the community. Individuals are free to do as they wish. But you should not forget the group you belong to. Go wherever you want, but never forget that there is a place in the world where you belong. You should always remain true to this place. I liked this idea. At the end of the film Amaria says, “Sometimes I want to leave this place because I’m suffocating. I want to be free; I don’t always want to be cooped up here. But I will always return to the place where I was born.” Community ties are very strong, but invisible. There is no repressive or constrictive presence in the village itself. It’s all in the air. It is very vague and diffuse. You simply know what you can and cannot do. Isn’t it a problem for Amaria to go unveiled to another town in order to sing pop and Bob Marley? Does she only have to respect traditions in her own village? NC: I was very fascinated by this relationship between respect for traditions on the one hand and individual freedom on the other hand, and how the young woman handles this. I could see that she fully internalized the rules of the village and thus accepted them. There are things she must do, and there are things that she does not do. This is how she understands her individual freedom. So she is free to go to the city to sing. As an outsider I can’t decide what is good for her and how she should define freedom. I can only observe the reality I see: that Amaria travels a lot, belongs to different groups, the songs she sings, how she lives, what she says. I am satisfied in my role as a distanced observer. That’s why I didn’t ask very intimate questions. That would have been another film.


Your images show Amaria as a solitary figure. She is always alone, in the village and when she goes to the city. NC: I didn’t think about that while shooting the film. That is, I didn’t consciously portray her that way. Only people’s comments have made me aware that I always framed Amaria against an unfocused background. I focused fully on the person as if the world around her didn’t exist. In fact, this solitude exists—which is perhaps not so much solitude as it is a personal struggle. Every individual is a part of a group: a family, for instance. But each person realizes his or her potential on their own, not because someone else demands it. Showing this was perhaps the challenge I gave myself. That’s why I observed only the people themselves and didn’t ask others for their opinions about them. I’m more interested in seeing and showing a person’s inner qualities—a person confronted with herself. I really like the image of a veiled girl on a deserted street as a symbol. She challenges the world without knowing whether it will make her happy or not. This relationship of the individual to the world and to other people is what interests me. 299

Amaria once said that she cannot wear the hijab in the city because it would threaten her future and limit her chances as a singer. NC: She wears a headscarf during the whole film. There are two different forms of the Muslim dress code: one that completely covers the body and another that only covers the head. In a sense, Amaria is never completely without some kind of veil. But for me that is not the problem. That was not the point I wanted to make. Amaria said so herself during the interview. I thought it was great that she mentioned it, but I didn’t want to get caught up in this whole debate about the veil. Some women feel more free when they veil themselves; others feel more free when they don’t. I think it is the wrong question to ask. What is interesting is the way each woman deals with it. One gets the impression from the conversation of the women when they are at the hairdresser’s that certain things cannot be talked about in public. NC: That was part documentary, part fictionalized. These views do exist, that is, that Islam prohibits singing. This is a rumor that has spread throughout the country. I really liked Amaria’s spontaneous response,


when she says, “Just when I’ve decided to be a singer you tell me such stories! That can’t be true.” She can’t imagine that Islam would prohibit singing. It’s always difficult to talk about what is allowed and what is not. That’s why many people prefer to say, “Let’s talk about something else. We won’t be able to agree anyway.” In the film Amaria quotes a poet who says that if you set out to sea, you had better not be afraid of drowning. This message is directed toward everyone. Perhaps it transcends the film itself. I want to invite viewers to think about this young woman who is secluded in a small village, whose only contact to the outside world is a radio. She has taught herself to sing Bob Marley and other songs, and she has a dream, an ideal, something that transcends herself. I would be happy if the film makes it possible for viewers to identify with this woman, because she is a positive figure and yet very unassuming. She is without means. She travels by bus; she has no car. There is nothing in the village. It is unusual, but she has a dream that she wants to realize. 300

You play with spaces, interior and exterior. At the beginning we hear a voice singing while we see a village that seems deserted. Only later do we learn that the voice comes from inside, from the women’s space. NC: I thought a lot about space in the film and wanted to show the contrast between interior and exterior space. In general, interior space is female space and exterior space is male. When women go out onto the streets, they are stepping beyond their spatial borders, they are transgressing them, breaking out of them. When a man enters the house, he is also transgressing borders, because he is not allowed to infringe on women’s space. I wanted to reverse the relations: it is Amaria who steps out into the outside space. And this space is empty because the men are not there; they are working in the distant oil fields. Amaria moves about in this space although it is not hers; it belongs to the men even when they are not present. I wanted to play with this paradox. In reality life takes place inside. When Amaria is on the street, she knocks on a door; she wants to enter a new space. It is an interior space, but also an exterior space because it is in an outdoor courtyard. Amaria meets with a group of men inside a house. I also once filmed her getting on


a bus, an enclosed, interior space, but one that moves. Shortly afterward I had the bus go over a bridge. This is nothing unusual, but I was very happy to have found a bridge, because it symbolizes the transition from one place to another in an exterior space. How do you see Algerian women between tradition and modernity? NC: I had to find a bridge to show how this young woman travels from one ‘shore’ to another. This transition, this boundary is not clear-cut. One cannot set tradition against modernity and vice versa. What is really important is to build a bridge between different worlds so they can communicate. It is not necessary to renounce tradition in order to be modern. Amaria always returns to her village. We cannot imagine modernity without referring to our cultural environment. By no means should it serve to alienate us. Being modern for a woman in a country like ours is an ideal. Who doesn’t want to be modern at the end of the twentieth century? It is good to strive for the modern—but based on one’s own roots. It is possible to reconcile the two. One cannot regress forever. We will never all be ‘modern’ in the same way. Europeans have a different definition of ‘being modern’ than those who live elsewhere. Has Amaria seen the film? NC: No, the film has not yet been shown on Algerian television. The situation there is so tense that I want to wait. Algerian television has such close ties to the state that I would rather remain independent. I am waiting for an opportunity to visit Amaria myself in order to show her the film. (Interview with Gudula Meinzolt at the women’s film festival of the 17th Incontro Internazionale di Cinema e Donne in Florence, July 1995) Fatima and the Sea Fatima al-hawata/Fatima et la mer Algeria 1993 Dir: Nadia Cherabi, Malek Laggoune Scr: Nadia Cherabi C: Smail Lakhdar Hamina



S: Nabil Ouhib Ed: Miloud Bouamari Prod: CAAIC, Algiers Film portrait of sixty-year-old Fatima and her granddaughter. Fatima is a fisherwoman—an unusual profession for a woman. She has passed on to her granddaughter both her passion for the sea and her profession.




riter and filmmaker Assia Djebar was born FatimaZohra Imalayène176 on June 30, 1936177 in Cherchell, Algeria. At home she spoke Berber and Arabic, but she writes her novels in French. Her father, an elementary school teacher, allowed her to attend a French secondary school, and when the Algerian war of independence broke out in 1954 he sent her to study in Paris. A scholarship made it possible for her to be the first woman from the colonies to study at the elite École Supérieure de Sèvres. She was also her country’s first female scriptwriter and first successful female filmmaker, the first female professor of history and literature at the University of Rabat in Morocco, and the first female Arab writer to receive the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (in 2000) after many other international prizes. Between 1957 and 1967 Assia Djebar published four novels. A writing block turned her interest to film, and she made two international award-winning films. In 1980 she resumed her career as an author and became one of the most well known female writers in North Africa. After receiving repeated threats from Islamists, she accepted a teaching position at Louisiana State University. In Fall 2001, Djebar became Silver Chair Professor of French and Francophone studies at New York University.


Assia Djebar is primarily a writer, but her films were significant for her artistic work and her personal development. They offered her a new way to approach the French language as well as the world of the women in her home region, which had been closed to her because of her French schooling. When she began writing again after a ten-year creative crisis, she did so with a new inner freedom. She dared to break the taboo of the ‘leaden silence of Algerian women’ and began to speak of herself as an Arab woman. In 2005 Djebar made history when she became the first person from North Africa to be elected to the Académie Française, France’s most prestigious cultural institution.

Speaking with Assia Djebar Then, in my trajectory as a writer, there was a tangent, a period of profound self-questioning which caused me to remain silent for a long time; ten years in which I published nothing, but during which I was able to travel up and down my country, on reporting assignments, carrying out investigations, and finally scouting for film locations, overcome as I was by the need to communicate with peasants, with villagers from regions with different traditions, and also by the need to reconnect with my maternal tribe, twelve years after independence. “Sitting by the side of the road, in the dust”; that is how, in my essay “These Voices that Besiege Me,” I entitled this period of my life in which, through a visual chronicle of this everyday life with visible mutations, I made a film to the rhythm of feminine memory—flashbacks to times when my grandmother would tell me stories about the resistance of our warrior-ancestors, fresh memories of yesterday’s conflicts. This was the only period in which I was able to work and create in immersion with my own environment: writing of space and of listening, in the landscapes of my childhood, my ear immersed in the dialectical Arabic of conversations; the return of the Berber in such a burst of suffering as that of a woman in “Mont Chenoua,” a monologue, ultimately in French, of a woman who strolls through a territory in which past and present echo one another. Those were the two or three happiest years of my life, in which I really tried to get to know my “sites of memory,” which became a process of getting to know myself again, finding myself again!



My feature-length film was vilified by all the cinephiles of Algiers (because it lacked the optimism of Socialist Realism); it subsequently won the International Critics Award at the Venice Biennial. (From Assia Djebar’s acceptance speech at the award ceremony for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade on October 22, 2000 in Frankfurt am Main)

Filmography 1978 La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua), 115 min, 16 mm (International Critics’ Prize at the Venice Biennial, 1979) 1982 al-Zerda/La Zerda et les chants de l’oubli (Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting), 60 min, 16 mm


Assia Djebar uses a language that is more literary than cinematic. Her two films are particularly interesting because they present an original view and a unique female approach. (From Les Cinémas Arabes, an encyclopedia on Arab cinema) The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua Algeria 1978 Dir/Scr: Assia Djebar C: Ahmed Sedjane, Cherif Abboun M: Bela Bartok, traditional Algerian music Ed: Nicole Schlemmer, Arezki Haddadi Cast: Noweir Sawsan, Mohamed Haymour et al. Prod: Radiotélevision Algérienne Laila, a young architect, returns with her daughter and husband to the village she was born in—the director’s home village. Laila’s gaze, her memories, and the stories told by the village women resurrect the final years of terror during colonial rule. The victories and defeats of Algerian women become visible in their battle on two fronts: against the colonial rulers—and against their husbands. The Nouba is a North African musical


form that underlies the film. Djebar tells about filming Nouba in her novel Vaste est la prison.178

Film Review “The recurring avatars of the ancestor-grandmother make up the collective group of women dancing in the cave of La Nouba, celebrating the wildest woman of them all, the Berber queen who held off the invaders and went by the name of Kahina,179 meaning ‘inspired soothsayer.’” (Clarisse Zimra, in the afterword to Djebar’s novel The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, page 191) From an Interview with Assia Djebar Audiences know you above all as a novelist, but this film was not your first contact with the world of show business, if you don’t object to my using that somewhat debased term. At the time of our first meeting, a year before you made Nouba, you were teaching a module on cinema at the Faculty of Letters; you already had a theoretical approach. AD: I had already had even more direct contact with the theater when I was living in Paris, where I worked for three years as . . . how shall I call it . . . a theatrical ‘grunt.’ I auditioned actors, directed the sound, the sets, and so on, in a café-theater, and of course adapted the texts, met with journalists. Even before that, I had written a play myself. I realized the importance of staging. Later on, as well, when I was asked to write screenplays for others, I said no. Is that what got you into directing? AD: No, because for a long time I had regarded the cinema as an art form in a rather negative light, as it didn’t communicate the feeling of longevity . . . as certain kinds of books or music do, which plunge you into a deep sense of longevity—you feel that something is ripening in front of you. You are in it; you are no longer just a spectator. Even while watching great films I never managed to enter into them. My problem as a novelist has always been the problem of time . . . perhaps because I am obsessed with it. This is what I am now trying to express in films.



Could you tell me if from the beginning—that is to say from the screenwriting stage—you are already conscious of the production elements, or if you write your films in words, as a novelist? AD: I am truly conscious of having written Nouba as a filmmaker; the meat of the film—although perhaps not the bones, the structure—came together on that plain. Beginning with the sounds and the voices of the peasant women that I recorded. And then, what was very important were the visuals and the space. I am currently writing an essay on this realization about space.


Does film push back some of the boundaries of literature? AD: It’s a very different thing. Let’s talk first about what cinema cannot be in relation to literature. Cinema cannot simply be the fleshing-out or concretization of characters or of a plot. I would say that for this, literature gives one much more freedom; you are at once more personal and more collective, very clearly so when one is using the French language. But one can still say that the novel, or literature per se, enables one to go deeper. Cinema may enable one to go into other domains . . . into the space; and in film, this space has become an important component of the subject matter. So long as I was working in literature, I could flee the cloistering of women through my imagination. But having to film these women who were speaking, I became concretely aware of their space. I felt a sense of solidarity that I had never felt in literature. This cloistering was made all the more palpable by the fact that I was in a region where the landscape is as beautiful as any along the Mediterranean. The whole issue of color aside, I’m speaking of the breadth of the space itself. There I encountered houses that were completely shut in on themselves, even if there weren’t any neighbors across the way! In a certain manner, cinema placed me in front, and I mean physically in front of the space. Something that literature wouldn’t have done, that much is clear. Is your film therefore more about space than about women? AD: Yes, because it wouldn’t mean anything to say that my film is a film about women. I will always feel the urge to make films. The feminine body, woman, is my material. It’s a bit like the way one sculptor uses one material while another uses another material. That would have to mean something,


wouldn’t it? I think that this is what cinema afficionados couldn’t deal with—the fact that I kept men out of my film. But what other possible answer could there be than to show what exists in reality? I separated the sexes on screen just as they are in reality. This is—and why shouldn’t it be?—a feminist statement. I wanted to show the number one problem of Algerian women, which is the right to occupy space. Because I was able to verify that the more space a woman has, the more balanced she is. It’s no accident that I show the first woman who speaks, who is eighty-eight years old, in her kitchen garden. She seems happy, or at least balanced. But apart from the sounds and the space, how did you structure your film? AD: There are two ways to proceed when you make a film—or write a book, for that matter. Either you take a situation as it is and you confront it by criticizing it, or you show how things ought to be. As for me, instead of showing ten-odd women chit-chatting in their kitchen, I took a young woman whom I released into space, because that was the real change. She was freed by my imagination and by my hope, for I wish that the majority of Algerian women could move about freely and that they could feel at ease with themselves while doing so. That’s the second problem—to get around, to be able to see things and to listen, without constantly having to dodge the prying glances of other people. And as my camera moves around in space with my heroine, the documentary is there to show what exists; that is, women. Audiences reproached you precisely for only showing old women or young girls. AD: Indeed, it wasn’t by chance or just an obstinate move on the part of a director. If I filmed only older women or young girls, it was because it was impossible to film the others; often it was a child of twelve who placed himself between me and his mother. Thus, what could I have seen? Who has a bit more spatial freedom? There are the older women who have the right to work in their kitchen gardens, and the little girls running to school with their satchels on their backs, because they go to school—there, where people had to fight for them to be able to go to school until the age of twelve, and in the Tipaza region until the age of fourteen. It would be interesting to ask oneself up to what age one sees



girls moving about in the streets; that would be one way of watching the film. At one point we see two girls in pants; they’re twenty, twentytwo years old . . . and then we also see a girl from behind with a satchel. We only see her from behind because she didn’t want to be seen. There we encounter the second problem, which is perhaps more of a problem for girls in Algiers; that is, the problem of moving about freely without being seen by men—or in this case, by my camera. And then you have the women out in the fields. They are, objectively speaking, more liberated than the wife of the local potentate or the wife of the policeman, who never leave the house. (From an interview with Wassila Tamzali, in CinémArabe, no. 10/11, 1978)


Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting al-Zerda/ La Zerda et les chants de l’oubli Algeria 1982 Dir: Assia Djebar Scr: Assia Djebar, Malek Alloula Ed: Nicole Schlemmer M: Ahmed Essyad Prod: Radiotélevision Algérienne This is a film assembled from documentary material shot by French cinematographers during the colonial period. It contains mostly unused edited footage from the years 1912–42 that had no exploitable political value. A new version of Algeria’s colonial history emerges from the images, as told from the perspective of the colonized.

About the Film Zerda In 1978 and 1979 Assia Djebar and Malek Alloula spent five months sifting through all the documentary material that had ever been filmed on the three Maghrebi countries—altogether approximately 40,000 meters of archival footage from the Gaumont, Pathé, and INA film archives. The original project was to produce a ten-part series Mémoire maghrébine (Maghrebi memories), focusing on the everyday life of the Maghrebi peoples from the early twentieth century to the Second World War. The


project had been commissioned by Algerian television. What emerged was a selection of images from mostly unused material and folklore shots, all without sound. But bureaucratic difficulties in 1979 prevented the project from being realized. Assia Djebar and Malek Alloula subsequently wrote a synopsis for a one-hour film that was approved by Algerian television in the summer of 1981. (Information flyer no. 31: 13th International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival, 1983) As a historian, Djebar had been asked by the Pathé-Gaumont, a film company, to sift through some old reels stored in a warehouse. They turned out to be discarded newsreels on the colonies. Out of the colonial discards, the ‘gazing’ that the colonizer refused to acknowledge, she wove La zerda et les chants de l’oubli (Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting, 1982). Zerda is a vernacular word to designate a popular festival, a merrymaking celebration. The film Zerda celebrates retrieving those pieces of the collective past she had thought were lost forever to the collective memory. (Clarisse Zimra, in the afterword to Djebar’s novel The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, footnote, page 183)



achida Krim was born in 1955 in Alès, southern France, to a family originating from western Algeria. She studied painting at Montpellier and Nimes, and had several exhibitions after graduating. Her first work in film began in 1988, when she worked as a scriptwriter and in other capacities.

Filmography 1992 al-Fatha (The Feast), 35 mm, 18 min 1997 Sous les pieds des femmes (Beneath the Feet of the Women), 35 mm, 85 min 1998 Imra’a safira/La femme dévoilée (The Unveiled Woman), 35 mm, 27 min (co-director)




Houria, five-part television series on the issues of sexuality and AIDS (TV/video competition award at FESPACO 2003) The Unveiled Woman La femme dévoilée Algeria/France 1998 Dir/Scr: Rachida Krim/Hamid Tassili Prod: Bicéphale Production

A group of youths in Oran spend their days being idle. One day they make a bet: Who will be the first to succeed in hitting on the next woman who passes by. Harath is surprised with the results.


Under Women’s Feet Sous les pieds des femmes Algeria/France 1997 Dir: Rachida Krim Scr: Rachida Krim, Catherine Labruyère Colas C: Bernard Cavalié M: Alexandre Desplat Cast: Claudia Cardinale, Fejria Deliba, Yorgo Voyagis, Nadia Farès et al. Prod: Clara Films In 1958 young Aya falls passionately in love with Amin, leader of the Algerian resistance movement, but it has to remain a secret, since Aya is married to Moncef. Thirty-five years later Aya and Moncef, who have long been living in France, are expecting a visit from Amin. Aya recalls the past they shared. . . .

Film Reviews The story is so simple at first one would barely believe it could sustain an entire film. Yet, like many simple story-lines, it becomes compelling as personalities are revealed and past deeds rear their—frequently—ugly heads.


In a flashback, Amin, Monceif and other FLN militants in their cell must decide the fate of two comrades, Ferid and Anissa, the wife of another comrade, who have had an affair. For adultery, there is only one sentence: death. One militant shows some compassion for the two defendants, but the others, Amin included, vote for the death penalty. Meanwhile, Aya, confined to her role of servant, helps serve coffee and silently watches the scene being played out. No input is required from a woman. Eventually the adulterous couple are executed in a French forest. Thirty-five years later, during the course of dinner where Amin and Monceif recall moments of their shared ‘golden’ past, Aya asks, “Do you remember the case of Ferid and Anissa? I am getting tired of hearing your stories. They are not true, we have not been only heroes. We must ask ourselves, how could Algeria’s youth find its way when everything we have today is built on lies?” Aya and Amin know that they will not meet again. In a farewell letter to her, Amin writes, “You were so beautiful. I thought about everything you said to me.Today in our homeland they want to hide the women, they want to veil them, yet they are our most precious asset. Once you asked me what lies beneath the feet of women and wives. Today I know the answer. Beneath the feet of the women, lies the truth.” (Chris Kutschera, The Middle East magazine, December 1997; http:// www.chris-kutschera.com/A/Rachida%20Krim.htm on December 29, 2004)



aima Lefkir-Laffitte was born in Algeria in 1955. She is a journalist, photographer, writer, and filmmaker. She makes her films in collaboration with her husband Roland Laffitte.

Filmography 1992 L’Irak l’autre guerre (Iraq, the Second War), video, 30 min 1993 Ceux de la casbah (Those from the Casbah), video, 52 min Those from the Casbah Ceux de la casbah Algeria/France 1993



Dir/Scr: Naima Lefkir-Laffitte, Roland Laffitte Prod: Imagic Vidéo Production, Paris This documentary leads us to the Kasbah, the Arab name for the old town center of Algiers. A thousand years old, it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1992; today it is dilapidated and deserted.




lorida Sadki was born on December 30, 1953 in Paris, where she studied Spanish and Portuguese at the Latin American Institute. After her graduation she lived and worked for several years in Brazil. She works as a freelance author for the France 3 and La Cinquième (Channel 5) television stations. Florida Sadki taught at the School of Journalism in Strasbourg and teaches continuing education courses for journalists at France 3.

Speaking with Florida Sadki When Channel Four in London wants a film focusing on a particular country, it commissions a filmmaker from that country to shoot it. I like that approach. Native filmmakers can offer an insider view. My first film Women at War was commissioned by Channel Four, but it was a bad experience for me because of the producer. I trusted her at first because she’s a foreigner [from India] living in England just as I am an Algerian living in France. But we had completely different ideas about how to edit the film. The producer edited a second version, and Channel Four broadcast her version. The people there liked it very much. But I refused to let them use my name for the film, because I didn’t want the film used as a platform against the fundamentalists. I don’t regret my decision, because events in Algeria have shown that not only the fundamentalists were responsible for the violence, but also the Algerian armed forces. The film was turned down by many film


festivals because the director’s name is not listed. Nowadays I only write screenplays, unless I receive the editing rights for a film. The film Au cœur des mots (At the Heart of Words), a portrait of Assia Djebar, was my idea. I am friends with Assia and love her novels. The film was my directing debut and the first film about Assia Djebar. It is about Assia’s novel L’amour, la fantasia180 and her relationship with the French language. “When I was a child, I went to a French school. I opened the schoolbook and discovered my freedom,” Assia once said. Still, she didn’t find all of her freedom there. Although she writes her novels in French, she uses her native language, Arabic, to express emotions and to speak with friends and family. I understand this paradoxical situation very well. I was born in France, but grew up bilingual. I feel Algerian and have kept my Algerian citizenship. I rarely feel French; I feel more like a citizen of the world. I studied Spanish and Portuguese and lived in South America for many years. I felt at home there—but never in France. In South America, however, my problems caught up with me. People thought I was French because I spoke French. They couldn’t imagine that I was Arab. They couldn’t even place Algeria on the map. I went back to France. In the early 1980s I tried to live in Algeria. I taught Spanish at the university. But I couldn’t stay there; I was too aghast at the people’s intolerance. For the first and only time in my life I felt like I was living in an intellectual ghetto. I come from the lower classes. My father was a laborer, and our family in Algeria lived in a rural area. Intellectuals in Algeria today live outside the reality and social problems of the common people. I felt cut off from my roots. In addition, there were all these contradictions. Many of my friends who were left-wing and had spent time in jail on that account got married in a very traditional way. So far I have not integrated my personal experiences into my work. I tried to bring something of myself into the film Women at War. That’s why I was so disappointed with what happened. I refuse to let a television station tell me what I as an Arab woman can or cannot say on a certain subject. I simply say “no.” The Algerian in me comes out. We are very bellicose and strong, even harsh. As a little girl, I saw my mother and other women constantly quarreling with their husbands, whether it was




about our upbringing or money. The colonial period also did its part. There’s a part of this history of my mother and other women inside me that I don’t even know. In France they expect me to write screenplays or make films about Algeria because I’m Algerian. But I want to be recognized foremost for my skills as a writer. That’s why I am currently working only on topics that have nothing to do with my background. In France they are only too eager to market Arab women; other Muslim women, too—for example, Taslima Nasrin, who was so candid and straightforward in her novel Lajja = Shame.181 She is manipulated by the media and used as a figurehead to cultivate their own image. She is used not only as a symbol to represent all Muslim women but also for another purpose: to stoke the fear of Islam. Ultimately Taslima Nasrin is nothing but a marionette. This benefits neither the cause of women nor that of a more tolerant Islam. The media has not been as successful in exploiting Assia Djebar as a symbol. Instead of speaking tendentiously about politics, she talks about her work as a writer, about the French language, literature, and the situation of women—in contrast to Khalida Messaoudi,182 who is very present in the media and conforms more to stereotype, since she makes no secret of her aversion to the fundamentalists. She is very hotheaded, passionate, and uncompromising, which fits the media image of an Algerian women’s rights activist. I know many women who are very discreet in fighting for a peaceful society in Algeria. But they don’t talk about it, because they have to be very careful. I don’t support the fundamentalists and I’m not a practicing Muslim, but I still consider Islam to be a good thing. But Islam is abused for political purposes in Algeria and in conservative Arab societies, as well as in France. Since I have written and made films about minorities, I am aware of the danger of being misinterpreted. It is most difficult to show that there is not just one reality, but many different lifestyles and realities. Being born as an Algerian in France has given me a broader and more varied way of looking at the world. The media keep interviewing the same women whom they know and who always express the same views. These women mirror a perspective that coincides with that of those in power. They let democratically minded women speak, who oppose the


fundamentalists, but who tend to tolerate the situation more than they critically analyze it. This is how reality gets distorted. Reality does not consist only of what is depicted but also of what is not depicted. This is what I am critical of. I experience a greater sense of freedom when making a film than when writing an article, even though the filmmaking environment is more complex and the costs are higher. Writing forces me to use more concrete forms of art and expression. When I make a film, I play with a reality that is not my own. When I write, I have to choose and place each word very carefully. Because my parents are illiterate, I was very courageous to choose writing as one of my favorite hobbies. I am a gentle revolutionary. I left home when I was eighteen. My parents were very shocked, because I’m the eldest and was the first to leave the nest. Emigration has changed the role of fathers and mothers. In Algeria the fathers were authority figures; in France they can’t find work. The mothers, on the other hand, still have an important function in the home because they raise the children. But they have gone beyond this and enjoy a great range of movement. The media doesn’t write about this positive development. Such a gradual integration is inconsistent with their image of fundamentalism and male dominance. France pursues a policy on foreigners in which the immigrants are to give up their own culture to the greatest possible extent and become assimilated into French society. But in reality people live in ghettos like in New York and London. Society is growing apart. This gulf is noticeable in the suburbs. Young Arabs and Africans do not acknowledge the French social order; they are aggressive and rebellious. In contrast to Germany, in France it is becoming more difficult to become naturalized. Algeria is making progress in the area of technology—for example, there is satellite television everywhere—but the country is regressing politically and socially. Although women are not forced to wear a veil, the state is surrendering its authority. In certain regions, both rurally and in certain urban districts of Algiers, the fundamentalists set the tone. There, everyone has the right to ask his neighbor why his daughter is not wearing a veil. This weakening of state authority has led to the emergence of many smaller authorities who think they can tell other



people what to do. When I wanted to interview a woman there in 1992, she was forbidden to speak with me. And when we filmed on the street, someone asked us why we wanted to film this building and not that one; why did we want to film this mosque; we should film another one. Military authority in Algeria has always been unpleasant, but now people aren’t even allowed to think on their own. (Interview with the author; Paris, December 1994)

Filmography (selection) 1991 Au cœur des mots (At the Heart of Words), video, 26 min 1991 Malgré tout le voyage (Despite The Whole Journey) Both films are part of the France 3 television series Racines (Roots) 1996 Alice Guy ou l’enfance du cinéma (Alice Guy Or the Infancy of Cinema), video, 52 min


At the Heart of Words Au cœur des mots France 1991 Dir: Florida Sadki Prod: Anabase/France 3 Portrait of the Algerian writer and filmmaker Assia Djebar.



jamila Sahraoui was born on October 23, 1950 in Algiers. She studied literature in Algiers and later film at the IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques) film school in Paris, where she has lived since 1975. She graduated from the IDHEC specializing in direction and scriptwriting. As a result of the success of her documentary works, she was made the laureate of la Villa Medicis in 1997.

Filmography 1980 Houria, fic, 26 min (Prix du Festival de Tours)


1990 1992



2000 2001 2003

Avoir 2000 ans dans les Aurès (2000 Years in the Aures Mountains), 26 min Ismaha Maryan/Prénom Marianne (First Name Marianne), doc, 26 min (Best Screenplay of Les films institutionnels de la Scam) Nisf khalq Allah/La moitié du ciel d’Allah/The Other Half of Allah’s Heaven, video, 52 min (Best Documentary at Milan Festival of African Cinema; First Prize for Documentary, FESPACO 1997; First Prize at ‘Traces de Vies’ at Clermont-Ferrand and UNECA, Nairobi) Algérie, la vie quand même/Algeria: Life in Spite of It All, video, 52 min (Recipient of several awards at international film festivals, for example in Leipzig, Milan, and Palermo) Opération Télé-cités (Operation Tele-Cities), 26 min al-Jaza’ir al-hayah musta‘mirra/Algérie, la vie toujours (Algeria, Life Forever), beta SP, 53 min Et les arbres poussent en Kabylie (And the Trees Grow in Kabylia), betacam, 85 min

The Other Half of Allah’s Heaven Nisf khalq Allah/La moitié du ciel d’Allah Algeria 1996 Dir: Djamila Sahraoui Prod: Équipage Algerian women talk about their struggle for freedom, equal rights, and work. Intercut with the interviews are archival images of women who risked their lives fighting for Algerian independence and who then fought to reform the family law in the 1970s. Algeria, Life in Spite of It All Algérie, la vie quand même Algeria 1999



Dir: Djamila Sahraoui C: Bachir Sellami M: Malika Dom-Ran et al. Cast: Abdenour Berkane, Sadek Oumounjand, Hassan Metmati Ed: Anita Perez S: Farid Kortbi Prod: Les Films d’Ici, ARTE A documentary film about two young men, Abdenour and Sadek, both twenty-seven, who live in a small town and are hittistes.183 They have no profession, no work, and nothing to do. The film follows the two men as they wander back and forth between their daydreams and hard reality, showing the various little tricks they use to provide themselves with the essentials. Their only weapon for survival proves to be their sense of humor—and the friendship that ties them.


And the Trees Grow in Kabylia Et les arbres poussent en Kabylie France 2003 Dir/Scr: Djamila Sahraoui C: Mourad Zidi Ed: Catherine Gouze S: Tayeb Maouche Prod: Francoise Buraux Due to the lack of work opportunities, young Berbers in a small Algerian town in Kabylia spend their days sluggishly killing time and dreaming of a better life in France. A reconstruction project in their neighborhood, ‘The City of Martyrs,’ allows many of them to become active, as they begin planting trees and painting façades.




arah Taouss-Maton was born on July 10, 1948 in Algiers, the daughter of JewishBerber parents. She studied art in Montpellier and Paris until 1970. Since 1972 she has worked as an editor for film and video productions. She has also directed several documentaries. Her films are a search for her multiethnic roots. Sarah Taouss-Maton lives in both Paris and Algiers.

Filmography 1981 La journée continue (The Journey Continues), 16 mm, 52 min 1994 L’âge mûr (The Mature Age), video, 52 min 1996 D’un désert, l’autre (From One Desert to the Next), video, 52 min The Mature Age L’âge mûr France 1994 Dir/Scr: Sarah Taouss-Maton C: Gilles Clabaut S: Bruno Lecœur M: Olivier Bloch Laine Ed: Isabelle Rathery, Edith Paquet Prod: Les Films Grain de Sable, France 3 In this documentary the director tracks down her two best childhood friends. One remained in Algiers and died when she was twenty; the other emigrated to Israel where she has found a second home.





afsa Zinai-Koudil was born in Algeria in 1951. She has worked as an assistant director and journalist and has written several screenplays and novels. In her first film Woman as the Devil, she addresses the true story of a woman who was exorcised by Islamist fundamentalists. Because she received death threats while shooting the film, she lived underground in Algeria for a while before going into exile in Tunisia.

From an Interview with Hafsa Zinai-Koudil You went from being a novelist to directing for the cinema. How did this passage from one domain to another come about? HZK: It was through the intermediary of the text; that is to say, of the screenplay. I am first and foremost a novelist, but I was contacted by some film people to write a screenplay. I developed a taste for it, because it is another form of writing. It’s scenic, it’s visual; what you write are images. 320

Directing is a domain that is virtually reserved for men. Didn’t you have any problems with being accepted, or even excluded? HZK: God only knows that I did. I was the object of a general outcry; a veritable wall rose up in front of me. You know, there are many ways of trying to stop a person from getting somewhere, especially a woman; one has to call a spade a spade. The excuse they gave was that I’d never had any formal training. What is distressing is how pernicious this hostility was. It wasn’t direct but surreptitious, behind the scenes. One must understand that cinema in Algeria is the exclusive preserve of certain people. It is very difficult for either women or young people to gain entry. In your opinion, why has directing remained the preserve of men, with the exception of yourself? HZK: It is a space in which women are marginalized, a fact which certain people try to justify irrationally in terms of the physical rigors and demands that it involves. Directing involves supervising a team of about forty people, which is no small affair. The director is the organizer, the brain of


the machine. He or she has got to supervise everybody and be everywhere at once. Perhaps for those people who control Algerian cinema, women are only good for tending the stove. According to them, it’s risky for a woman to want to take up such a challenge. But I say, Where there’s a will, there’s a way, regardless of sex. Why did you choose to launch your filmmaking career with such a difficult topic? HZK: My path was characterized by a kind of challenge that I had to take up, and this was a challenge because it is a subject that touches at once upon women and upon that phenomenon that we are living through today and that one must call by its name: fundamentalism. The practice of exorcism is not only the result of fundamentalism; it would be unfair to say that it didn’t used to exist in Algeria. It has always existed there, as everywhere else in the world, since the dawn of time. It was just performed differently. I would say, in a traditional manner, by the talebs. Thus, the point of the film is to denounce such medieval, obscurantist practices which, alas, still persist in Algeria. (Samia Ziouane, in Mediasud, no.8) Woman as the Devil al-Shaytan imra’a/Le démon au féminin Algeria 1992, 35 mm, 90 min Dir/Scr: Hafsa Zinai-Koudil C: Ahmed Messaad S: Ali Moulahcène Ed: A. Cherigui Cast: Djamila Haddadi, Ahmed Benaissa et al. Prod: Algerisches Kulturministerium This feature film is based on true events: Latifa, a self-assured, employed Algerian woman, was tortured for six hours in 1991 by Islamist fundamentalists at the request of her husband. He believed she was possessed by the devil because she refused to wear a headscarf. Latifa was seriously injured and confined to a wheelchair. The trial against the fanatics kept Algeria spellbound for weeks.



Film Reviews Pic is subtle but firm in making the essential distinction between followers of Islam, “a religion of love and tolerance,” and the faith as appropriated by fanatics bent on seizing absolute control. But the melodramatic pic forgoes shades of gray in conveying its central narrative. In broad strokes, Koudil shows how discontented youth (nearly 75 percent of Algeria’s population is under 25) can be boondoggled into cultish obedience, and how omnipresent pressures can make rigid doctrine an appealing refuge even for educated males of the professional classes. (Lisa Nesselsen in Variety, December 4, 1994)


When Hafsa Zinai-Koudil discovered that not one of her colleagues dared to film the story, she decided to do it herself. And she did. “While shooting the film we were constantly threatened, but we kept on shooting despite our fear. Now that the film is finished, the threats are more insidious and indirect. It is the system that is resisting. Bureaucrats obstruct us everywhere they can.” The film landed in a depot and has not yet been released. Did the censors recognize that the father was a symbol for the bankrupt FLN system that has long sought a compromise with Islam, and the mother a symbol of the wounded, but honorable country of Algeria? (Sabine Kebir in the program to the Feminale in Cologne, October 1994) Like Latifa, Hafsa Zinai-Koudil is an intellectual from the first generation of Algerian women who can read and write, since Hafsa’s and Latifa’s mothers are illiterate. Forty-three-year-old Hafsa Koudil is also married and has four children. Her father is an imam, an Islamic cleric, and she herself is a devout Muslim. Hafsa is a successful author and scriptwriter, but no director wanted to film the screenplay about Latifa’s fate. The reason was fear. Hafsa Zinai-Koudil refused to give up. She had worked as assistant director for the filming of her last three screenplays and was willing to direct the film herself if necessary. Even the film’s genesis is dramatic. Koudil had a lot of trouble finding actors for the film, which was understandable under the circumstances. Then suddenly she received unexpected aid from


the Algerian ministry of culture, which gave her the funding she needed. Nevertheless while shooting the film in Algeria from September 1992 to January 1993, the author received murder threats, including a photo of herself with her throat slit. A few weeks later, events came to a head. A delivery van was seen parked in front of Hafsa’s door, its engine running, its headlights off. Her pursuers were waiting. A relative warned Hafsa, who had not been sleeping at home for months. She fled to Tunis that very night. Her family followed. Her husband, a bank employee, quit his job, and their children were enrolled in school in the Tunisian capital. Hafsa Koudil’s film is harsh—but not as harsh as the reality. She made the story more palatable by giving the husband a persecution complex in the film. In real life, however, the husband was not mentally ill; he was a perfectly normal man. Why did Hafsa write and film the story? “It’s quite simple: I thought this could happen to me one day! They want us self-assured women to become the shadows of our husbands again.” (From EMMA magazine, November/December 1994) 323


A Kind of Letter of Intent Yamina Benguigui


It all started by encountering a city, Marseilles, spontaneously during the shooting of Woman of Islam [Benguigui’s documentary film series on Arab Muslim women]. I filmed a number of women and asked them about their situation as Muslim women. Full of trust and before a running camera, they dared to talk about how they suffered as submissive wives. Some of them had lost children to AIDS or drug overdoses. The more I listened, the more I started asking myself how these women ended up in France. And they told their stories. The pictures came unprompted: arrival in the port, then the discovery of the bidonvilles (slums, shanty towns), the loneliness. I thought of their husbands and of course, the fathers. These were questions that took me back years to the small village in the north of France where my parents had emigrated to in the 1950s. I can see my house with the gray stone façade, similar to all the others and yet not quite the same. Before the others there were roses growing, or geraniums, or garden flowers, whereas we had only weeds and wild growth shooting up. I remember the neighbor who asked in a friendly way as soon as he saw my father, “So, Ahmed, will you be going back home this year?” And my father, surprised to hear his first name spoken in public, responded with a sheepish smile, “Yes! This year! In a few months!” I can see my mother before me, how she walks back and forth in the living room, where the cardboard boxes that had contained our clothing were piling up, the dishes, the linens, and the napkins. I can still hear them saying to themselves, “Next year we’ll go. We’ll go back home!” I had only vacation


memories of my parents’ home country, a small village in the mountains, white houses, the sweltering sun, a fountain. One evening in 1976 the whole family was sitting as usual around the table. My father turned on the television to listen to the news. Into an almost religious stillness the newscaster announced in a droning voice, “The Parliament has just voted on the law on aid for repatriation for emigrants. The agreement has been signed with various countries in the Maghreb. Every head of household will receive 10,000FF (US$ 2,200) and is entitled to receive training aimed to ease reintegration into their country of origin. This repatriation aid is strictly voluntary.” My mother stood up and faced the cardboard boxes piled up along the wall. Then she turned her head. My glance met hers. Her pupils, dark and huge, were full of fear. “But Mother, they said it’s voluntary!” I tried to explain to her. Time passed. My father did not apply for the repatriation aid, but my mother continued the never-ending stockpiling of boxes. My brothers and sisters grew up with their thumbs on the suitcase locks. So did I. More time passed. The provisional arrangement became a bit more permanent. Less and less often, and with less conviction, my mother said to us, “Next year, maybe . . . “ Twenty years have come and gone. My parents are still here. These families that are so disturbing, they are my parents. In view of the everpresent rumors, filled with suspicion and violence, what can I say for my part except to ask, “What have you done to my father? What have you done to my mother? What have you done to my parents that they have become so quiet? What have you said to them that they do not want to uproot us from this earth into which we were born? What are we today? Immigrants? No! The children of immigrants? French of foreign descent? Muslims? As I had already begun doing for Women of Islam, I researched immigration from the Maghreb. At the very beginning this search showed me that it is closely intertwined with the economic history of France. First I sought out the politicians who are responsible for this economy, for immigration and integration. Then I visited the fathers. They came alone in the 1950s, on the express invitation of French companies. They rebuilt the country after the Second World War. The history of these people was sealed by an unspoken agreement. Part of the project of the new beginning




was the project of returning. Not even the Algerian War had any effect on this project. The French companies continued their recruiting. The fathers stayed without ever settling in for good. In 1974 the government approved policies to reunite families, which now brought the mothers to France. Obliged to follow their husbands, they live in isolation at the margins of France, caught in the dual task of preserving the traditions and religion against the background of the idée fixe to return someday on the one hand, and opening themselves up to the world around them as mediated through their children, on the other. It was these children who were the definitive obstacles to the project of returning. The children I interviewed, who all came to France as young children or were born here, knew only bits and pieces of the past of their fathers and mothers: colonialism, Algerian War, independence, immigration. They knew virtually nothing of what their parents had lived through. Having grown up in a stopgap, torn between two countries yet, despite the suffering, also heirs to two cultures, they have—on the basis of their presence on French soil—transformed what was originally intended as the immigration of labor into an immigration of human beings. Without the knowledge of their parents, and without the knowledge of France, which seems surprised about their existence, they are here. Their screams and the violence are extreme forms of a legitimate claim: “I belong to this society!” (Yamina Benguigui, in freiburger film forum, May 1999)


Morocco Introduction 327

Rabat, the white city on the Atlantic, is not only the capital of Morocco but also the film metropolis of the country. Founded there in 1944, the national film center, Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM) produces mainly short films and weekly newsreels. In 1995 the national film archives of the CCM were opened. For a long time only commercial import films from Hong Kong, Egypt, India, and B-westerns from Hollywood could be seen in the country’s roughly 200 movie theaters. Over the last few years a trend toward Moroccan films has set in. Several productions by native directors have managed to run for weeks in the major movie theaters. There have also been major political developments in Morocco. For nearly four decades King Hassan II ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1999. When his son, Mohammed VI, ascended to the throne, hopes for democratization grew. The few liberalizing measures he did introduce also allowed fundamentalist currents—whose influence had been quietly spreading since the 1970s—to surface. The traditional customs and mystical rites that are still alive in many regions provided a counterweight to these radical tendencies. After writing the screenplay



for the film Reed Dolls (1981), which depicted the unfair conditions of women in Morocco, Farida Ben Lyazid dedicated her first film A Door to the Sky (1988) to these age-old traditions by portraying an Islam of tolerance and justice as a direct counterweight to the monopolization of Islam by radical ideologues. Terrorist attacks devastated the country for the first time in May 2003. Bomb attacks in Casablanca killed more than forty people, including the eleven assassins. The veil, which had become unfashionable after national independence, is becoming popular once more. It seems like a fairy tale that in 1947 Moroccan King Mohammed V allowed his daughter to read his proclamation that he wished to head the independence movement. Contrary to custom, she was not wearing a veil.184 During the French colonial period, only six feature films appeared in Morocco under native direction. The French had plans to create a North African Hollywood. In 1946 they built the Souissi Studios in a suburb of Rabat, which like Studios Africa in Tunisia was to be the basis of this film industry. Not much came of these plans. Unlike other Arab countries, the film industry in Morocco was never nationalized after the country achieved national independence in 1956. The ‘free’ Moroccan film industry, however, long had the lowest production levels in the Arab world. Since 1980 the number of Moroccan feature film productions has increased considerably. This can be attributed to the establishment of a national film fund (Fonds de l’Aide à la Production Cinématographique) that subsidizes up to fifty percent of a film’s budget. It can do so by gathering money from various sources including—a first in Africa and the Arab world—five percent of the publicity income of national television. As film scholar Viola Shafik noted, the film fund award is also misused as a means of indirect censorship. Since even today there is no coherent national policy for film funding and distribution, most domestic films are international coproductions. When Farida Ben Lyazid began making films in the late 1970s, no national film fund existed. From that time one she was the only female filmmaker in Morocco, until 2003, when the Belgium-based Yasmine Kassari made her feature debut The Sleeping Child followed by Narjiss Najjar’s Dry Eyes, selected in Cannes 2003 and released in Europe in 2004.


They belong to a young generation of filmmakers who studied in Paris, Brussels, and London who have been successful with their first short films and documentaries. Fatima Jebli Ouazzani in the Netherlands, Leïla Marakchi, Leïla Kilani, and Rahma Benhamou El-Madani in France are counted among that generation. Ben Lyazid presented her second feature film, in which she champions Women’s Wiles as a weapon against traditional patriarchy, at the International Berlin Film Festival in 1999. In the same year, the Moroccan coproduction Maktub (Destiny) was the first Arab film to be nominated for the Oscar in the category of ‘foreign film.’ It was the debut film directed by twenty-nine-year-old Nabil Ayouch. At the International Berlin Film Festival in 2001, Ayouch presented his second feature film Ali Zaoua, about street youths in Morocco. Moroccan productions hardly stand a chance in the movie theaters of other Arab countries. Nevertheless, Moroccan cinéma d’auteur filmmakers, like their Tunisian counterparts, have contributed to the development of a specifically Arab film language by making use of their cultural and artistic ties to France and other European countries. By taking up aesthetic criteria and social issues that embrace the human dimension, they have shown an extraordinary creative presence. The direction that film and society in Morocco will take depends on the course of King Mohammed VI. At first he seemed to fulfill the hopes placed on him. He turned all the royal residences in the various regions of Morocco into public parks, ordered a universal amnesty for political prisoners, and paid compensation to victims of torture. But little was done to change the authoritarian system of rule in the kingdom. In the year 2000 alone, eight newspapers were temporarily closed under the new king and the government of socialist Abderrahmene Youssoufi.185 Meanwhile the government has issued a new press law that gives the Ministry of Information the right not only to suspend a disagreeable newspaper but to close it. Journalists run the risk of having to pay high fines, and in extreme cases, of being incarcerated. Living conditions in Morocco remain bad. In the 2003 United Nations Development Programme Report on Arab Human Development, Morocco still appears near the bottom of the list, with thirty percent unemployment and sixty percent illiteracy. The unresolved conflict in the




Western Sahara costs Moroccans an estimated half a billion US dollars a year. The political winners of the stagnation are the Islamists. As journalist Martina Sabra reported,186 “They offer alms and promises of salvation to people living in the slums; they attempt to persuade members of the middle class facing social decline that although they are poor, as good Muslims they are morally superior.” In the elections in September 2002, the large Islamic party, Parti de la Justice et du Développement (PJD) tripled its number of seats in the Moroccan parliament despite major efforts by the Ministry of the Interior to obstruct them. The Islamists represent no real threat to the power apparatus, the Makhzen. The citizens, however, especially women, are the ones who need to be afraid: intolerance, religious fanaticism, and violence are spreading throughout society unchecked. Zahra Azirae, a women’s rights activist from Casablanca, believes that the Islamists in parliament are only pretending to be moderate in their views and in reality sympathize with terrorists. “We hear again and again that groups of religious fanatics are patrolling the streets of the Sidi Moumin slums in Casablanca. When they meet a man and woman together on the street, they ask, ‘Where is your marriage certificate?’ If the man cannot present the document, they beat him up. An elderly man was even killed because he was an alcoholic. The problem is that these crimes are treated by the courts as normal offenses. They are trying to downplay the political explosiveness.” Yet there are people who have the courage to go against the tide. One of them is Nawal El Moutawakel who was the only woman on Morocco’s Olympic team in 1984, when she won the 400-meter hurdles event and became the first Arab woman to strike Games gold. During her period in office as Minister for Youth and Sports (1997–99) she established the two first all-woman soccer teams. Now an International Olympic Committee member, the forty-two-year old organizes the Run for Fun, a 10-kilometer race each May in Casablanca, as a symbol of the larger public space becoming available to women. In 2004, 12 thousand women—“all sizes, all ages, all dress codes, Olympic champions, members of parliament, grandmothers”—took part.187 “A nation that trusts its affairs to women will never prosper” (Lam yaflah qawmun walaw amarahun imra’a). This saying by the Prophet Muhammad is


cited by those who opposes equal rights for women. Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi is considered the intellectual leader of the women’s movement in the Maghreb.188 In her book Le harem politique (Paris 1987), she argues that misogynistic traditions are largely not substantiated in Islam. She found numerous references to equality between the sexes in the Qur’an and the hadith.189 These citations from the Qur’an, however, have historically been interpreted in a misogynistic light by Islamic clerics. Today women’s rights activists are increasingly venturing to reinterpret the Qur’an and Shari‘a from a female perspective, thereby shaking the foundations of the patriarchal social order. In 2000 the conflict between ‘modernists’ and ‘religious conservatives’ reached a preliminary climax due to the planned reform of the mudawana, the Shari‘a law that dictates the civil status of women. There are enough reasons for a reform: two-thirds of the female population in Morocco is illiterate; every six hours a Moroccan woman dies during childbirth. The government proposed raising the legal age of marriage for women to eighteen, banning polygamy, and granting women the right to divorce. On March 12, 2000, the day when women around the world marched against poverty and discrimination, hundreds of thousands of people went out on the streets in Rabat and Casablanca. However, Die Tageszeitung correspondent Reiner Wandler remarks,190 “what looked like two demonstrations with comparable goals attests to a deep division in Moroccan society.” In Rabat, over 100,000 supporters of the socialist party, the trade unions, and women’s organizations gathered to express their support for the government’s reform proposal. In Casablanca, 200,000 sympathizers of the PJD demonstrated together with conservative nationalists calling for “better conditions for women maintaining absolute respect for Islam.”191 Nadia Yassin, the forty-five-year-old spokeswoman for the semi-legal Islamist organization al-‘Adl wa-l-ihsan (Justice and Charity) led by her father Shaykh Abdel Salam Yassin, discovered what was meant by “absolute respect.” “Another radical Islamist group has accused her of being an apostate,” explains Rabea Naciri, women’s rights activist and professor of geography at the University of Rabat. “Why? Because she wears only a headscarf. A real Muslim, the accusers claimed, must veil her face!”




Within the Islamist parties, too, more and more women are striving for positions of leadership. The resulting party infighting makes one thing clear, according to Naciri, “It’s all about one thing, even for the Islamists— power. Religion is only a means to the end.” For Rabea Naciri, women and women’s organizations are among the most important reform groups in Moroccan civil society today. In the last parliamentary elections they pushed through a women’s quota of thirty seats. Under increasing pressure by Islamists campaigning against poverty and injustice, King Mohammed VI is also seeking support from women. One of the commissions he set up initially rejected the government’s proposed family law reform, judging it too ‘un-Islamic.’ But then the king exercised his authority and pushed through the reform. At the beginning of 2004 the parliament in Rabat adopted a sweeping reform of the family law, including women’s right to divorce and to bring their husbands to court for domestic violence or for neglecting their obligation to financially support their families. Women also no longer need the approval of a male guardian in order to marry. Polygamy is allowed only if the first wife is infertile. This legal reform has made Morocco the second country in the Arab world—after Tunisia in 1957—to have given men and women virtually equal rights before the law.


Morocco Discovers its Cinema Culture Martina Sabra192 Something new has been happening in Morocco; in recent years movie audiences have wanted to see not only productions from India, Southeast Asia, and the United States, but films from their own country as well. Numerous productions by native directors have been able to hold their own in the last few years, being shown for weeks on end in commercial movie houses in the major cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, and Meknes. The films are even bringing in profits at the box offices, which is very unusual for Morocco. This is all the more remarkable considering that the number of commercial movie theaters in Morocco has dropped significantly (by almost one-third) in the last ten years, to less than 200, whereas the number of video clubs has skyrocketed to more than 2500 and satellite dishes have been introduced throughout the country. Of the roughly 100 local film clubs (ciné clubs) that used to exist, which for years were the only market for Moroccan films, only twenty-five still exist, and even these show great discrepancies in their overall activity. All in all, since the 1960s more than 100 feature films and several hundred short films have been made in Morocco. A comprehensive, scholarly history and evaluation of Moroccan filmmaking since the country gained independence has not yet been written. There are several reasons why in recent years, Moroccans have begun to discover their own cineastic potential: 1. A regular film fund to subsidize Moroccan films for the cinema (Fonds de l’Aide à la Production Cinématographique) since 1988. Though modest, it has been increased through taxes on foreign film imports and movie theater admissions.



2. Cooperation between television and filmmakers in the areas of production, marketing, and film criticism, especially since the founding of 2M, the semiofficial television station. 3. Younger filmmakers with greater willingness to answer to the aesthetic needs of a wide audience, that is, films continue to be socially critical, political, or intellectually sophisticated, but they are more entertaining and of better technical quality than previously. 4. An increase in coproductions, especially with European television networks (La Sept, ARTE). 5. A new generation of professionally trained Moroccan film actors who can serve as role models for audiences and are ‘star’ material. 6. Support in the area of film from ‘the top,’ for example by the launching of an international film festival in Marrakech in 2001. 7. Courage shown by film distributor Najib Benkirane in Casablanca, who was the first in Morocco to select specifically Moroccan films for distribution. 334

The increased interest in films from Morocco at international film festivals has also had an important impact on the acceptance of Moroccan films within the country. Ali, Rabia and the Others, a very noteworthy film by Ahmed Boulane about the rebellious generation of the 1970s in Morocco, at first received scant attention in Morocco. When the film was critically acclaimed at international festivals, the demand grew for the film within Morocco as well. Certain themes turn up time and again in Moroccan films: the oppression of women, social injustice, generational conflict (modernity versus tradition), the individual and society, ruralurban migration and urbanization, the search for a cultural identity, the omnipotence of the bureaucracy. Most of the films are cinéma d’auteur. Many are not very good in formal terms as a result of insufficient training and inadequate technical equipment, and owing to censorship. Despite liberalization in public life in the 1990s, some worthwhile Moroccan films are literally cut to pieces by the censors. The growing influence of the Islamist movement has posed a particular problem. It has staged a ‘clash of civilizations’ in Morocco—similar to the previous one in Egypt—to bring their radical political agenda into the public eye. Liberal filmmakers


are denounced as ‘immoral’ and their works are boycotted. One film that was targeted in this way was Une minute de soleil en moins (A Minute Less Sunshine) by Nabil Ayouch (Morocco 2001). There are practically no private or public production companies that take on the marketing of feature films for native directors. Anyone who makes feature films in Morocco is largely responsible for arranging all financing, marketing, and budgeting themselves. That is an overwhelming task in view of modern market mechanisms. The origins of this structural weakness in the film scene trace back into Moroccan film history. In contrast to other Arab countries (such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria), in Morocco the film medium was used only to a limited extent as a means of national development and to educate the people. In Egypt, for example, the upper middle class, with its nationalist leanings, and particularly the banks, deliberately pushed for the establishment of a national film industry as early as the 1930s. Consequently, Egypt dominated the Arab film and television market for decades. Films for the cinema in Morocco, on the other hand, were primarily imported from abroad, even after Morocco achieved independence in 1956. The major film distribution companies were not interested in Moroccan productions. The state let feature films and weekly newsreels be brought to rural areas of Morocco via the so-called Caravanes Cinématographiques,193 but domestic production of feature films was sporadic at best and received negligible funding. The national film office, Centre Cinématographique Moroccain (CCM), was responsible for censorship, producing weekly newsreels, and importing foreign films. CCM also controlled the numerous international productions shot on location in Morocco. Morocco’s monumental natural landscapes have always been a preferred backdrop for international westerns and adventure films. Because there was no film school in Morocco, Moroccan directors studied abroad, mostly in France, but also in Italy and the former Soviet Union. Foreign contacts and related jobs were for many directors the only possibility of earning money in their field, which they could then channel into domestic productions. Here and there filmmakers came together to form small production societies, which functioned in terms of subject and themes but ultimately failed due to organizational problems.




This situation nevertheless did not have only negative repercussions. The lack of national film policies and the virtual lack of infrastructure also meant that filmmakers used their own means to produce some wonderful or at least unusual films. So is there light at the end of the tunnel? Yes and no. Moroccan films have without a doubt become more interesting. But the number of domestic productions has again diminished and the quality varies considerably. Aesthetically demanding works by Ayouch, Bouland, Lagtaa, Chraibi, and others are worlds apart from the slipshod rush jobs of Hakim Noury. There is little transparency to CCM leadership and a lack of clarity as regards the allocation of film fund subsidies, which increasingly leads to heated and public disputes among filmmakers. Morocco, a country of 30 million residents and 50 percent illiteracy, still has neither a film school nor adequate training facilities for editing or sound technology. In order for productions to satisfy international standards, film editors and sound technicians are usually brought in from Tunisia or Europe. The technological equipment of the CCM Studios in Rabat is inadequate and the CCM itself is deep in debt and forever facing financial crises. And the essence of good filmmaking—scriptwriting—is still often improvised. (Martina Sabra, in epd-Film 9/98, 20–27; updated in September 2003)


Morocco’s Filmmakers BEN LYAZID, FARIDA (1948–)


arida Ben Lyazid was born on March 10, 1948 in Tangier, Morocco. She studied literature and film in Paris and has produced several films, including Poupées de roseaux (Reed Dolls, 1981) by Jellali Ferhati, her ex-husband, for which she also wrote the screenplay. She was also the scriptwriter for Mohamed A. Tazi’s Badis (1986) and À la recherche du mari de ma femme (Looking for My Wife’s Husband, 1992). In addition, she has written two short stories and a monthly column for the Moroccan magazine Le Libéral. Farida Ben Lyazid’s first feature film A Door to the Sky created quite a stir among Arab and European critics. The film, at times quite impassioned, tells the story of a modern young Moroccan woman who finds her traditional roots through religion and spirituality.

Filmography 1988 Bab al-sama’ maftuh/Une porte sur le ciel (A Door to the Sky), 35 mm, 100 min 1993 Aminata Traoré, une femme du Sahel (Aminata Traoré, a Woman of the Sahel), video, 26 min 1995 Sur la terrasse (On the Terrace), 35 mm, 15 min 1999 Kayd insa/Ruses de femmes/Women’s Wiles, 35 mm, 90 min 2002 Casablanca, Casablanca, 35 mm, 90 min



A Door to the Sky Bab al-sama’ maftuh/ Une porte sur le ciel France/Tunisia/Morocco 1988/89 Dir/Scr: Farida Ben Lyazid C: George Barsky M: Anwar Abraham Ed: Moufida Tlatli Cast: Zakia Tahri, Bashir Skirej et al. Prod: France Media, SATPEC, CCM


Young Nadia lives in France and is returning to Morocco to see her father on his deathbed. She encounters religious traditions that at first seem strange, but through them she discovers a new path in life. The door that opens for her appears like a mixture of desire and reality against the backdrop of present-day Islamist developments—perhaps it is also a provocation. The customs that inspire Nadia are a dynamic blend of classical Islamic teachings, Sufi mystical rites and popular tradition whose role in everyday life has remained intact.

From an Interview with Farida Ben Lyazid You shot the film A Door to the Sky in 1988 when Islamic fundamentalism was emerging as a powerful force. Can your film be understood as a reaction to this development? FB: I worked on the script and the film development for three years. So the film is not a conscious response to the growth of fundamentalism during that time. If anything it was based on personal inspiration. What understanding of religion did you wish to convey in your film? FB: I show the popular side of Islam by portraying traditions that in part still exist and by recalling some from the past. I think it’s important, especially for young people, to show alternatives for identifying with and through religion. When I say religion, I am not talking about Islam as a state religion or fundamentalist Islam. Religion is about living a spirituality and learning how to put humanitarian beliefs into practice—


like Nadia in the film, who discovers herself and a new meaning and path in life through religion. The portrayal of women in the film is very clichéd. Tradition and modernity confront each other, ruling out any blend and thus a more sophisticated perspective. FB: The message of my film is not ‘Return to tradition!’ Nadia searches for and finds her own path. But her sister, for instance, who has chosen a life in Morocco, thinks she’s crazy. I wanted to explore the world of women that has been hidden for so long and laden with stereotypes and ignorance. In my films I speak about the world and culture of women. In Morocco I live in a society with strict codes: there is a female world and a male world. My world and cultural identity is that of the women. That’s why I talk about them. I don’t want to create stereotypes. Women play an important role in Islam as well, especially in the realm of spirituality. What difficulties do you face today as a filmmaker? FB: We have no market for films here, and it is difficult to get financing. Every time I apply for a project, I receive less money than the men do. There is economic censorship. I have no problem working with my male colleagues. I have also written several screenplays for male directors, including the comedy A la recherche d’un mari pour ma femme (Looking for My Wife’s Husband), which was extremely successful in Morocco. (Discussion with the audience at the Feminale, Cologne, 1994) What is the historical background of the zawiya in your film? FB: The zawiya is a retreat where women can commune with the spirit of God. It is not unlike a cloister, but a vow of celibacy and a time commitment is not required. Women go there of their own free will; some for a short while, others for their whole lives. There are books that attribute a political role to the zawiyas. But I was personally interested in the spiritual dimension, where women find a sense of security. A few zawiyas were founded by women. Isabelle Eberhardt194 frequently stayed in a zawiya in southern Morocco that was run by a woman, Shaykha Lalla Zeinab. Zawiyas often served as sanctuaries for women.



Are there any zawiyas today? FB: Much has changed but there are still a few small zawiyas that quietly carry on this tradition. They trace the tradition back to the Prophet Muhammad. What are the origins of the trance dancing that inspired Nadia, and what role does it play? FB: The rites of trance dancing that I show in the film have been denounced by orthodox Islam as a pagan aberration. They have similarities with the cult of the Greek god Dionysus. Those who practice these rites, the Aissaouia, a Sufi brotherhood, see themselves as Muslims who have their own way of praying to God. In my film trance dancing enables Nadia to open herself completely to a dimension she did not know existed. This enables her to transcend human reason and comprehend cosmic principles that are beyond human comprehension.


What did you wish to convey in your film? FB: I was interested in the imaginary in Islam; for instance, when Nadia finds the buried treasure. In real life this takes place on the night between the 26th and 27th day in the fasting month of Ramadan, on the night of a new moon. This is the holy night when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is said that the door to heaven is open on this night and that the wishes of those who see the door will be fulfilled. All Muslim children have at least once watched the skies closely on this night. (Written interview with the author: Berlin/Tangier, August 1995)

Film Reviews For [Moroccan scriptwriter and director Farida Ben Lyazid], female self-realization is not achieved by submitting to a national project, nor by destroying traditional structures, nor by escaping abroad. The director dedicated her film to Fatima al-Fihriya, who founded the first university in Fez in the tenth century, thus clarifying her subliminal political message. On the one hand, A Door to the Sky wants to support native feminists by reminding them that women held important social positions in classical Islamic times. On the other hand, the author takes


a position on Western feminism by illustrating that such ‘progressive’ institutions as shelters for battered women have a long tradition in Islamic culture and that female self-realization can take place in a traditional framework. In keeping with this, Farida Ben Lyazid leaves the shelter in her film in its traditional surroundings and embeds it in a religious foundation or zawiya. Despite the profound change the heroine undergoes during the film, Nadia does not resolve her original dilemma. She solves the problem of her national affiliation by taking a one-sided decision. She reconciles only with her Moroccan heritage, but cuts her relation to France abruptly and thoroughly, leaving again a wide fissure between tradition and modernity as absolute contradictions, at least on the material level. Hence, her search for identity concentrates on metaphysics. (Viola Shafik, in Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity, Cairo 1998, pages 206, 207) In Farida Ben Lyazid’s film A Door to the Sky, the transformational process of the individual who migrates from countryside to city (and then abroad) is reversed into a return from exile. The protagonist’s own space becomes the means for realizing a religious project for an Islamic community, the revival of the zawiya, a traditional institution that lies somewhere between a convent and a women’s shelter. A woman’s happiness combined with spiritual awakening: an expansion of opportunities or regression? Utopia or simply propaganda? (Silvia Hallensleben in Der Tagesspiegel, September 25, 1995) Women’s Wiles Kayd insa/Ruses de femmes Morocco/Switzerland/Tunisia/ France 1999 Dir/Scr: Farida Ben Lyazid C: Serge Platsi S: Faouzi Thabet M: Mohamed Charraf Ed: Kathéna Attia



Cast: Samira Akariou, Rachid El Quali, Fatma Bensaodane et al. Prod: Tingitania Films, Waka Films, Touza Productions, Cephéide Productions Lalla Aicha is the spirited daughter of a rich merchant. One day she meets the king’s son. It is the beginning of a love story, a battle of the sexes waged by both sides to the point of absurdity—at first it is to have the last word, after the wedding it is a struggle for power. Although the prince employs all the might of his authority to bear upon her, Lalla Aicha triumphs in the end. This filming of an old Andalusian fairy tale is a parable of the superiority of women. The director connects the tale to the present by narrating it as a story within a story: a mother living in today’s Morocco tells her adolescent daughter the story of Lalla Aicha, which Ben Lyazid herself heard as a child from her stepmother.


“As in all fairy tales there is a prince. But in this fairy tale nobody messes around with the woman. Instead, her intelligence wins the day and is a weapon to be feared throughout the film. She is the one pulling the strings.” (Farida Ben Lyazid)

From an Interview with Farida Ben Lyazid How did the public in Berlin receive your films? FB: The audience laughed a lot. The showing of Women’s Wiles was a world premiere, so I was very happy that they liked the film. The questions they asked afterward, however, made it clear to me that our way of thinking and our culture is very foreign to them. The image that people in Europe have of the Orient and especially of Arab women is one-dimensional and false. The media is to blame. They always show Arab women as victims, passive, trapped, without a will or mind of their own. Farida, you turned down a producer’s offer to make a film about violence against women in Arab countries. FB: I don’t think depicting violence is the solution. Instead I adapted a fairy tale that my stepmother told me when I was a child. Even back then


the story deeply impressed me: how the heroine asserted herself against the arrogant and powerful prince. I grew up in a time when the world of women was kept strictly separate from the male world. The Qur’an attributes physical strength to men, and guile to women. But the Sufi master Jallal al-Din al-Rumi said that woman is not the object of desire, but a gift from God. I use these sources in the film to show young people that we have a long tradition that values and appreciates women. Lalla Aicha, the heroine of the film, prevails because of her wiles and amazing perseverance. Are these the ‘weapons’ you are recommending to young women today? FB: Wiles for me are important; they are a form of intelligence. In a patriarchal society like the Arab society, it is often the only way for women to achieve their aims. Over the centuries women have developed and preserved their own culture through oral transmission: narratives, songs, dances. I show this women’s culture in my films. The film Reed Dolls, for which I wrote the screenplay, is a German coproduction and was aired on ZDF, a German television station. My first film, A Door to the Sky, was rejected because it was ‘too beautiful,’ the décor was too opulent. Arab filmmakers are expected to make films depicting problems, misery, and poverty, which is the image Westerners have of the Third World. There is a span of ten years between the two films. FB: I first had to find funding. During this period I wrote screenplays for other directors. One of these films is the comedy À la recherche du mari pour ma femme (Looking for My Wife’s Husband), in which I poke fun at polygamy. The film was a big success in Morocco. Maktub was the first Arab film to be nominated for the Foreign Film Oscar. Has Moroccan film changed so rapidly in the past few years? FB: I think the development in Moroccan cinema has been quite normal. When I started making films twenty-five years ago, there was no state funding at all. Back then everyone thought I was crazy. I joined other filmmakers in forming a film association to help subsidize our films. Ten years later we are reaping the harvest; the CCM, the national film



center, has produced several small films and Moroccan film distributors are turning more and more often to domestic productions. Maktub is a mixture of thriller and road movie—that is something new. (Interview with the author at the FESPACO retrospective, Berlin, February 1999)

Film Reviews Presenting an image of Islam that is picturesque, hot, almost idyllic, the film succeeds by consciously choosing its mode of operation, the comicbook illustration of a traditional tale—and thanks to its supremely energetic actress, Samia Akariou, a native of the white and blue town of Chefchaouen, where it was filmed. It only rewrites the tale very slightly, nevertheless adding the character of a bookseller who offers permissive books and professing tolerant ideas. (Olivier Barlet in http://www.africultures.com/index.asp?menu=revue_ affiche_article&no=2573 on July 30, 2004) 344

Women’s Wiles is not exactly a fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights. The acting style is too grand, the visual language too immediate, a mixture of Commedia dell Arte and early evening soaps. The characters are seemingly dressed up in old costumes, yet the film neither sweeps us away to the old world of Moorish Andalusia, nor does it enchant us. Instead it compellingly pursues its Kammerspiel-like drama to the end. (Eberhard Spreng, Berliner Zeitung, September 23, 1999) Farida Ben Lyazid tells the story of mathematically gifted women around the world. One day the prince locks them up in his dungeon, and every day he drops by and asks, “Daughter of the textile merchant, humble one who lives in the dungeon, tell me, are women more intelligent than men?” Don’t bother seeing this film if you are not interested in this question, nor if you think that the persistent reply of the textile merchant’s daughter— “Women are more intelligent”—is inappropriate considering her situation. This critic admits being extremely annoyed with this answer. Why does she who sits in the dungeon have to tell the truth? Couldn’t the daughter of the textile merchant simply tell a lie, “My prince, men are more intelligent!”


Then he would marry her, and she would still be more intelligent than he is but wouldn’t have to live in the dungeon any longer. This is how women spend half their lives, simply because they think they can reform men. Women’s Wiles is a very likeable film, a fairy tale for adults. But it is highly moralistic and not one bit decadent. The question is whether the viewer can bear it. Of course the superior party wins in the end—but at what a price! All the more satisfying therefore is the prince’s insecurity; in a moment of intellectual panic he asks an elderly scribe, “Can women think?” And the old man, who must have been a Sufi, replies with the unfathomable: yes. (Kerstin Decker, Der Tagesspiegel, September 23, 1999; http://archiv. tagesspiegel.de/archiv/22.09.1999/ak-ku-fi-34212.html on March 20, 2005) Farida Benlyazid’s Women’s Wiles is a lightweight tale with the flavour of the 1001 Nights. Some Arab feminists consider Scheherezade their founding mother because she used her wits to conquer power and Benlyazid would seem to be among them. . . . It is difficult to translate this tale of a woman who seeks to win intellectual battles while living in captivity into a contemporary feminist story. Aicha’s cleverness is that of a spirited child and the story barely resonates, then, beyond the world of children’s games. (Sonali Pahwa in al-Ahram Weekly, no. 660, October 16–22, 2003; http:// weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/660/cu5.htm on December 25, 2004) Casablanca, Casablanca Morocco 2002 Dir: Farida Ben Lyazid Scr: Farida Ben Lyazid, Ahmed Boulane Cast: Younès Megri, Radchic El Quali, Amal Ayouch Mohamed Rzine et al. Prod: Tingitania films, RTM, Waka films Aicha, a young woman who works in an import-export company, vanishes one day without a trace. Soon afterward the body of her friend Lamia, with whom Aicha was last seen, is found. The corpse was discovered on the estate of a wealthy businessman. Police inspector Bachir starts working on both cases. The film is based on the novel Les puissants de Casablanca (The Powerful of Casablanca) by Rida Lemrini; it describes



the corruption and serious human rights violations surrounding an urban redevelopment project in Casablanca in 1996.

Film Reviews Casablanca, Casablanca, a film made for television with a small budget of 450,000 euros, can therefore be regarded as a driven film, sincere in its didacticism but of limited import, so little does its method demand of the viewer, preaching as it does to the converted. (Olivier Barlet in: www.africultures.com/tables/films/win_popup.asp?n o=583 on July 30, 2004)


The sincerity of combat, the simple life of Derb Talyan, family life— captured in all its poverty and richness—are ill served. The film would have benefited from a bridling of the force of play; this might have etched a more psychological portrait of these helpless Casablancans. Finally, speaking about a city as dirty and chaotic as Casablanca could have left its imprint on the fever and delirium of the common people who live there. (Mahjoub Haguig, in Maroc hebdo international, no. 540, January 10–16, 2003; http://www.maroc-hebdo.press.ma/MHinternet/Archives_540/html _540/impuis.html on July 30, 2004)

GENINI, IZZA (1942–)


zza Genini was born on March 27, 1942 in Casablanca, the youngest daughter of Jewish parents. Since 1960 she has lived in Paris, where she studied at the Sorbonne and INALCO, a school for oriental languages. She was director of the Club 70 screening room. In 1973 she founded the SOGEAV (Société de gestion et d’études audiovisuelle) film company together with Louis Malle and Claude Nedjar. Since 1976 Izza Genini’s own company OHRA (Hebrew for ‘light’ in the sense of enlightenment) has distributed


films in francophone Africa as well as African films in Europe. She produced the eleven-part documentary series Maroc, corps et âme (Morocco, Body and Soul, 1987–92). Izza Genini is also the author of two books Maroc (Paris 1988) and Morocco, Kingdom of 1001 Festivals (Paris, 1998).

From an Interview with Izza Genini How did you get involved in distribution and production? IG: I first began working in film almost by chance and then later out of choice. My first experience in the cinema was with a private film club, called Club 70, and with the Tours and Annecy film festivals. When my personal itinerary took me back to Morocco, my work followed. I met Moroccan filmmakers, and I wanted to show their films. Then at Ouagadougou I discovered African cinema and other films that should be promoted and shown more widely. Distribution was a problem, so in 1973 I set up my company Sogeav. I bought films to export them to French-speaking Africa, and I distributed African films abroad. Films about music formed a substantial part of what I distributed. In 1981, while I was still involved in distribution, I began my work with Moroccan music by producing a fulllength film, Transes/Trances by Ahmed El Maanouni, a film on the group Nass El Ghiwane. Then you went into filmmaking . . . IG: After Transes (Trances), I wanted to produce a feature film on the music of the cheikhat, the female troubadours. But nothing came of that. I hadn’t met at that time the scriptwriter or filmmaker who was ready for such an adventure. But one day I suddenly had the desire to make the film myself, and I started in 1987. At first I thought that a documentary would be easier than embarking on a full-length feature film. Experience has taught me the real difficulties of documentaries. They are just as difficult as feature films, but they have their own specific problems. You have to know how to cope with unforeseeable situations. When you film an event, you often have to make immediate choices, in relationship to the camera, to the sound, and so on. You have to coordinate what is spontaneous. On the other hand, you are in a much more dynamic creative situation than you are with fiction. Documentaries rely much



more on creativity than on preparation. The difficulties are stimulating, and there are moments of gratification. Something extraordinary can happen, better than anything you could have dreamed of. In Aita, the film on the cheikhat, we decided to follow Fatna Bent El Hocine and her group on their journeys. One afternoon, in a bit of a lull between what should have been two strong episodes of the film, I was in Fatna’s room with some of the women in the group. Suddenly Fatna, who up until then had been very modest and reserved, began to sing and talk about herself, at length. That was a real moment of grace, one of the best in the whole series.


There is a sense of your deep love of music and musicians in your films. What place do they occupy in your personal and professional life? IG: This is a choice that shows my relationship with music and musicians. In Morocco during the days of the French protectorate [1912–56], France was very present, both politically and culturally. At school, I had Frenchspeaking culture forced upon me. French was the way to not seem backward. I grew up with my back resolutely turned on the culture of my origins. My parents spoke Arabic and belonged to that culture. When we arrived in France, they could not read or speak French. I passed my baccalaureat and married a Frenchman: assimilation. When I began to look back, I found music. It was so beautiful, rich, and unknown! I was accompanied by musicians in the rediscovery of my country, and they were with me when I intimately repossessed my culture. I chose music as a subject. I show it in its environment, its natural setting, but my aim is not to transform it into a social or ethnological study. I cannot separate music from the idea of pleasure. It is an emotional choice. I wanted an emotional rather than an intellectual approach. Whenever possible I let the music express itself. It was through the rediscovery of Moroccan Arabic music that I was able to appreciate the Jewish music of my childhood. I believe that music connects generations. I know grandchildren of Andalusian or Berber musicians: one is a baritone today in New York, the other a country and blues guitarist in Chicago. (Thérèse-Marie Deffontaines, in Écrans d’Afrique, no. 5–6, 1993)


Speaking with Izza Genini When I went back to Morocco, I realized that I am a part of this mixed Moroccan, Jewish, French world. From that moment on I began my search for an inner harmony, which meant accepting all these parts in myself without having them exist in conflict. I lived this contradiction long enough when I was young. I used to think that if I wanted to live the French way of life, or a Western way of life, it meant I had to throw away everything else: Arabic culture and Jewish culture. I think music and film helped me find this harmony. When I was born, Morocco was still French. It had not yet won its independence. Our Moroccan way of life was very mixed between the Jewish and Arab cultures. My parents were very respectful of Jewish traditions. But my father worked with Arab Muslims, and I went to a French school. Like others in my generation I rejected Moroccan culture because I thought it was inferior to the French. Our dreams of emancipation were directed toward the West. We listened to jazz and rock music. At home I had to respect Jewish customs and my parents and celebrate Yom Kippur with them. This only made the conflict greater. Now I can say that I am Moroccan and Jewish and had a French education. I used to feel separate from my culture, but now I feel connected to each of these cultures. I love Moroccan music and Jewish music. Unfortunately I never studied music and I can’t sing. I like not only Arab music but also opera and reggae. That’s why I distribute films on reggae and opera and produced a feature film on Moroccan music, Transes by Ahmed El Maanouni with the famous group, Nass El Ghiwane. I think I am lucky that I come from Morocco. Muslims and Jews live together more peacefully in Morocco than in Palestine and Algeria. There are conflicts of course, but Jews have really always had a place in Morocco. During the Second World War, Morocco was still French. Petin was the president of France at the time and he passed some very restrictive measures against Jews. The King of Morocco, Mohamed V, immediately took the Jews under his protection by saying they are Moroccan citizens, and they are protected by law. So when Jews left Morocco for Canada or France, they still kept Morocco in their hearts. You can’t imagine how




many Jews from Israel and other countries come back to Morocco. They consider Morocco to be very open. When I returned, the Middle East conflict was at its height. But I never had to hide that I was Jewish. It was never an obstacle for me to be a Jew and to work with Arabs. My series Morocco, Body and Soul includes films on Islamic music and Jewish music, and my film Embroidered Canticles deals with what Jews and Arabs have in common in music. My film Aita was inspired by my childhood. My father used to take me to the countryside where they sold grain. There were always rural feasts with women coming to sing. I have always been fascinated by these women singers called cheikhat. They never went to school but they have a natural gift for singing and dancing. In Moroccan society they are outsiders. Most of them ran away from home to find a less restrictive life. Either they find a man, a shaykh in a band who takes them in, or they go to clubs in the cities. They are not really accepted by society because they are considered too free and independent: they travel, they live with men, they smoke, and they drink. But in fact they are like all artists in all countries. As with gypsies, flamenco took time before it was fully considered an art. I made this film Aita because I wanted to show the cheikhat as women and artists, but not as the whores they are sometimes considered to be. In my film I tried to say “look at them, they are artists.” (Interview with the author; Paris, December 1994)

Filmography (selection) 1987 Aita, 16 mm, 26 min 1994 Retourner à Oulad Moumen/Return to Oulad Moumen, video, 49 min 1997 Pour le plaisir des yeux/For the Eye’s Delight, 50 min, for the Canal+ television station 1997 La route du cédrat/Citron, Fruit of Splendor, doc, 26 min 1999 al-Tubul/Tambours battant/With Drums Beating, beta, 52 min 2001 Cyberstories (a ‘road movie’ through cyber-cafes in different countries), beta, 30 min


Aita France 1987 Dir/Scr: Izza Genini Prod: OHRA (SOGEAV), La Sept and l’IMA The cheikhat are female troubadours who travel through Morocco. They sing the aita, a song that invokes the past. The Moussem of Moulay Abdallah, the site of a religious pilgrimage and festival, is the ideal location for singing the aita. Fatna Bent El Hocine is a cheikha who sings with her company Oulad Aguida for the horsemen who celebrate the glorious moments of the Moroccan epic. Aita is the first film in an eleven-part series titled Morocco, Body and Soul about the different musical traditions of Morocco. Return to Oulad Moumen Retourner à Oulad Moumen France/Morocco 1994 Dir: Izza Genini Prod: OHRA (SOGEAV)


The village of Oulad Moumen lies on a large olive grove in southern Marrakech. The Edery family have lived here for decades. Many migrations over the years, first within Morocco, then to every continent in the world, have separated family members and changed them as they assimilated into other cultures. The director brings the family back to Oulad Moumen, to the place of their origin. Her documentary portrays the history of this typical emigration using archival and current material. For the Eye’s Delight Pour le plaisir des yeux France/Morocco 1997 Dir: Izza Genini Prod: OHRA (SOGEAV)


The film gives us a glimpse into the secret world of female beauty and sensuality. The knowledge a Moroccan cosmetologist imparts at wedding and pregnancy rituals reveals the vast resources of natural beauty care that have been taught to Moroccan women over generations that are still used today as a strategy for seduction.



atima Jebli Ouazzani was born on December 11, 1959 in Meknes, Morocco. In 1970 she emigrated with her family to the Netherlands. She first studied psychology, then transferred to the Dutch Film School in Amsterdam, where she graduated in 1992 as a director and scriptwriter. Since 1983 she has worked as a freelance author for Dutch radio and television. She has made numerous short films and documentaries. 352

Filmography (selection) 1987 Het maagdenvlies (The Maidenhead), docu-drama, NA 1988 Schape-ogen (Sheep’s Eyes), drama, 15 min 1988 Forbidden Love, drama, 15 min 1990 Het dode vlees (Flesh of the Dead), 10 min 1992 De Kleine Hélène/The Little Hélène, 16 mm, 29 min 1993 Voorbij de jaren van onschuld (Innocence), 16 mm, 17 min 1997 Fi bayt abi/In het huis van mijn vader/In My Father’s House, 67 min (Golden Calf Award at the 1998 Netherlands Film Festival; Golden Spire Award at the 1998 San Francisco Film Festival; Prix Iris in 1999 (Best European Documentary)) 2000 Sinned Again/10 Geboden – Het was weer zondig, 16 mm, 50 min 2004 Halima’s Paradise, NA (Best screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival, 2001)


In My Father’s House Fi bayt abi/In het huis mijn vader Netherlands 1997 Dir/Scr: Fatima Jebli Ouazzani C: Maarten Kramer Ed: Jan Henriks Prod: MM Produkkties in cooperation with NPS TV, Amsterdam The film explores why the tradition of virginity before marriage is still so significant in Islamic societies and why every woman who defies this tradition is cast out of her family. The Moroccan director, who has lived in the Netherlands since she was eleven, is unmarried and has no children. She is plagued with doubts about whether her decision to leave her parents’ house and break with her family was the right one. She has neither spoken to her father nor seen him for sixteen years. As a contrast to her own biography she introduces Naima who was born in the Netherlands and has a traditional marriage.

Film Reviews “In our Islamic society, it’s always the woman who pays the price. Why?” With these words a young Moroccan woman sums up the still unbroken patriarchal dominance of the sexes in her homeland, as well as the subject of this very personal, thoughtful, provocative, and committed investigation into the family history of the director. In a conversation with her grandfather, he declares furiously and openly, “A deflowered woman is like yesterday’s couscous.” (freiburger film forum, May 1999) “The film tells my own personal story, which demanded a lot of me. At first I wanted to let other women—young and old—tell my story. But when the time came for us to shoot, the women suddenly backed out, so I decided to refer specifically to myself in the film. It required a lot of self-revelation, and I had to ask my grandparents some painful questions.” (Fatima Jebli Ouzzani in freiburger film forum, May 1999)



The director goes in search of her father and encounters her grandmother, who tells the story of how she and her daughter, Fatima’s mother, were married very young and against their will. The grandmother even went so far as to beat her own legs with a stick until they were black and blue so she could take her husband to court and demand a divorce. But her attempt failed. Her daughter, Fatima’s mother, refused to eat for a month to protest her wedding. The different narrative levels in this documentary are based on the personal experiences of the director. Her memories are depicted in narrative scenes that offer a multilayered approach to the subject. (From the program for the Unsterbliche Scheherezade [Immortal Scheherazade] film series, Vienna 1999)


Sinned Again 10 Geboden— Het was weer zondig Netherlands 2000 Dir: Fatima Jebli-Ouazzani C: Adri Schrover S: Christine van Roon Ed: Boris Gerrets Prod: Pieter van Huystee Film & TV, Amsterdam The seventh commandment—“Thou shalt not commit adultery”—is probably transgressed more often than any other commandment. Apparently it is easier to promise to be faithful forever than it is to keep the promise. The film tells the story of Carla who, as a child, discovers her mother’s adulterous affairs. Although she does not really understand what is going on, the girl knows instinctively that she should not talk about it. Carla has carried the secret around with her for years; it has shaped her life.




asmine Kassari was born on October 3, 1972 in Ouida, Morocco. Since 1991 she has lived in Brussels, where she studied film at INSAS (Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle) and worked as a production assistant for several years. The screenplay for her first feature film L’Enfant Endormi (The Sleeping Child) received several awards at festivals, including the 1er (premier) Scénario Jeunes Talents CNC, Paris in 2003.

Filmography 1995 Kilab mutasharrida/Chiens errants/Stray Dogs, 35 mm, 7 min (Several awards at the Namur International Festival and at the Torino International Festival of Young Cinema in 1996) 2000 ‘Andama yabki al-rijal/Quand les hommes pleurent/ When Men Cry, 35 mm, 57 min (Special Mention at the Amiens International Film Festival; prize at the Filmer à Tout Prix film festival in Brussels; Best Documentary at the fourth Zanzibar International Film Festival) 2001 Lynda et Nadia (Lynda and Nadia), 35 mm, 15 min 2004 L’enfant endormi/The Sleeping Child, 35 mm, 95 min (Great Amber Award 2004 for Best Film and Best Actress (Rachida Brakni) at the 23rd Festival of Film Debuts, Koszalin, Poland; Special Prize for Best Actress at the 3rd Copenhagen International Film Festival 2005; Jury Prize for Best Film at Bos’Art Film Festival, Bologne, 2005) When Men Cry ‘Andama yabki al-rijal/Quand les hommes pleurent Morocco/Belgium 2000 Dir: Yasmine Kassari



C: Dominiquie Henri Ed: Kahéna Attia Prod: Les Films de la Drève The ‘men who cry’ are Moroccan workers who seek their fortune in Spain and whose dream of Eldorado ends abruptly. Every year 30,000 Moroccans cross the Straits of Gibraltar and enter Spain illegally. Half of them are caught and sent back. Thousands end up drowning when herded together on overcrowded motorboats.


The Sleeping Child L’enfant endormi Morocco/Belgium 2003 Dir/Scr: Yasmine Kassari C: Yorgos Arvanitis S: Anne Frey Ed: Susana Rossberg Cast: Rachida Brakni, Mounia Osfour, Nermine Haggar, Aissa Abdessamie et al. Prod: Les Films de la Drève In a village at the edge of the desert in northeastern Morocco, Zeinab watches her husband leave the country to travel as a clandestine immigrant to Europe the day after their wedding. When Zeinab discovers that she is pregnant, she turns to white magic and lulls the unborn infant to sleep until a more convenient time for its birth. But as time goes by, her husband’s return seems increasingly remote. ‘Lulling the fetus to sleep’ is a social practice that is quite widespread throughout the whole of the rural Maghreb today. This practice goes back to ancient times and involves the use of white magic to make a child the mother does not want to be born fall asleep. This can be done for many


reasons: the woman may already have too many children; she may want to delay the baby’s arrival; she might be unmarried; her husband might have emigrated and she wants to await his return before giving birth. The latter is the situation I used for my film. The practice is performed with the full awareness of everyone involved, and they all believe in it. It makes no difference whether the practice is myth or reality. It is the metaphoric capacity of the film that I’m interested in.” (Yasmine Kassari in the program catalog of the 61st Venice International Film Festival 2004; http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/61miac/catalague /48enfant-endormi.pdf on December 29, 2004)

Film Review An immigration film seen from the other side of the telescope. This wellshot feature puts an interesting focus on the women left behind, but fails to get the viewer emotionally involved in their plight. As the intelligent but illiterate girls, Brakni [Zeinab] and Osfour [her friend Halima] are easy to relate to, creating an interesting space between their mothers’ hide-bound, male-oriented traditions and modern ways of thinking, which include women’s right to happiness. Solid tech work is lead by Yorgos Arvanitis’s richly colored photography, which captures the sad emptiness of the land and its vast panoramas. (From Deborah Young, in Variety, October 11, 2004; http://www.variety. com/index.asp?layout=upsell_review&reviewID=VE1117925188&cs=1 on December 29, 2004)

NEJJAR, NARJISS (1971–) Narjiss Nejjar was born 1971 in Tangier, Morocco, and lives in Paris. She has made several documentaries for television. In 2000 she founded her own production company, Terre Sud Films. Her medium-length film Seventh Heaven was screened at Cannes in the section “Quinzaine des réalisateurs” (Director’s Fortnight) 2003. Narjiss Nejjar has also written some screenplays and the novel Cahiers d’empreintes (Paris, 1999).



Filmography 1994 L’exigence de la dignité/The Need for Dignity, NA 1996 Khaddouj/Khaddouj, mémoire de Targha, NA 1999 al-Sama’ al-sabi‘/Le septième ciel/Seventh Heaven, fiction, 35 mm, 40 min 2003 al-‘Ayun al-jaffa/Les yeux secs/Dry Eyes, fiction, 35 mm, 118 min (Golden Bayard for Best Screenplay at the Namur Film Festival and award for Best Screenplay at the Marrakech Film Festival; Grand Prize of the Jury at the 4th Rabat International Film Festival; Best First Feature, Best Actress and Best Costumes at the National Film Festival of Morocco)


Dry Eyes al-‘Ayun al-jaffa/Les yeux secs France/Morocco 2003 Dir/Scr: Narjiss Nejjar C: Denis Gravouil. S: Laurent Benaïm Ed: Emmanuelle Pencalet M: Guy-Roger Duvert Cast: Siham Assif, Khalid Benchegra, Raouia, Rafika Belhaj et al. Prod: Terre Sud Films In the Berber Mountains, there is a remote village inhabited only by women who sell their bodies. The only men allowed to enter the village are those who pay for the women’s services. The elderly retreat to the mountains to die. Hala is the boss in the village; she imposes her law and dictates the rules. One day her mother, who vanished twenty-five years earlier, returns, accompanied by a young bus driver.


Tunisia Introduction 359

On its relatively small land mass, Tunisia offers a remarkable diversity of landscape—from sandy beaches on the Mediterranean to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains to steppe and sandy desert. In addition to the good film technicians Tunisia has to offer, the landscape is an important reason why foreign directors continue to choose Tunisia as their film backdrop, as was the case for the Hollywood films Star Wars and The English Patient, for example. The International Film Festival in Carthage (Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage) also serves to lure film people and cineasts to the country every two years. This festival and the FESPACO, the pan-African cinema and television festival in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, are the most significant film festivals on the African continent. Its small size and breathtaking landscapes has given Tunisia the epithet ‘Switzerland of North Africa.’ The country also enjoys the reputation of being the most progressive of the Arab countries. It produced the Arab world’s first written constitution, women have more attested legal rights than everywhere else in the region, and abortion is legal. In actual fact, however, apart from those women living in the big cities such as Tunis or



Sousse, the situation of Tunisian women does not differ much from that of their Arab sisters throughout the Mediterranean region, as explained by film critic Magda Wassef in this book. When President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali removed Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisian independence, from office and assumed the presidency in 1987, he represented the hopes of all those who longed for a liberalization of the country, but he failed to deliver. “After a short period of openness, the regime, which had also been authoritarian in the past, took advantage of modern technology to become an even more rigorous, perfected system of one-man rule,” noted journalist Rudolph Chimelli.195 Tunisian identity cards now have a bar code on them that is connected to a central database in the Ministry of the Interior that provides information about a person’s criminal record, career history, political convictions, and even details of one’s personal life. According to Chimelli, Slaheddine Maaoui, Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of human rights and communication, caused a bit of a sensation when he declared in an interview, “that there are problems in Tunisia as regards human rights,” and demanded that the media be freed from their “straitjacket.” Since Ben Ali came to power he has focused on eradicating Islamic fundamentalist movements in the country.196 In contrast to Algeria and Morocco, Ben Ali largely succeeded in this task according to many international observers. They also attribute to him good results in the field of economic development (Tunisia has the second highest GNP in Africa after South Africa). “Tunisia has understood that economic development is vital to the task of drying the pools of fundamentalist support in the country,” wrote Marshall J. Breger, professor of law in the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.197 Progress has also been attested to in the fields of education (illiteracy has almost disappeared), public health, and housing, as well as women’s rights as initiated by former president Habib Bourguiba. Reminscent of Southeast Asia, Ben Ali’s empire has been nicknamed the ‘little tiger of the Maghreb.’ The price paid by the population for this degree of public security and political stability, at least, is absolute state control on press and communications. French president Jacques Chirac praised the “Tunisian wonder,”


in private he admittedly referred to Ben Ali as the “Maghrebi Caligula.”198 According to the United Nations Arab Human Development Report 2004, the tourist paradise belongs to the most repressive countries in terms of press freedom. State censorship of freedom of speech is farreaching, even in the newest and most expansive medium, the Internet. “In this country, all the sites that speak about freedom are blocked,” says Sihem Bensedrine, a journalist and human rights advocate. Journalist Neil MacFarquhar explains, “Not only are many websites blocked, activists say, but e-mail is heavily monitored. The ability to offer Web services is kept within a small privileged circle. Web cafés are closed down if deemed too lax about monitoring every site visited by patrons. Harsh jail sentences are meted out to young men convicted of creating or even visiting banned sites.”199 While press and television is ruled by the State Secretary of Information, Tunisian cinema is governed by the ministry of culture, “thus benefiting from one of the most easy-going censorship boards in the whole of the Arab world,” according to filmmaker and historian Férid Boughédir (who hints this may be so because cinema is considered an enemy by the Islamic fundamentalists).200 Many subjects which are taboo in other Arab cinemas are frankly depicted by Tunisian filmmakers and screened in movie houses: male homosexuality (in Man of Ashes, 1986), sex tourism and corruption (in Bezness, 1992), political repression and torture by the police (in The Golden Hooves, 1988), female nudity (in Halfaouine 1990, A Summer in La Goulette, 1995), or surgical ‘restoration’ of the hymen (Fatma, 2002). “Nude scenes and social criticism are allowed,” agrees film director Nadia El Fani, and adds critically “but not allowed are films about Islamists in Tunisia. Their existence is officially denied.201 When El Fani showed her film Bedwin Hacker in Tunis, she noticed several Islamic fundamentalists in the audience. “They actually liked the subversive message of the film, because like my protagonist Katl, a hacker, Usama bin Ladin and other Islamist groups also make use of television for spreading their messages.” According to El Fani’s point of view, state censorship in the area of film is simply more subtle, and works by filmmakers in Tunisia censoring themselves.




Moving pictures were introduced in Tunisia from as early as 1896, a few months before the actual birth of film. The cameramen of the Lumière Brothers took pictures in Tunis and also presented them there. During the colonial period, however, no more than five feature-length films were produced under Tunisian direction. The main female role in the first full-length film ‘Ayn al-ghazal (The Eye of the Gazelle, 1924, also known as La fille de Carthage), directed by Samama Chikly was written and played by his daughter Haydée Tamzali, who also made a name for herself as writer. The French tried to establish a base for a North African Hollywood in Tunisia, as they had in Morocco. They founded the Studios Africa in 1946. Shortly before the end of colonial rule, the studios were moved to Algeria so the new Tunisian government had to start virtually from scratch.202 In 1959 the SATPEC (Societé Anonyme Tunisienne de Production d’Expansion Cinématographique) was founded as a national film production and distribution company, but it took years before it was able to assert its distribution monopoly against the European competition. The next building block in the national film policies was the inauguration of the Gammarth film studios in 1968. The most outstanding event of the period, however, was the launching of the international film festival in Carthage in 1966. Tahar Chéria, who started the festival, had already founded the first Tunisian Federation of Film Clubs in 1949, even before Tunisia had achieved national independence. Together with the Tunisian Federation of Amateur Filmmakers and the International Amateur Film Festival in Kelibia (Festival de Kélibia du cinéma amateur), these were the seeds that brought forth Tunisian filmmakers. Most filmmakers of the younger generation have studied in Paris, Rome, or Brussels, however, as well as an isolated few in eastern European countries. Many returned to Tunisia when it became possible once again to make films in their own country. “The 1970s in Tunisia were characterized by criticism of the Bourguiba regime,”203 remembered Néjia Ben Mabrouk,204 who is still living in Brussels. The returnees from European film school brought with them the idea of making films that deal with current social and political problems facing the country. “This was less a reference to an Arab history of film than it was what we had been taught in European


film schools,” admitted Néjia Ben Mabrouk. “For many of us, our film ‘education’ was based on the critical documentary film. We wanted our films to reach Tunisian audiences, to show them their own problems in order to make changes.” Such lofty goals were bound to fail, however. For one thing, documentary films had a bad reputation among experts and audiences alike. Another obstacle was that people were not accustomed to talking openly about their problems. These things were dealt with within the family if at all, or otherwise kept to oneself. Ben Mabrouk said, “There was no consciousness of this being part of a public sphere, a function of society as we had learned in Europe. It was impossible to get people to talk. This might also be attributed to the fact that our country has no democratic tradition. And so the ideas I brought with me from Brussels were soon shattered.” Instead of shooting documentaries, she turned to making her feature film debut The Trace. In addition, the SATPEC, though initially having helped with the birth of Tunisian cinema, also became a hindrance to film production. There were political and financial problems that caused this. The ministry of culture and the banks withdrew as creditors. SATPEC movie theaters were closed. All that remained was a single functioning film laboratory that every film produced in Tunisia needed for further processing. Ultimately, the Gammarth Film Studios were also sold. Because of its outdated technical equipment it has been difficult for the private successor company, Carthage Images, to work effectively. New hope arose in 2004 when the Tunisian international film producer Tarak Ben Ammar bought Carthage Image with the aim of transforming it into a very modern film and digital laboratory with the most advanced technology.205 Taking into account these economic and technical constraints, it is all the more astounding that Tunisian directors have still managed to create a wide diversity of high-quality, original films, with bold subjects that have been critically acclaimed internationally. “Subject matter and aesthetics give the impression that every filmmaker represents his or her own school; and most Tunisian films depict originality and freedom of expression,” praised the Xenix Film Club in Zurich, on the occasion of a film series on Arab cinema.206




Tunisia itself is not a very lucrative market for these films. In a country with less than fifty movie houses, native productions do not pay for themselves, so coproductions with other countries are the rule. “Diverse private production companies have become established in recent years that do very professional work using state-of-the-art technology,” confirms producer-filmmaker Nadia El Fani,207 general secretary of the Guilde Africaine des Réalisateurs et Producteurs, founded in 1998 by a group of African filmmakers living in Paris. Nonetheless, filmmakers are dependent on funding subsidies from the Ministry of Culture, which make up about thirty percent of film budgets. One can hardly speak of a true film industry in Tunisia, according to film critic Mahmoud Jemni.208 About 130 long feature films have been produced in Tunisia since the country achieved independence.209 Of those, only seven were made by women, three of them since the turn of the millennium. In 1966, Sophie Ferchiou led off Tunisian women in film with her ethno-documentary, Chechia followed by television film director Fatma Skandrani with many documentaries and some theatrical fictions. Not before almost a decade later Selma Baccar made her semi-documentary film Fatma 75. This potpourri of famous women in Tunisian history was produced on the occasion of the International Year of Women in 1975. Virtually all Tunisian films directed by women are set in the urban north, the capital city Tunis to be precise. Only very few take place in the poor south of the country, where residents are considered rebellious. Sabra, the young heroine in Néjia Ben Mabrouk’s The Trace, migrates further and further north in the course of her emancipation, like a bird of passage. From her native village in the south she moves to the capital to study at the university and then finally goes into exile. Moufida Tlatli, an experienced editor, succeeded in 1994 with her debut film The Silences of the Palace to win the Golden Tanit210 in Carthage—as the first woman ever in the history of the festival. Along with Férid Boughédir’s Halfaouine, The Silences of the Palace is the most widely released Tunisian film. It is coproduced by the Ministry of Culture and deals with the sexual enslavement of women. In a certain way it was the female counterpart to the 1986 award-winning film Man of Ashes by Tunisian Nouri Bouzid, which shows how family violence and sexual


abuse impact on the life of a young man.211 Moufida Tlatli’s second feature film The Silences of the Palace was presented at the film festival in Cannes in 2000. The international success of her films has paved the way to European movie houses for other Tunisian women. Only two years later thirty-year-old Raja Amari’s film Red Satin was an audience hit at several international festivals and was commercially distributed in Europe and the United States.



Tunisian Women Magda Wassef


It was on August 13, 1956, some months after the country became independent, that Tunisia adopted a new Code of Law on personal status. This legislation, though inspired by the spirit of Islamic Law, introduced two major changes. Firstly, unilateral renouncement of a wife, a male privilege, was completely abolished; it was replaced with judicial divorce, which became a right for both men and women. Secondly, polygamy was outlawed. Polygamists could be sentenced to a year in prison and a fine. A bigamist’s second wife was considered an accomplice and incurred the same penalties. Other changes of lesser importance were also included in this new code on personal status. It gave women a number of rights to which they previously did not have access. Now there was civil marriage as well as religious marriage. The legal minimum age for marriage became eighteen for girls and twenty for boys. Regarding inheritance, the law stipulated that when a spouse died and left only female children, they were equal beneficiaries of the entire inheritance, contrary to classical Islamic Law, which gives collateral males priority over directly descended females in matters of inheritance. Even regarding adultery, under Tunisian legislation men and women became liable for the same penalties. And now Tunisian women were given the right to vote. A leader in social change in the Arab world, Tunisia symbolizes a certain progressiveness that is envied by other Arab countries. Struggles are still going on today in a number of these countries. In Morocco and in Egypt, any changes to the code of personal status suggested by the


government are vigorously opposed by religious institutions and by public opinion that remains faithful to a more conservative Islam. But in reality, the more or less liberal laws that govern women’s lives in the Arab world are often ahead of public opinion. They emanate from the political will of governments, and reflect the expectations of the governing class. However, the resistance to the application of some laws and the persistence of certain practices highlight the gap between the enlightened urban minority, favorable to change, and the rural majority which holds on to its traditions and is closed to all change, even when it is in that majority’s own interest. That is perhaps the real problem that a significant number of women in the Arab world are faced with in their daily lives. It has been magnified by the resurgence of Islam, and by the persistent fierce struggle between the proponents of progress and the defenders of conservatism. Women have become the hostages of these two competing forces. The strong resurgence of the veil in many Arab countries reflects a certain unease. As a symbol of Islamic culture, the veil has been perverted and is touted in conflicts where women are once again the victims of struggles that are not their immediate concern. The specific history of each country and its inclusion within a given geographical region determines how it creates its own ethical and cultural values. Islam, having cemented and forged a collective Arab and Muslim identity in a whole region, cannot account for all the sudden delays and problems experienced by women in these societies. For while this may be justified in the case of some countries where the Shari‘a is brandished like a Damoclean sword over the heads of women, it cannot be said of other countries, especially the Arab countries of the Mediterranean, where significant advances have been achieved since the 1950s. However, in those Arab societies of the Mediterranean which are reputed to be more open, there are traditions that determine the place of women within the family and within society. These traditions emanate from a rigid and unchanging moral and social order. Transmitted by the mother, secular traditions are forged from one generation to the next. Known as the guardians of tradition, mothers have a privileged position within the family. Whether consciously or not, they perpetuate




all the taboos and prohibitions they have inherited. They teach their daughters the precepts transmitted by their mothers. Since virginity is the determining factor in the conclusion of a marriage agreement, a transgression of accepted social mores or moral interdictions automatically results in sanctions. Women are the absolute rulers of their homes. Their homes are their universe, whereas the outside world belongs to men. In his work La Sexualité en Islam (Paris, 1975), Abdelwahab Bouhdiba devotes a whole chapter to the kingdom of mothers. He writes, “All mothers wait their turn to become venerated ‘protectors’ (hamah). By reigning over their daughters-in-law they reach the summit of their glory and when they die, they are respected and surrounded by their kin. Having children in a traditional Arab and Muslim society is the mainstay of security for a woman. Woe to the sterile woman!” In rural societies, these traditions resist the slow advance of modern ideas. In Djerba, an island of southern Tunisia, today a symbol of tourism and dolce vita, nature was not always easy on the residents. Compelled to seek work in the capital Tunis or to emigrate to foreign countries, the men of Djerba abandoned their women and children for eleven months out of twelve. They entrusted them to their mothers who had absolute power over them. In these large Mediterranean family dwellings, a rigid hierarchy came into being almost naturally. Daughters-in-law were classified in order of importance. First came the mothers of sons who were continuing the lineage. Next came mothers who had only borne female offspring. At the bottom of the rung were childless women who were merely tolerated. In the absence of men, a mother’s vigilance in preserving the honor of her sons and of her family became obsessive. Any attempted rebellion was quickly suppressed, since disorder was always lurking, threatening to upturn the status quo. The responsibility of mothers and of mothers-in-law was absolute and they were encouraged in this role by the unswerving respect of their sons. However, this system, that endured for so many decades, can no longer cope with the social and economic realities experienced by a great number of Arab and Tunisian women today. Whether they have college degrees or are illiterate, the majority of these women are faced with a problem of


survival. Work has become a necessity. The economic reshuffle is truly changing the status of Arab women. Economic independence is what will lead to their true emancipation, despite the unyielding traditions that assail them from all sides. (Paris, March 23, 2000)



Tunisia’s Filmmakers AMARI, RAJA (1971–)

R 370

aja Amari was born on April 4, 1971 in Tunis. She was trained as a dancer at the Conservatoire de Tunis, where she received first prize in dance in 1992. She also studied Romance languages in Tunis, and film at the FEMIS (L’Institut de Formation et d’Enseignement pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son) in Paris, where she lives today. Raja Amari has written film reviews for Cinécrits magazine, a radio feature, and screenplays.

Filmography 1995 Le bouquet (The Bouquet), 16 mm and video 1998 Avril (April), 35 mm, 20 min (Prix de la Qualité from the CNC and the Jury Award at the Festival in Milan) 2000 Un soir de juillet (An Evening in July) (First prize at Milan Festival, 2001; Golden Dhow (Best short Feature Film) award at the Zanzibar Film Festival, 2001) 2002 al-Sitar al-ahmar/Satin rouge/Red Satin, 35 mm, 100 min (New Directors Showcase Award, Best New Director at Seattle International Film Festival, Audience Award at Maine International Film Festival, Grand Prix at the Turin Film Festival) 2004 ‘Ala khota al-nisyan/Sur les traces de l’oubli (Traces of the Forgotten), doc, 52 min


April Avril Tunisia/France 1998 Dir/Scr: Raja Amari C: Aurélien Devaux S: Ludovic Escalier Ed: Isabelle Petrich Cast: Sabrine Solttani, Raja Ben Ammar, Samia Rahaim Prod: Nomadis Images, Tunis Amina, a ten-year-old girl in present-day Tunis, is hired by two older single women as a maid. One of the two appears to be ill. Acute attacks alternate with the doctor’s visits. But the illness is only a pretext to lure the man into the house. Red Satin al-Sitar al-ahmar/Satin rouge Tunisia/France 2002 Dir/Scr: Raja Amari C: Aurélien Devaux S: Ludovic Escalier Ed: Isabelle Petrich Cast: Sabrine Solttani, Raja Ben Ammar, Samia Rahaim Prod: Nomadis Images, Tunis


After the death of her husband, Lilia, an attractive forty-year-old provides for herself and her teenage daughter Salma by working as a seamstress. While looking for Salma late one night, Lilia’s life changes abruptly when she stumbles upon a nightclub. Fascinated by the belly dancers and the music, Lilia starts to dance as well. From then on she leads a double life: by day she continues to be the well-mannered housewife and at night she becomes the nightclub’s crowd puller. Lilia also starts an affair with the bar drummer who, unbeknown to both of them, is also Salma’s boyfriend.


“I was expecting to be reproached for the love scenes. But what really bothered people was that I had attacked the symbol and image of the mother, who is a predominant figure in Mediterranean society in general. She’s the one who transmits values and morality. If you attack her, you attack the whole society.” (Raja Amari in The New York Times, August 25, 2002)

From an Interview with Raja Amari Is the cabaret and belly dancing an excuse to tell the story of a woman’s independence in an Arab society in general? RA: I have always wanted to make a film revolving around belly dancing. I trained for many years as a belly dancer at the Conservatoire de Tunis [Academic Dance Institute in Tunis]. I also grew up watching musicals of the golden age of Egyptian cinema from the 1940s and 1950s that are still played on television today. My mother and I loved the well-known belly dancer Samia Gamal and the singer Farid al-Atrash.


Had you ever been in a cabaret nightclub before the shoot? RA: I had heard about them. However, in Tunisia, as in every Arabic country, no decent woman wants to be seen in such a ‘depraved’ milieu. I went there for the first time on location with the producer, the director of photography, and the main actress Hiam Abbass. The first time we walked in, all conversations stopped and people looked at us in silence, but once the first moment of surprise passed, things went back to normal. It is not an aggressive environment. They were all very welcoming. It actually turned out to be quite funny. Was it difficult to make two such opposite worlds meet ? RA: On the one hand, the world of the day is strict, dominant, and prudish. On the other, the world of the night is relaxed, marginal, and lascivious. In a typically traditional society, their paths would never cross, because nightclubs are perceived as a bit creepy and depraved. Lilia is a ‘regular’ woman, a model housewife with a great deal of moral conviction and a strict sense of duty. She is, gradually and almost in spite of herself, going to go against everything that she has ever stood for and everything that she forbade or reproached her daughter about—dancing all night in a night club,


going out with a man. Little by little, she gets seduced by the nightlife and finds joy in it. It is almost as though she is becoming her daughter or taking over her daughter’s life. Why does she go back? RA: When she comes back, it is almost a second phase. At that point she understands that people go to such places to have fun. She goes back and forges a friendship with Folla, the nightclub’s main belly dancer. It is the personal journey of a woman toward liberation because, after all, Lilia blossoms when she dances. Her daughter has grown up and is ready to leave home. This widowed mother who is still young is going to find herself alone pretty soon. The nightclub offers her an alternative by providing her with new friendships and companionship. She strays from the rigid code of conduct she had set for herself. However, this is a new life that is shamefully hidden and not overt at all. RA: Over there, it is the way things are done; everybody leads a double life in a way. It is very much linked to the relationship between men and women. In Arab society, there is a restrictive code surrounding the family, women, and their place in society. My friends all have boyfriends and girlfriends but their families don’t know about them, or at least pretend not to. Social hypocrisy begets this behavior. Lilia plays with that concept. She marries her daughter off to Chokri, the cabaret musician. One could think that by letting the marriage happen she abandons her designs on Chokri, but for me, making it happen means keeping Chokri available for her. What could be seen as a renunciation or a submission on her part is actually just a coverup—she keeps her lover by her side by becoming his mother-in-law. The two love scenes and their treatment are extremely rare in Tunisian films. Do you think that it is likely to be interpreted as controversial when the film is released in Tunisia? RA: Yes, in the social context of Arab culture, these scenes are probably going to shock some people because you don’t show ‘that kind of thing’ in such an explicit way. For me, if there is anything to be shocked about, it is more the fact that people refuse to see reality as it is. In the film, the



mother is a widow but she still has sexual desires. Thanks to what she goes through, she puts an end to the stifling morality that is imposed upon her. (Interview with Bouziane Daoudi in www.zeitgeistfilms.com/current/ satinrouge/satinrouge.interview.html on March 12, 2003)


Film Reviews Can a woman who dances for men be emancipated? Or would she also have to own the nightclub? Hiam Abbass is impatient. “Men are part of our society. What’s the meaning of excluding them?” Radical feminist attitudes are not her thing. What is the point of dancing alone in front of the mirror? In Red Satin women have assumed production, direction, cinematography, and the lead role. Nevertheless, the film is not a ‘women’s project,’ insist the three women who seat themselves in the Forum office [at the Berlin Film Festival] after the world premiere. Dora Bouchoucha is the elegant and reserved producer; Hiam Abbas, the stunningly beautiful actress; and Raja Amari, the pleased and self-assured thirty-year-old director. Most surprising about their feature debut is these women’s independence—the fact that they go out on the streets in Tunisia without a headscarf or a male escort, and can even live without a man as Lilia does, also surprised Hiam Abbass, a Palestinian living in Paris. Raja Amari and Dora Bouchoucha, on the other hand, embody female independence Tunisianstyle. “Of course there were power plays during the shooting,” remembers Raja Amari. “Some actors try to be fatherly. That’s annoying, but in the end it is possible to use it to an advantage.” Red Satin is not supposed to make a political statement. Amari does not want to change society, she wants to observe it. “Things are in the midst of change for us right now. Behind the old façades, different things have been going on for a while already.” (Susanne Nieder, Der Tagesspiegel, February 18, 2002; http://archiv.tagess piegel.de/archiv/17.02.2002/ak-so-be-5512543.html on March 14, 2003) In Tunisia, where Red Satin is now being shown, the national press announced this event under the headline, “Concrete Demonstration of Freedom of Opinion in Tunisia.” The fact that not a single word, let alone any discussion, was devoted to the film’s content shows that freedom of opinion may perhaps not be that great after all.


(Stefan Weidner, Die Tageszeitung, May 15, 2002; and “Tunisian Intimacy: Raja Amari’s debut film ‘Satin rouge,’” Art & Thought (Fikrun wa fann) 76, no. 1 (Oct. 2002–March 2003), pages 46–47) A sensual performance from Abbass buoys the flimsy story, but her inner journey is largely unexplored and we’re left wondering about this exoticlooking woman whose emotional depths are only hinted at. (Megan Turner, New York Post, August 23, 2002; http://www.nypost. com/movies/46760.htm on March 12, 2003) In an Arab country that takes a fairly strict view of permissiveness in the cinema, Amari has handled her story with sensitivity and humour. (Evan Williams, The Australian, January 4, 2003; http://www.nomadis.net/ data-pic/satinrouge/prs_australian.jpg on March 20, 2005) Traces of the Forgotten ‘Ala khota al-nisyan/Sur les traces de l’oubli Egypt/Tunisia 2004 Dir: Selma Baccar Prod: Misr International Films, Ognon Pictures


A documentary about Isabelle Eberhardt, the Swiss writer and explorer who died at twenty-seven during the inundation of a village bordering on the Algerian Sahara in 1904. Les traces de l’oubli (the title of a publication of short stories by Eberhardt) tells the story of a young explorer fascinated by the Algerian population and the desert. She is said to have refused, even as a girl, to wear women’s clothes. She studied Arabic, converted to Islam, and spent most of her short life traveling through Algeria, dressed in Middle-Eastern men’s clothes.



elma Baccar, alias Bedjaoui, was born on December 15, 1945 in Tunis. She studied psychology from 1966 to 1968 in Lausanne, Switzerland, transferring to Paris to study film until 1970 at the Institut Francais de


Cinéma (IFC). She was a member of the Tunisian Federation of Amateur Filmmakers and worked as assistant director for Tunisian television. In 1980 she started producing films. She owns her own company Intermedia Productions (IMP), where she has produced films and commercials— including some by Kalthoum Bornaz and Najwa Tlili.

Filmography 1968 Le crépuscule (The Dusk), NA 1968 L’éveil (The Awakening), NA (received an award at the Kélibia and Sfax film festivals) 1975 Fatma 75, 35 mm, 60 min (Gold Medal at the Mannheim Film Festival, 1979) 1976 Le mannequin (The Model), NA 1985 De la toison au fil d’or (The Golden Fleece), 35 mm, 16 min 1985 Au pays de Tarayoun (In the Land of Tarayoun) , 35 mm, 51 min 1994 Habiba Msika/La danse du feu/Dance of Fire, 35 mm, 124 min 2004 Khoshkash/Fleur de l’oubli (Flower of Forgetting), 35 mm, NA 376

Fatma 75 Tunisia 1975 Dir: Selma Baccar Scr: Saida Ben Mahmoud C: Ahmed Zaaf S: Fouzi Thabet Ed: Moufida Tlatli Cast: Jalila Baccar, Fatma Ben Ali, Mouna Noureddine et al. Prod: SATPEC, Tunisian Ministry of Information This semi-documentary film was made in 1975, the International Year of Women. Fatma is a university student and has to write a paper on the history of the emancipation of women in Tunisia. In the course of her research she lets famous women come to life and discovers the modern women’s movement. Béchira Ben Mourad, one of the most important women’s rights activists in Tunisia, leads her through three generations of women.


About the Film Twenty years after the country achieved independence and ten years after the first Tunisian feature film was made, Fatma 75 was the first full-length feature directed by a woman. The film was banned for years because the Ministry of Information, the film’s main financial backer, censored several scenes, especially those showing sex education in schools. The film never ran in commercial movie theaters. Three generations of women and three forms of awareness are related in this film—the period between 1930 and 1938 and the creation of the Union of Tunisian Women; the period between 1939 and 1952, which marks the relationship between the national struggle for independence and the women’s struggle; and finally, the period after 1956 to the present, concerning the achievements of Tunisian women with regards to the Personal Status Law. The film begins in Carthage at the time of the Punic Wars. After the Phoenician Hasdruball is defeated by the Romans, his wife prefers to kill herself and her two children rather than fall into the hands of the enemies as a slave. Sophonisbe, princess of Carthage, renounces her fiancé Massinissa when he allies with the Romans. Khana, the great figure of the independent Berbers, later appears, as does Jelajil, wife of Prince Ibrahim Ibn Aghlab, who founds the first girls’ school in her palace in Kairouan. The modern women’s movement begins in Tunisia in the 1930s when the essay “Our Woman in Society and in Religion” by Tahar El Haddad first appeared and the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT) was founded. (Production information) Dance of Fire Habiba Msika/La danse du feu Tunisia/Algeria/France 1994 Dir: Selma Baccar Scr: Saida Ben Mahmoud C: Allel Yahiaoui M: Hamadi Ben Othman S: Faouzi Thabet Ed: Tahar Riahi



Cast: Souad Amidou, Nejib Belkadhi, Feodor Atkine Prod: Phenicea Films/Intermedia Productions/ Canal Horizons/ERTT, CAAIC, Auramax/Eurofilms/Euroma Films This is the life story of Marguerite Habiba Msika, one of the greatest entertainment artists of the ‘crazy’ 1920s and 1930s in Tunisia. She was admired not only for her artistic talents, but also for her legendary generosity, unconventional lifestyle, and numerous love affairs. One of her lovers is Mimouni, a Tunisian Jew and wealthy landowner, who became sick with jealousy and burned her alive on February 20, 1930.


About the Film The time is 1927–30. Everything is moving in the world. In Turkey, women are claiming the right to vote. The shadow of a second world war is looming on the horizon, and people are living their lives frantically. In Tunisia, France is getting ready to celebrate with great pomp the fiftieth anniversary of the protectorate; these are heady years. There is great cultural excitement: in literature (the ‘Taht al-sour’ group), the theater, music and the discovery of the talking cinema. It is also the beginning of a social revolution. Already for some years, certain families have dared send their daughters to school to learn the basic elements of French. There are the first debates on the rights that Islam granted women in its early days and those that Tunisian society, in the throes of change, have yet to give them. Passions were unleashed for or against the book by the reformer Tahar El Haddad, Notre femme dans la société et la religion, which advocated revolutionary reforms in the role of women in Tunisian society and which was harshly criticised by certain reactionary newspapers of the period. It is in this atmosphere of cultural and artistic blossoming that a star shone brilliantly on the theater and in Tunisian song, Habiba Msika. Selma Baccar has dedicated her film to this woman. (Écrans d’Afrique, no. 8, 1994) From an Interview with Selma Baccar Is Habiba Msika a woman of fantasy? SB: A character as an excuse for the representation of the condition of women


from various aspects, Tunisian and Jewish, woman and artist at a moment when this is not yet habitual in people’s ways of thinking . . . and a search for the absolute, in relation to this woman’s freedom and her creativity as an artist—an artist who exceeds her own limits and the limits of society. In a period of fantasy? SB: An idyllic image of this period when everything was possible, and which lay the first elements of modernity. I am fascinated by the daily life of a period when entertainment was front-page news. All the newspapers show this. A week after the death of Habiba Msika, a film about her funeral was shown in all the cinemas. It is a film with a large cast. SB: It’s a spectacular film, a film with crowds. Habiba Msika would not exist without these audiences. Performing is her life. It symbolizes her life. The dance of fire is a dance of death. The dance prefigures her death. She is like a moth who knows it will burn if it goes too near to the light, but cannot help itself from doing so. (Interview with Selma Baccar, in Écrans d’Afrique, no. 8, 1994)



éjia Ben Mabrouk was born on July 1, 1949 in al-Oudiane in southern Tunisia. After completing boarding school in Sfax, she started studying literature in Tunis. She completed film school (INSAS—Institut National Supérieur des Arts et du Spectacle) in Brussels, where she has lived ever since. After finishing her degree she worked as an assistant for RTBF Production, francophone Belgian radio, and television. In 1979– 80 she started writing the screenplay for her feature debut The Trace, which she began shooting in 1982. Legal disputes delayed completion of the film until 1988. Néjia Ben Mabrouk has also made two documentary films and written the screenplay for a second long feature Nuit à Tunis (Night in Tunis).




Speaking with Néjia Ben Mabrouk I grew up in a village in which most residents were French or Italian. Since there were only a few Arabs, we were allowed to go to the local movie theater. So I became familiar with European cinema very early. When I started secondary school at twelve, of course I immediately joined the local ciné club. And so every Friday at school I got to watch the great films in the history of cinema: Eisenstein, Griffith, and of course the French classics. At that time I didn’t want to make my own films, perhaps because there were no role models of women as filmmakers. All the directors were men; for me as a young woman, therefore, the more obvious choice was to tell stories through writing. I dreamed of writing novels. It was the late 1960s and Tunisia had no film school, no acting school, nothing that would have made it possible for a young woman to make films. There wasn’t even a functioning television station to speak of. All there was, was radio and the stories my mother told us in the evenings. When I went to university I started studying literature for a few semesters but I had to break off my studies for financial reasons. I was left to my own devices when I arrived in Belgium. So why not study at a film school? Together with nine men I was the only woman in our department. After five years of hard work I got my degree. Back in Tunisia I was out looking for funding for the production of the film The Trace. I was told that it could only be considered if at least half the production costs were covered by foreign producers. The Trace is a specifically Tunisian film—the special dialect of the south and a specifically Tunisian story. I couldn’t imagine anyone abroad offering me money for that kind of story. I started by asking in neighboring Algeria at their state television in hopes that the Arab world would not let me down. The result: rejection. The script was also turned down in Belgium (supposedly because it lacked a love story); and French television did not want it either. Then ZDF, the Second German Television station, accepted it in their Kleines Fernsehspiel series. A friend’s small production company took over production, and that was the beginning of the adventure of my first feature film. (From an interview with Werner Kobe, Nantes, December 1988).


Filmography 1976 Pour vous servir (To Serve You), a documentary about nurses (UNESCO prize) 1982– Sama/La trace/The Trace, 90 min, 16 mm 88 (Caligari film prize at the 1989 International Forum of New Cinema, Berlin International Film Festival) 1991 In Search of Shaima, documentary on the search for an Iraqi girl in the second Gulf War, 1991, video, 13 min The Trace Sama/La trace Tunisia/Belgium 1982-88 Dir/Scr: Néjia Ben Mabrouk C: Marc-André Batigne M: Francois Gaudard S: Faouzi Tabet Ed: Moufida Tlatli Cast: Fatma Khemiri, Mouna Noureddine, Basma Tajine Prod: SATPEC (Tun), No Money Company (Brussels), ZDF Contrary to the rigid, traditional roles assigned to men and women, tenyear-old Sabra always preferred boy’s games. Her mother introduces her to her future role as a woman, but at the same time tells her about all the sacrifices she has made in her own life. Sabra asserts herself even against the father who at first rejects the idea of his daughter going to the city to study. But Tunis is no place for young single women. Sabra’s application for a room in a student dormitory is rejected and she is forced to live in a stuffy, dark room in the rundown city. When a professor gives her a failing grade on an exam, she burns all her books and decides to make a new start—in exile. The film is one of the few films set in southern Tunisia, the director’s place of origin. It is a poor region and the inhabitants have a reputation for being rebellious. The film was made in a dialect often scoffed at in the north, a dialect that the director deliberately speaks despite the fact that she is well-educated.



“In my film Sabra’s mother opposes her daughter’s decision to leave the country, but at the same time she encourages her to go so her daughter will not have to live as she does. I find this ambivalence between tradition and modernity extremely fascinating.” (Néjia Ben Mabrouk in the catalog to an Arab film series in the Xenix Film Club, Zurich, April–May 1989)


From an Interview with Néjia Ben Mabrouk Your film begins with a very symbolic scene. NBM: The stone that the mother puts into a small box and later sticks in her bra is in fact the same stone from the beginning of the film, the stone that she locks in a jewelry box. It is also the same stone you can see at the end of the film, when the girl is bathing in the kitchen. Her mother gives her this oval stone after having received it herself from an old woman, who had explained its meaning to her. The old woman had said, “She has to pee on the stone so it will protect her until her wedding day.” The mother keeps the stone in the little box until the moment when Sabra is taking a bath and her mother asks her to carry out this ritual designed to protect her virginity. Is this a common ritual in Tunisia? NBM: In Tunisia there are also other, somewhat more spectacular rituals designed to teach girls to be wary of men and to armor them psychologically. For example, they are made to repeat the same sentence about men over and over, to cut themselves on the knee seven times with a razor blade so it bleeds, etc. But the mother in the film asks the old woman for a method that is effective but would leave no visible trace on the girl’s body. That’s why she chooses the stone, which is more symbolic. But the trace is there, morally and psychologically, despite this precautionary measure—because Sabra’s behavior changes. There is a difference in her character between when she is a ten-year-old girl and when she is a young woman of twenty. What is the meaning of the stone for the film? NBM: I begin with this stone that is locked in a jewelry box because the girl does not consent to being locked in, demanding instead her right to


self-determination. But throughout the film she never obtains that right, even though she goes to university. That is why she decides to leave. (Written interview with the author, Berlin/Brussels, March 2001).

Film Reviews By Tunisian standards, the subject breaks an incredible taboo. Both men and women are given a glimpse into the closed-off internal world of North African women, into the sphere that exists in the dark, in thoughts, one that is not spoken of. The main character Sabra, a young university student, faces countless obstacles as a single woman in Tunis when looking for a room, for a place she can study undisturbed; all this especially through the unwritten laws of a millennia-old tradition in which even love itself appears to be under the influence of a deadly hostility between the sexes. Flashbacks to Sabra’s childhood show us in painful clarity the conditioning of girls and women, an upbringing with a ‘withdrawal of life,’ with magic rituals to protect a girl’s virginity, with sayings and pictures that make a profound impression on the mind of a ten-year-old. “If you get weak with a man, I will drink your dishonored blood and go to jail for it; it couldn’t be worse than here any way,” says the mother. She later becomes Sabra’s accomplice in the struggle against the father and for an education. The mother is herself illiterate and endures her husband only because she has no chance of survival without him. (Simone Mahrenholz in Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin, April 19, 1989) So absent is the image of the father (one hardly sees him); so omnipresent is the mother. As the custodian of values, it is she who guards the body. Against her better judgment, she turns herself into an instrument of oppression. Néija Ben Mabrouk speaks of the first generation, born on the eve of the revolution, of educated young girls whose mothers were illiterate. A parallel between the life of the girls and that of the mothers emerges, but it runs in the opposite direction: It is the illiterate mothers who project themselves onto their educated daughters. The two care for one another but they also share the same lot—one that neither of them



chose. The mother suffers because she lacks adequate financial means but the daughter breaks out of the vicious circle. . . . Never before has there been such sincerity in the discourse about the situation of women in a Tunisian film. (Hayet Gribaa in Réalités, no. 171, Tunis, November 1988)




althoum Bornaz was born on August 24, 1945 in Tunis. She started studying English language and literature, and finished a degree in film at IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques), Paris’s school of cinematography, in 1968. She worked as a film editor and assistant director for numerous Tunisian and international productions, working with directors such as Claude Chabrol, Roman Polanski, and Randa Chahal-Sabbag. Bornaz later started directing her own films. After a series of short films and documentaries, she made her first feature film. With her company Les Films de la Mouette, she also coproduces her own films. Kalthoum Bornaz lives in Tunis.

Kalthoum Bornaz on Herself Everything started for me with a big child vexation. My parents, fervent moviegoers, would often take us to the cinemas of Tunis, and from her seat, the little girl I was would heckle at the ‘people’ on the screen, scolding the villains, warning the heroes about the danger . . . but the characters never looked at her and never answered. Why? My father told me with a smile, “These characters on the screen are made of light. They cannot hear you nor answer you. They are in a film and a film is nothing but light.” Vexation gave way to curiosity. How? To go through the screen, to uncover the mystery of cinema turned to vertigo, became an end in itself. As the years went by, curiosity grew in me. The discovery of art and of Art as a way of expression turned this simple technical quest of ‘how-to’ into a genuine passion. At IDHEC, my cinema school in Paris, my masters


Georges Sadoul and Jean Mitry, after they inoculated us with the virus of movie-loving, never failed to remind us of the two basics for any kind of artistic work: technical mastery and sincerity of intent. Through my heroine Nozha and her family, deep in my heart, I wanted to portray life in Tunis today with its maze of contradictory and coherent elements, liberties and barriers. To reappropriate our traditional archetypes, too often falsified by a decadent Orientalism and cheap exoticism. To lift the veil off the secret power of matriarchy. To sweep away the monolithic stereotypes about the forever passive victim attitude of the Arabic-Muslim woman. To lighten the weight of tradition. To celebrate exuberance, humor, and sensuality. To crack the thread of oblivion. To shed some light on the shadowy areas of difference. (Kalthoum Bornaz, in the press materials to her film Keswa, Tunis 1997) 385

From an Interview with Kalthoum Bornaz This is not the European premiere of your film Keswa. KB: No, it has already been shown at numerous international festivals, including the world premiere in Mannheim, and Tübingen. The audience was divided—some liked my film immediately, but didn’t understand it. They were fascinated by the story, saw it as a Cinderella fairy tale. They didn’t feel the message of the weight of tradition. And then there were those who understood the film but rejected it. They called it revolutionary. Nozha, the protagonist, simply did not correspond to their stereotype. There are many films showing Arab women like chronic victims trying to fly away from tradition and authority—and Nozha is doing the opposite of that. She gets married against the will of her family, and goes abroad where she shows the same


kind of self-determination in getting divorced. Then she comes back home and starts looking for her identity.


A lot of newer Arab films depict a return to one’s roots. KB: Vast topic! I think that the Arab world hardly left the disarray of the colonial period when it entered into a new disarray facing the events in the Middle East. On the other hand, nowadays where most people in theWest have a tendency to confound Islam and fanaticism, Arabs and terrorism, we perhaps have the need to return to our roots, to meditate about our destiny and to make the world discover us as we are. For example, in Keswa we see all the family praying and a little girl climbing on her grandfather’s back so that he rocks her when he prostrates. This innocent game between children and adults is of current use during prayers; we have all played it and our children continue to play it nowadays. This scene lasts only one minute in the film, but it hit and even shocked a lot of Western spectators who could not imagine that so much humor and tenderness existed in Islam. At the same time we reject a certain ‘exoticism’ that is always expected as an important ingredient in our films. In Keswa I consciously used all of the ingredients of that ‘exoticism’ but I brushed it against the grain, so to speak. That irritated a lot of critics and viewers. The past plays a secondary, but important, role in your film. KB: I am concerned with the here and now. But when people—or a nation—do not consider their past, they can have no stable equilibrium in the present or in the future. In my film the keswa that Nozha wears for her brother’s wedding symbolizes our tradition. The keswa is interwoven with a silver thread and is very heavy. This thread unravels more and more during the night odyssey. Meanwhile Nozha tries to solve the puzzle of her identity—to be a free, modern, Arab Muslim woman. To what extent does your dependence on European producers and distributors force you to make compromises as regards content? KB: It took me four years to get together the money I needed for Keswa. Some European producers liked the script and wanted to produce it,


provided I agreed to some changes that would make the film hold to the usual stereotypes about poor, oppressed Arab women. For example to transpose the story into the countryside with the women wearing folkloristic costumes or to add a sequence where Nozha is beaten by her father, or forced to be married to her cousin etc. I was open to criticism, but not ready to compromise to such an extent, therefore I refused. I finally produced the movie with Tunisian and French state funding (nobody asked for any compromises) and thanks to shooting material and equipment contributed by a private Moroccan producer. The crew was all Tunisian; we have excellent technicians. But the production conditions there were not so good. Until ten years ago we used to have our labratory, our sound studio, moviolas etc . . . but a politician’s strange decision made it disappear! Now we have to rent the cameras and do all post production abroad; that makes our films more and more expensive. Keswa at least ran in theaters for four weeks, which is quite good for Tunisia. (Interview with the author at FESPACO Retrospective, Berlin 1999; revised in January 2005)

Filmography 1974 Les magiciens (The Magicians), NA 1984 Couleurs fertiles (Rich Colors), 35 mm, NA 1988 Trois personnages en quête d’un théâtre (Three Figures in Search of a Theater), 35 mm, NA 1992 Regard de mouette (Glance of the Seagull), 35 mm, 18 min 1994 Rajul min dhahab/Un homme en or (The Golden Man), video, NA 1996 Laylat ‘urs fi Tunis/Nuit de noces à Tunis (Wedding Nights in Tunis), video, 27 min, for ARTE French-German Television 1997 Kiswa, al-khayt al-dayya‘/Keswa, le fil perdu/Keswa, the Lost Thread, 35 mm, 100 min (Best Francophone Film at the festival in Namur, Belgium; Best Original Script at the Bari Film Festival; Best Film Music at the Valencia Film Festival) 1998 Forêt d’El Medfoun (Forest of El Medfoun), 35mm, NA



Keswa, the Lost Thread Kiswa, al-khayt al-dayya‘/Keswa, le fil perdu Tunisia/France/Morocco 1997 Dir/Scr/Ed: Kalthoum Bornaz C: Ahmed Bennys M: Anouar Brahem Cast: Rim Turki, Mouna Noureddine, Lotfi Dziri Prod: Morgane Production (F), Les Films de la Mouette (Tun)


To escape a future determined by traditions, Nozha, a young Tunisian woman, leaves her country and gets married against her family’s will. She returns a divorced woman to Tunis, feeling like a failure. She arrives just in time for her brother’s wedding. In order to please her family, she wears the keswa, the traditional wedding dress interwoven with silver threads. When the wedding party rushes off to the wedding, she is left behind by the family. Nozha finds herself alone again, without money, in the heavy keswa. She ends up driving around with the taxi driver Salih. In a turbulent odyssey through Tunis at night, from one wedding to another, she tries to put together a new identity.

Film Reviews Steeped in tradition and graced with an engagingly comic, Hepburnish performance by Rim Turki as the intrepid and headstrong Nozha, Tunisborn Kalthoum Bornaz’s feature film debut taps into the same genial benevolence and palpable sense of place that made Ferid Boughédir’s A Summer at La Goulette (Un été à La Goulette) an audience favorite at Filmfest DC 1997. (Eddie Cockrell, Washington DC International Film Festival 1998; http://www.capaccess.org/ane/filmfestdc/ff98/keswa.html on March 26, 2000)


The director stated that the idea behind the film was born “of her annoyance with the folkloric image” conveyed by the West and by some of our films: an image of couscous, camels, palm trees, etc. But what does Kalthoum Bornaz do under the pretext of ridding us of this folkloric image? Under the pretext of sweeping away all the clichés, she simply reinstates them. For the use of traditional dress to symbolize the weight of tradition is also a folkloric approach. Showing all the rites and rituals of marriage—henna, couscous, ululation, the marriage procession, candles, etc.—is also folkloric and exotic. Keswa has the air of a comedy but lacks all the necessary ingredients for the genre, apart from a few tirades of black humor inserted by the dialogue writer Tawfik Jebali. Once again, Tunisian cinema has let us down, even if certain viewers enjoyed the film, above all because they saw it as an exotic tale. That’s a shame, as one had anticipated a good deal more from a director who had proved her worth in her preceding short and medium-length films. (From a review by S.D. in La Presse, Tunis, July 24, 1998) 389

Keswa by the Tunisian director Kalthoum Bornaz tended to be a disappointment. Not because the subject of women’s emancipation seems to have been finally exhausted, but because of the way the subject matter was processed. The film was generally also panned by film critics. To be sure, as important as the issue is, it is just as pressing to place it in an overall social context. But that touched upon a taboo. Experts correctly presume that the issue taken up in the Tunisian film and poorly treated in such an abstract way covers up far more social problems than it reveals. And so you end up not being able to let go of a suspicion that the favorite subject of Tunisian film, the question of emancipation, serves only the domestic and foreign policies of the elite. (Roland Merk, in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 25, 1998)


EL FANI, NADIA (1960–)


adia El Fani was born on January 1, 1960 in Paris. Her mother is French; her father, Tunisian. She spent her early childhood in Tunis and her teenage years with her mother in Paris. After graduating from secondary school in 1978 she returned to Tunis where she had various jobs before starting work as an assistant director under directors such as Roman Polanski and Franco Zefferelli. With her company Z’yeux Noirs Movies she has produced commercials as well as her own films. Nadia El Fani also uses such playful elements in her film titles. After shuttling back and forth between Paris and Tunis for years, she has now settled once again in Paris. She is the Secretary General of the African Guild of Film Directors and Producers, founded in 1998.


From an Interview with Nadia El Fani NEF: There are things that I adhere to, and that is why I can sometimes be a bit harsh, but I believe that when one is creating something, one has to try to be precise about who one is and what one thinks. When you live in a society—and particularly so in a Muslim society—I believe that people are constantly trying to fit you into a mold. There are rules which, in principle, you musn’t break. Or you do what you want, so long as nobody sees—that’s Muslim society! In Tunis, life is really like in a village: everyone knows each other, at least within intellectual or artistic circles, and yet at the same time it’s a capital city. As for me, there are things that I can’t stand and I try to remain who I am. One day I said to myself “Okay, in France, the French don’t regard me as French; in Tunisia, the Tunisians don’t regard me as Tunisian.” Because when you are different, people tell you “Well yes, but that doesn’t count for you; you come from over there!” Whatever I do, people always think that I come from the other side of the Mediterranean. And then a moment arrives when you think “I am what I am. If in Tunisian cinema I am supposed to personify the notion of being Franco-Tunisian, I want to take it on completely.” As far as I am concerned, I feel that I am completely Tunisian—a particular kind of Tunisian, admittedly—but


if people want to think of me as Franco-Tunisian, OK, it’s true, I’m both. After all, in the Tunis that I know, people speak Arabic and French; that’s how we are. I can’t speak for the milieu of the common people, that’s not where I live, but in my milieu, everyone speaks French. Even if they aren’t half French, they all have this problem of living between Paris and Tunis. I have a lot of friends in Paris whose souls are wounded because they don’t have the courage to return to Tunis. And all of those who have returned to Tunis castigate themselves for not having had the courage to remain in Paris; they feel like they are merely putting up with life in Tunisia. It’s all hurtful to them. Personally, that’s not for me. We experience things differently because we are just as much at home there as we are here. When I listen to Tunisian music, I clap my hands, dance and enjoy myself, and when I am in Paris and go to a rock concert, I do the same. We have assimilated both cultures and ultimately I see it as a blessing. Nevertheless, Meriem [the protagonist of Fifty-fifty mon amour] seems to have much deeper roots on the Tunisian side. NEF: Yes, and that was deliberate. I’m sure this is why some people don’t like the film. At the festival in Oberhausen, the first question I was asked by a journalist was why I gave the film such a conformist ending by having her return to Tunis. At first the question was so incomprehensible to me that I thought there must have been a problem with the translation. Then I asked him, “But why? Had she chosen to stay in Paris, would that ending have been avant-garde?” Perhaps because Tunis represents a return to tradition, to the family, to the roots. In the film, the whole system of family relations, of accounts rendered, of locating and limiting—“Where are you going? When are you coming back?”—is on the Tunisian side. One could therefore get the impression that that ‘freedom’ exists more on the Parisian side of the equation. NEF: That’s true. That’s the price one has to pay for human warmth and solidarity. Yesterday someone said to me “It’s good to have one’s privacy,” and I answered “Yes, but at some point one pays a price for it: in loneliness, a state in which you are truly left in peace.” Since I returned to Tunis, my grandmother has been living with me. She no longer goes to see my father



or my sister, who is married and has kids. Although I don’t live with the father of my daughter, but alone. . . . My grandmother is over eighty years old. She’s a wonderful woman. She belongs to a generation of women that never went to school; her father never wanted her to go. And even today, when she tells me how she used to plead with her father to send her to school with her elder brother, she cries just as she did back then. When she was fifty-five, she decided to take some evening courses, where she learned to read, write, and do arithmetic; she wanted to get her school certificate. She always worked; she was a dressmaker and earned her own living that way. She paid for her own vacations and was very independent in relation to my grandfather. And he was no fool either. He formed part of the first wave of Tunisian immigrants who went to France before the First World War. He worked as a perfumer in Paris and then returned to Tunisia, where he married his cousin, which was a common practice. She never loved him.


So there was also a lot movement among previous generations as well. NEF: Of course! This was the case throughout the whole of the Maghreb: an effect of colonization. It’s an unalterable fact. And I think that it is better to accept it, to see it as an enrichment, rather than to combat it, as the fundamentalists are now doing. Bourguiba, who was a pretty great guy, said “We’ll take on what is good in their culture and keep what is good in ours and blend them together.” But it’s hard to get an entire population to understand this. Bouzid and Boughédir are the names that one associates here with Tunisian cinema. How would you situate yourself in relation to them? NEF: Without the slightest pretension, I believe that, with my third short film, people in Tunis are beginning to sense that I have a different tone. This difference is based on the fact that I belong to a generation that listened to rock music; we experienced the 1970s. There is a small gap between their generation and mine; there was no smooth transition between them. And Moncef Douib, for example, who screened his last film at the Journées in Carthage? NEF: Personally, I don’t go for that type of cinema. I’m not sure if it’s only


because we haven’t had the same experiences, but that’s a type of cinema that I’d place in the city. You mean it indulges in a certain kind of exoticism? NEF: Yes, of course. That’s flagrantly obvious. Tunisia today is living in the modern age. In Tunis, all you see are big building projects, supermarkets. Nearly everyone dreams of a petit bourgeois lifestyle, just as they do here: of having a television, a car, a refrigerator, of being able to afford to take small vacations. The women dress exactly as they do here, in Western fashions. And I don’t mean just among the middle classes—young girls from more common backgrounds go around in jeans and miniskirts. What I want to show is a modern Arab society. Why do the scenes of travel, of voyaging from one shore to the other, feature such well-worked images—sepia-colored, not blood red but nearly so. Is that the color of a wound, and how did you rework these images? NEF: It’s partly the color of a wound. Then there’s the story of when she was a little girl, but I don’t want people to think that it’s just the heroine’s memory. I wanted people to understand that it was fate, an inevitable story, something imprinted on her neurons. Thus I was after a slightly synthetic image, to translate what we have in our brains, in an attempt to recreate the kind of images of the brain that you can see under a microscope. Fate, ‘maktub’-style? NEF: Yes, I believe that in spite of ourselves, we are influenced by maktub [expression meaning ‘it is written’ or ‘fate has willed it’]. I am an atheist, and so are my parents; I don’t believe in it at all, but I’m convinced that among Arabs, there is a profound fatalism in what they think, which is due to maktub. People accept an enormous number of things and if they don’t revolt, most of the time, it’s due to maktub. In Islam, when you hit a snag, it’s the best thing that could possibly have happened to you because compared with death, it’s nothing! If you break your leg, consider yourself lucky—you aren’t dead. It’s a sort of instant submission to anything that might happen. (Interview by Michèle Driguez at the 14th International Film Festival in Montpellier, October 1992)



Filmography 1990 Pour le plaisir (For Pleasure), 35mm, 6 min 1992 Qahwa ashtar/Fifty-fifty mon amour, 35 mm, 20 min 1993 Tanitez-moi (the film title is a pun on Tanit, a Punic goddess), 35 mm, 22 min 1993 Du coté des femmes leaders (About the Women’s Movement), video, 30 min 1998 Tant qu’il aura de la pelloche (As Far as There Is Celluloid), 3 min 2002 Bedwin Hacker, 35 mm, 103 min


For Pleasure Pour le plaisir France 1990 Dir/Scr: Nadia El Fani C: Yves Agostini T: Chantal Piquet M: Martin St. Pierre Cast: Catherine Le Prince, Michket Krifa Prod: Z’Yeux Noirs Movies Six minutes full of wit and irony. Two women make a clay model of the man of their dreams. One night the dream man comes to life. Fifty-Fifty Mon Amour Qahwa ashtar Tunisia/France 1992 Dir/Scr: Nadia El Fani C: Belgalem Jelliti S: Fawzi Thabet M: Anwar Brahem Ed: Kalthoum Bornaz Cast: Sondos Bel Hassen, Khaled Ksouri, Raya Ben Amar Prod: Cinétéléfilms, Transmediterranée


A tender but brash short film about the feeling of living in two worlds at once. Meriem, the child of Tunisian-French parentage, shuttles back and forth between Paris and Tunis, and between two men. It takes a long time for her to decide where she belongs. Bedwin Hacker Tunisia/Morocco 2002 Dir/Scr: Nadia El Fani C: Tarek Ben Abdallah S: Mikael Barre Ed: Claude Reznick Cast: Sonia Hamza, Nadia Saiji, Muriel Solvay, Tomer Sislex, Xavier Desplas Prod: Z’Yeux Noirs Movies, Bechir El Fani, Tunisian Television (ANPS), Soread 2M A brilliant hacker from somewhere in the Arab world is hacking into television channels and broadcasting subversive political messages on screen. The hacker turns out to be Kalthoum, a Tunisian woman. She is bisexual and living in an oasis in a mountainous region of southern Tunisia. French intelligence agents (including an ex-lover) are on her trail. The film was shot in only seven weeks.

About the Film One of the reasons for Nadia El Fani to make Bedwin Hacker, was that she wanted to provide a different angle on North African women, who are usually portrayed in films as victims. Protagonist Kalt and her girlfriends are strong, self-assured characters. For instance, the ambitious Frida has left her daughter with her husband to embark on a career in music. These women drink, laugh, and party and leave the men at home when they go out on the town. Kalt is a hacker who has her home base on an oasis in a mountainous area in southern Tunisia. From her apartment jammed full of computer equipment, she hijacks the frequencies of foreign television channels to broadcast messages in Arabic, signed by a moving cartoon character, a camel named Bedwin



Hacker. In the meantime, the ‘counter-hacking’ department in Paris is hard at work. Julia, alias Agent Marianne, recognizes the signature as that of her old rival Kalt. She uses her friend, the reporter Chams, who is setting out on an assignment in Tunisia, to collect more information. Chams begins working on the case unaware he is the catalyst for a game of cat-and-mouse between the two women. This is the first time that a Tunisian production looks at a modern subject like computer hacking. But more than a technical film, Bedwin Hacker is a warm film about a close female friendship. (Rotterdam International Film Festival, 2002; http://www.filmfestival rotterdam.com/2003/en/film/19124.html of March 12, 2003)


From an Interview with Nadia El Fani In Bedwin Hacker you attack ‘genre’ films . . . NEF: It’s a style of cinema that Arab directors have not yet appropriated. As for me, it was first and foremost a gag to enable me to communicate a political message with humor. Saying things that make people gnash their teeth is easier in a genre film. It took four and a half years to obtain a grant from the Tunisian government for the project; I had to submit the proposal four times. The project was also rejected in France. I ended up making the film on very little money, although the screenplay has won prizes at festivals. Indeed, the film has already been shown in Tunisia. How did people there react? NEF: The film was very well received by Tunisians. It still hasn’t been released in cinemas, but it was selected for the Journées Cinématographique Film Festival in Carthage, where it received a lot of praise. At universities, it quickly became a cult film, since it spread among students through word of mouth. On the other hand, it could still elicit negative reactions, as certain people don’t accept its political message and think that I went too far. It must be men, above all, who react in that way. For in your film, it’s the women who lead! NEF: It’s true that men don’t necessary play the major role, but when it’s the other way around no one is surprised! And still, my male characters


aren’t complete imbeciles, in contrast to the roles generally written for women in films, which are often just foils. You take up themes that are still taboo in Tunisia: sexuality and—what is radically new—homosexuality and bisexuality. NEF: My film is against clichés and its very liberated tone contrasts sharply with the enormous taboos that still exist in Tunisian society. During discussions in Tunisia, viewers don’t dare to broach the question of sex in my film directly. No one, for example, asks me about the female couple who are very overt and uninhibited in talking about their relationship. It’s as if the people don’t want to see it. It’s the same with the flashback scene in which the heroine sleeps with a girl. I didn’t even dare to film them kissing each other on the mouth and still, in Tunisia, I was asked to cut out the scene of them lying side-by-side in bed! But it’s the question of alcohol that shocks people the most—already because it’s women who are drinking and then because, at a certain moment, they drink in the presence of the father. I was also attacked on the issue of nudity, although the heroine is only shown undressed twice and in scenes in which it is totally normal for her to be so. Your film is thus light years away from the clichés about Tunisia. But does the trendy milieu that you show really exist for a sufficient number of people in the country? NEF: Of course! I shot the film in public places. The bar with the DJ really exists. Today a culture of complete modernity exists in the Arab countries that people refuse to see or to face. And Tunisia is one of the most liberal of the Arab countries when it comes to women’s rights. We have laws in place that protect our freedoms. That’s the schizophrenic and paradoxical side to our society. If you hide, you can do anything you like but you have to make sure that you don’t get caught. Besides, what shocks people is not the question of whether the things I talk about exist or not but the fact that I show them at all. That’s the real hypocrisy. Tunisian society is a society based on things that aren’t talked about. People’s ways of thinking have to be shaken up, and that is what my film is there to do!



Were you a fan of information technology before you made this film? NEF: No! I’ve done a lot of work on the subject of technology. What I am primarily interested in is the way people’s minds are manipulated by the news, particularly through the bias of television. Today, a piece of news does not become true until it has appeared on television. After the first Gulf War, Arab countries suffered from an image deficit because they didn’t control the market in global information. Since then, there has been some progress, most notably thanks to networks such as Al Jazeera. But it’s always the West that creates the images of the rest of the world. We haven’t managed to send out any message other than the message of violence, of uniformity, such as “all Arab countries are Muslim.” We forget that such countries host a multiplicity of religions.


You regularly throw a glance at your neighboring country, Algeria . . . NEF: When the massacres in Algeria began in the 1990s, Tunisia was the only country that left its borders open. Officially, the Tunisian government did not assist the Algerians but unofficially quite a large number of intellectuals and artists sought refuge in Tunisia. The Tunisian population welcomed them, which was a very powerful thing and left its mark on people. Lella Frida, one of the characters in the film, is an Algerian musician and singer who is one of these exiles, threatened with death in her native country. (Interviewed by Olivia Marsaud in Afrique Journals, July 9, 2003)

Film Reviews Nadia El Fani subverts the spy film genre to reverse North-South relationships. And what if in the end the people of the South were to win the right to free movement in the world themselves. Bedwin Hacker’s utopia is pleasant, unpretentious, well-paced, playful, exuberant, and, with women like Kalt around, not as far-fetched as all that! (Olivier Barlet in www.africultures.com/affiche_article.asp?no=2436&l ang=en”popup=1 on March 12, 2003) The spy thriller Bedwin Hacker shouldn’t fail to be mentioned as relaxation from all too much significance. As conventional as the film is, its lead


actress is worth seeing. Her acting is refreshingly natural as it avoids all female role clichés. Such women are all too rare in films. (Marie-Hélène Gutberlet in Wochenzeitung, Zurich, January 29, 2004)



ophie Ferchiou was born on April 23, 1931 in Tunis. She studied anthropology at the Sorbonne in Paris and in Aix-en-Provence. Her academic background also finds its way into her films. Her film aesthetics have been influenced by the school of Jean Rouch as Ferchiou connects ethnological observations with art forms. Her doctorate in cultural and social anthropology is unique in Tunisia, as there are few others with a similar degree, and she is director of research of the CNRF (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Française) in Paris. Ferchiou lives in Tunis and Paris and produces her own films. She has also edited the book L’Islam pluriel au Maghreb (Paris, 1996) and published several books including Femmes, culture et créativité en Tunisie (Credif 2002) and Lumières de Tunisie (Luminosity of Tunisia) by Oliver Martel, photographs by Sophie Ferchiou (Rugbooks.com).

Filmography (selection) 1966 Chechia, 16 mm, 35 min 1972 Zarda/Zarda: A Nomadic Tribe’s Feast Days, 16 mm, 40 min 1974 Mariage à Sabria (Wedding in Sabria), 16 mm, 50 min 1975 Gallala/Guellala: A Potter’s Village in Tunisia, 16 mm, 35 min212 1977 La pêche traditionnelle en Tunisie (Traditional Fishing in Tunisia), 16 mm, 40 min 1978 Les ménagères de l’agriculture (The Mistresses of Agriculture), 16 mm, 35 min 1980 L’imnarja (Imnarja Feast), 16 mm, 40 min 1996 Stambali, video, 35 min 2005 Paroles sculptées (Sculpted Words), 35 min Latest projects: Façon de faire, façon de créer dans l’artisanat féminin



(Skills and Creativity of Craftswomen) Les élites féminines en Tunisie (The Female Elites in Tunisia) Chechia Tunisia 1966 A chechia is a head covering of red felt that is common in several Islamic countries.213 The craft of making chechias goes back more than three centuries in Tunisia. This film monograph on this handicraft examines the technical, economic, and social organization as well as the history of the trade from the exodus of the Andalusian refugees in the seventeenth century to today. Wedding in Sabria Mariage à Sabria Tunisia 1974 400

Sabria is a village oasis in the Tunisian Sahara, 150 kilometers of sand dunes from the nearest city. Twice a year the village comes to life: once in spring and once in the fall, when all the shepherds come for their seasonal sojourn. The film tells of one of the most important phases in the life-cycle of these seminomads, the phase of the coming of spring, when weddings are celebrated. The Mistresses of Agriculture Les ménagères de l’agriculture Tunisia 1978 This film contrasts the great significance of the labor of women in agriculture and the low status these women are given by society. Stambali Tunisia 1994 A look into a possession and trance cult within Tunisia’s black community. The film shows the sociocultural development through which this


brotherhood, whose origins are in sub-Saharan Africa, is experiencing a revival. The magic-religious ritual is becoming more and more popular in an urban subculture.



oufida Tlatli was born in Sidi Bou-Said, in northern Tunisia. After completing her studies at the IDHEC film school in Paris, she worked as a script editor and production manager for ORTF French television. Tlatli returned to Tunisia in 1972 and made a name for herself as film editor. She worked with renowned Arab directors, including Néjia Ben Mabrouk and Selma Baccar. Moufida Tlatli then began making her own films. Her directing debut, the feature The Silences of the Palace, about servant women in colonial times, received numerous international film awards, including the Golden Camera at the Cannes International Film Festival. In 2000, her second feature film La saison des hommes was also shown at Cannes. The following year she was a member of the jury there.214

Filmography 1994 Samat al-qusur/The Silences of the Palace, 35 mm, 124 min (Camera d’Or at Cannes; Tanit d’Or at Carthage; Best Debut Film in Chicago; FIPRESCI International Critics’ Award, Toronto as well as Satyajit Ray Award at the 1995 San Francisco International Film Festival and Golden Tulip at the Istanbul International Film Festival 1995) 2000 Mawsim al-rijal/La saison des hommes/The Season of Men, 35 mm, 124 min (Best Actress, Namur; Institut du Monde Arabe Award, Paris; Special mention for Camera d’Or at Cannes; First Prize, Feature film at Torino International Festival of Women’s Cinema, 2001.) 2003 Nadia wa Sarra/Nadia et Sarra (Nadia and Sarra), 35 mm, 90 min



“I always look for men who are comfortable with their feminine side. They support what I’m doing.” (Moufida Tlatli in “Island of Silence,” Sight and Sound 6/2001) The Silences of the Palace Samat al-qusur Tunisia/France 1994 Dir/Scr/Ed: Moufida Ttlatli C: Youssef Ben Youssef S: Faouzi Thabet M: Anouar Brahem Cast: Amel Hedhili, Hend Sabri, Ghalia Lacroix et al. Prod: Cinétéléfilm, Magfilm, Mat Films


“The only rule we learn here is silence.” This sentence provided the film with its title. It came from the women who worked as servants in the palace in Tunis in the final days before national independence was declared. A young girl named Alia was growing up in the palace. Prince Sidi Ali is perhaps her father, because her mother is a servant at the court and a mistress of the prince, who has the right to sleep with the servants. Alia is threatened with the same fate as her mother, but her beautiful voice saves her from bondage. She flees and earns her livelihood as a singer. When she returns to the court to attend the prince’s funeral, she relives her childhood in her memories. The film was critically acclaimed internationally, though individual voices panned it as a “counter-cliché to the cliché that doesn’t hurt anyone.”

About the Film “This film was born out of absolute necessity, even dramatically, as it is linked to the sudden and serious illness of my mother. I realized then that we didn’t know very much about her because, like many people of her generation, she didn’t talk about herself, her past, her ordeals and the constraints associated with her being a woman. I wanted to know more about this problem beyond the experience of my own family. The heroine


of my story is a woman, the type that in our countries is sometimes said to be “colonized by the colonized,” a woman inferior by birth, a woman born to serve man. At the time of the protectorate, men were trapped by the colonizers and they tended to reproduce this model and this oppression. I also made the film thinking of my daughter who lives in a modern Tunisia but where the burdens of tradition continue to play very important political, social, family, and religious roles. In the film I talk to both my mother and daughter. I want the latter to take on her freedom despite all the dangers and contradictions that this implies in our societies. Women are ready for the choice of modernity, but are men?” (Moufida Tlatli in Écrans d’Afrique, no. 8, second quarter 1994)

From Interviews with Moufida Tlatli You wrote The Silences of the Palace with your mother in mind. MT: Yes. Since adolescence I had been struck by the silence of Arab women. A painful silence that I didn’t understand. When she reaches puberty, the Arab girl sees herself regarded with fear by her family and her environment. She becomes an object to be married off as quickly as possible. If she loses her virginity before marriage, she is dishonored and she dishonors her family. The worst thing of all is that all these threats remain unarticulated. Nevertheless, it is said that Tunisian women are the freest in the Arab world. MT: That’s true. At the time of independence in 1956, Bourghiba created the Code du statut personnel de la femme, or family code, a collection of laws that abolished polygamy and established the rights to abortion and to choose one’s own husband. The problem is that for a long time many women were unaware of the benefits of these laws. In a Tunisian family, tradition is more important than law. In theory, women are free. In their minds, however, they’re not. Even today? MT: Yes. Attitudes evolve too slowly. That’s what my film is about. I show four generations: the old servants, Khedija, Alia, and the child Alia is carrying. At the end of the film, Alia finds herself in the same situation



as her mother. But she has a moment of rebellion: she refuses to have an abortion. She is going to become a single mother, which was extremely courageous in 1965! Yet Lotfy, the progressive teacher, had promised her a better future. Why does he refuse to marry her? MT: Lotfy represents the independence generation. Certain men were politically engaged. They believed in discourse and in MarxismLeninism. Often, they left to study abroad, sometimes accompanied by an emancipated Tunisian woman. But when they returned to their country, their mothers presented them with a young fiancée, a virgin whom she had picked out. The weight of tradition! Lotfy is weak, but there are attenuating circumstances. Alia was illegitimate and a singer to boot. Even today, these things are frowned upon.


Could the disillusionment Alia experiences in 1965 also be that of a young woman today? MT: Yes. Until now, the film has only been screened once in Tunis, at the request of the Ministry of Culture. Numerous girls, moved to tears, came up to tell me in what respects they had recognized themselves in Alia. Of course, independence introduced coeducation, and the droit de cuissage no longer exists. But in point of fact, we just keep up appearances. In Tunisia, women dine with men in restaurants. At the beach they wear bikinis, at evening parties, low-cut dresses. The image that Tunis presents, in certain milieus, seems to be that of Europe. But behind this façade there are still so many problems that need to be dealt with! (Interview by Bernard Génin in Télérama, Ebdo National, 9/94) What part does the theme of women and women’s liberation play in this cinema? MT: Through my work as an editor, I have close contact with the contemporary preoccupations of Arabic cinema. I’ve worked with several male and two female directors and I’ve noticed that they share a common interest in the condition of Arabic women. I often wondered why it was that male directors should be so preoccupied with the question of women, until I realized that, for them, woman was the


symbol of freedom of expression, and of all kinds of liberation. It was like a litmus test for Arab society: if one could discuss the liberation of women then one could discuss other freedoms. Most likely there would not be that much freedom of expression, and most likely they could not speak freely about political problems, but the question of women could still be discussed. I think that each country in the Maghreb tends to take up particular themes and the theme of women’s liberation is the one that has been special to Tunisia. It can be difficult for those used to watching contemporary Hollywood movies to accept films that are shot with such long takes, like The Silences of the Palace. MT: As someone who works as an editor, I was worried that the way I was filming would not be acceptable to Western audiences, which are completely attuned to a western rhythm that is extremely fast and quite different from ours. Western cutting is very accelerated and the shots are very short. An enormous amount is assumed in the ellipses between shots: one never sees a door shut once it has been opened; one is suddenly in a car or a plane, or another country. Geography collapses, everything becomes very condensed. But I was interested in the bodies of women who move, and work, with all the time in the world. The women, the servants who work in the palace, have the whole day to do the cooking, to wash and to iron. I couldn’t allow myself to show them in an ‘efficient’ montage, which would be false, because the content and the form would not correspond. I had to show them in their own rhythm, in their own way of living and breathing. I had to show the slowness of their lives through my use of the camera. I would like to ask you to say something about the use of music in the film. MT: First of all, music is very important in Arabic culture. Everyone listens to music and people sing a lot. In the film, music is part of the everyday reality but it’s also symbolic. The women sing in the kitchen and upstairs the beys listen to music and play the lute. Alia grows up in the midst of both and when she tries to escape from the constriction of downstairs, she wants a lute, which has fascinated her since she was a little girl. The lute becomes a bone of contention between her and her mother who says “You’re not a



princess. You have to stay in the kitchen and learn to cook. I can’t afford to get you a lute.” So for me it’s an extraordinary moment when her mother gives her a lute, because it means that she has understood that the lute, music, and singing are the only things that can save Alia. Alia aspires to the mind, to music and abstraction. She distances herself from the women in the kitchen at certain moments almost with disgust. For instance, when an old woman comes to visit and all the others give that characteristic cry of triumph, Alia runs out of the room. MT: That’s because of all the questions that she is asking herself about her adolescence, and about her first period, which has just happened. That woman has brought her daughter’s wedding night sheet with her, which is stained with blood and proves that her daughter was a virgin. For Alia this is a traumatic moment.


Is there a connection between the mother-daughter relationship and the language of cinema? I was thinking of the scene between them at the mirror. MT: I particularly like this scene because of its silence and the importance of looks and gestures. Everything is transferred into symbolism. The scene has to convey the way that Alia’s fate is hanging in the balance. Is she going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and gain access to upstairs in the way Khedija had done? Is she going to replace her mother? We see the mother watch her daughter literally taking her place, sitting in front of her mirror, putting her lipstick on, making her gestures. And Alia confronts her with a look which says “I’m going to follow your example.” At that moment the mother realizes that she is going to lose her daughter, who is about to go upstairs and sing, and that there is nothing she can do about it. It’s hard to think of a film which uses the potential variety of meaning in looks to the extent you do here. MT: For me, the women’s silence is a silence borne of their inability to speak. Their mouths are closed. Human beings want to speak, to express themselves. If the mouth is closed then the eyes speak. All the women are within the tradition of taboo, of silence, but the power of their look


is extraordinary. So Alia’s attempt to find out her mother’s actual role in the palace has to become an investigation. She looks through keyholes, through a crack in the door. But when her mother is raped in front of her eyes, her look becomes that of someone who has seen what she should never have to see. It is unbearable to the point that she then refuses to speak any more. After that it’s only her look that can bear witness to her feelings, to her fear and her panic. The rape raises the question of the palace’s silences. During the film the struggle against colonialism achieves articulation. But the silence over the women’s sexual exploitation is never lifted. (From an interview with Laura Mulvey in Sight and Sound 5, no. 3, 1995)

Film Reviews Moufida Tlatli is a virtuoso as she plays with different levels of time, social hierarchy, and inner and outer worlds. She brings past and present together in an artistic mosaic and the sensitive, empathetic camera makes the mosaic shine. In a wary collage of flashbacks, the adult Alia encounters her childhood mirror image. From a distance she can finally grasp the context and understand what was really happening at the time. (Ines Anselmi, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 13, 1995) Tlatli pays incredible attention to illuminating the women’s everyday lives, the moments of tension and longing, and to capturing confusion, fear, and love in their glances. That is what makes up the greatness of this film, full of light and shadow. (Pascal Mérigeau, Le Monde, September 8, 1994) The Season of Men Mawsim al-rijal/La saison des hommes Tunisia/Morocco/France 2000 F/B: Moufida Tlatli C: Youssef Ben Voussef S: Faouzi Thabet M: Anouar Brahem



Ed: Isabelle Devenick Cast: Rabiaa Ben Abdallah, Sabah Bouzouita, Ghalia Ben Ali et al. Prod: Les Films du Losange, Maghreb Films Carthage Aisha was married to Said at eighteen. Like the wives of Said’s brothers, Aisha lives in her mother-in-law’s house on the island of Djerba, while Said works in Tunis. He is there for eleven months of the year, returning to his family on Djerba only for one month each year. This short time is the season of men. In the course of time Aisha gives birth to two daughters; without a son she is very low down in the social hierarchy. She suffers a lot under the strict aegis of her mother-in-law and wants to go to Tunis with Said. When she finally has a son, she is allowed to join her husband. But life in the capital turns into a nightmare. Aisha realizes that she has to struggle if she wants to lead a self-determined life. With her two teenage daughters she seeks a way to free herself from the bonds of tradition.


About the Film “After this first film, I hoped to return to montage. But Avid Technology had replaced traditional montage and I didn’t feel that I had the energy to learn a new technique. Finally another film thrust itself upon me. It was my daughter’s adolescence that served as the driving force. Her relationship to her body and to her sexuality, the problem of virginity all posed sharp questions for me. I wanted to talk about all these things, having myself been raised in the same way as my mother, within a very powerful tradition, particularly with regard to virginity. My daughter’s generation, which I hoped was much freer in spirit than ours had been, did not turn out to be all that free. Five years ago, I interviewed some secondary school and university students and when, at the end, I talked about virginity, the girls kept quiet and the boys inevitably responded that “we like to go out with girls that aren’t virgins but we would only marry a girl who was a virgin.” Before my daughter left to study in Paris, I realized that we hadn’t yet broached the subject. I told her, as my mother had done when I was her age, to “ look out for herself.” This sentence had instilled such a sense of guilt in me in my relations with men that I repeated the same thing with my daughter. That’s why I wrote my second film for her.”


(Moufida Tlatli during a press conference, presented by Pierre Pitiot, at the 23rd Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival, October 29, 2001)

From an Interview with Moufida Tlatli In Tunisian cinema, and in Mediterranean cinema in general, the spaces are often closed. How do you explain this? MT: I think this is essentially for practical reasons. The space within homes is reserved for women, while men usually congregate in the street or in cafés. For fifty years, the family code has given more and more rights to women, sometimes placing them in more positions of responsibility than men: there are more women judges, more women students. But it has taken time for women, many of whom are religious, to adapt themselves to these laws, which they regard as too modern. They were told, “Tunisia is a poor country; we have to practice family planning.” Buses traveled around to the remotest areas to talk to women about contraception, but the women threw the pills away as soon as the buses had left. Little by little—with work, above all else—things began to change. However, when I go to a party, it never ceases to amaze me that when dinner is over, the men still go off to play cards in one corner and the women sit in another! (Moufida Tlatli during a round table discussion, presented by Pierre and Benoite Pitiot, at the 23rd Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival, October 28, 2001) Arab cinema is dominated, and rightly so, by the ‘woman question.’ But we sometimes get the impression that this is an alibi for the numerous authoritarian regimes. How would you situate yourself with respect to this situation? MT: I see a rich variety of films in the Arab world at the moment, which speaks against reducing Arab cinema to just simply representing the female condition. Apart from women, subjects like men, the family, the absence of fathers and society in general are also being addressed. The male directors of today also have a different view of things, a more modern one. They have also experienced the brutal changes in our present way of life as compared to the way their mothers lived. When one speaks of women, it is also in order to express this profound cultural duality that




exists in our society. We were all colonized, be it by the French in our case or by the English in that of the Egyptians. There is a quest and a search for identity, much of which takes place through the mother. In summer, when our family traveled to the seashore, the boys could stay in the water as long as they wanted, while my sister and I had to come back quickly. My mother never rested for a moment during the whole vacation. As soon as my brothers returned, she made dinner and then did the dishes. When my father came back, sometimes late at night, she got up and prepared a meal for him. Today, women have found their place but I am still fighting because attitudes don’t evolve as quickly as laws and decrees. There was a lot of criticism of my second film, Season of Men, which deals with the subject of female sexuality. When I showed it to French audiences, the beur girls were horrified by the image I presented of women. They told me, “We’re not like that; we go to nightclubs, we wear bikinis, we drink whisky; why always present this image of submissive women?” But later on they ended up by telling me that their relatives in France were even more traditional than those in Tunisia. A ghetto mentality takes root; brothers tell their sisters what to do. Tradition and religion become the means of asserting their identity. How are you perceived by female audiences in Tunisia? MT: With regard to my first film, there was a kind of consensus. The relations between princes and servants in a palace were seen as being a little like a fairy tale, and they liked the songs and the belly dancing. They were also moved by the mother-daughter relationship, and men as well as women properly appreciated the film. The situation was a bit more delicate when it came to Season of Men. Female audiences did not identify with the Djerban women. They thought it unfair to speak about Tunisia in this way when there are women judges, CEOs, pilots, ministers, and when they perform these functions so well. I thought that as far as I was concerned, this was a bit different because it was about sexuality, which cannot be governed by laws or decrees. It is an attitude that evolves according to its own rhythm. Djerbans were also shocked by the film: “Our women don’t dress like that; that isn’t how it works.” One scene bothered them above all. The father-in-law, who is


paralyzed, is together with his wife and he sees all these beautiful girls returning from the sea. He asks the youngest, whom he prefers, to help him. Just as she is about to move on again, he takes her hands and tells her “you smell so good; stay near me a little longer.” They were very shocked by this sentence, for it is said that, traditionally, the respect of parents-inlaw is completely unblemished. (Moufida Tlatli during a press conference, presented by Pierre Pitiot, at the 23rd Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival, October 29, 2001) The Season of Men refers to the time when the men return from their place of work, Tunis, to their wives in Djerba. This much-awaited return turns out to be a very difficult experience. MT: This return does not restore order, but disorder. Life is disorderly beforehand, and calms down a little during the preparations. Then you realize that the preparations are more important than the reunion, thanks to this solidarity between the women who have to support one another because they all suffer the same fate. What I wanted to convey is that the women are very much responsible for this heritage in spite of themselves. They hand it on from daughter to daughter, and if they don’t decide to stop it one day, it will never end. I know that the answer is time, and working on oneself. We lack this culture of the individual in the Arab world: that is why it takes longer than elsewhere. What do you advocate, revolt or resistance? MT: To my mind, both are right, both are necessary! The film explores different paths without advocating any one. Consciousness is universal today: women demand that their bodies no longer be sexual objects. The slightest thing in the film will seem very risqué in Tunisia. When the woman gently says, “Please caress me”—it’s a revolution in Djerba! The Djerban men are going to be mad at me! They will say, “Our wives never say that to us!” But I know inside that it is like that. A film changes nothing, but if it makes people think a little, that is in itself a great joy. (Interview with Olivier Barlet in: www.africultures.com, 2000; http://www. africultures.com/index.asp?menu=revue_affiche_article&no=1661&rech=1 on March 20, 2005)




Film Reviews Uniting past and present is the simmering frustration of the female characters and the silence that surrounds their sexuality. Attempts to break with convention, whether Aicha’s improvised carpet-weaving or her dedication to schooling her daughters, are met with incomprehension or repressive sanctions justified by Islamic tradition. The result is pain, shame, and sterility: Aicha is racked by headaches, Meriem is unable to have sex with her husband. Clearly the female body is a battleground. “The Arab woman’s body suffers so much,” confirms Tlatli. “After I married I had so many difficulties with sex: I was in love with my husband, but I was ashamed. Slowly I changed, but it took many years.” While these concerns are implicit in the Egyptian melodramas and musicals with which Tlatli grew up, and are explored explicitly in the feminist Arab literature she later discovered, her own approach is not polemical. She rather bases her cinema on looks and gestures. Instead of discussing the status of girls in Tunisian society through dialogue, she shows us the sour faces that greet the birth of Aicha’s daughters and lets us draw our own conclusions. Her insistence on allowing the image to speak for itself makes her films a nuanced and intensely cinematic experience. (From “Island of Silence,” in Sight and Sound, June 2001) “The men do not age, only the women enjoy that privilege.” Moufida Tlatli subtly captures both the complicity and solidarity of the women and the troubles which confront them with their own desire for other men, another life, another place, to break out of the norm. A profoundly feminine film, a painful but determined call, far from partisan slogans, to take life differently. (Olivier Barlet, http://www.africultures.com/index.asp?menu=revue_ affiche_article&no=1660&rech=1 on March 20, 2005 ) The house where the women live is like a box with ever smaller boxes inside each other. “I’m suffocating in this house,” says Emna (Hend Sabri) and her sister-in-law Meriem (Ghalia Ben Ali) is having the nightmares of her childhood again. Like The Silences of the Palace, The Season of Men also weaves together different time frames. The house becomes the portal


through which Aicha (Rabiaa Ben Abdalla) and her daughters encounter the past. In a wonderfully sensual sequence they rinse their henna-dyed hair in the sea, rocking like mermaids on the waves. “It smells like a man,” says one of them. The film celebrates the beauty of these women, a heavy sweetness and a peculiar self-confidence. The women in this household are so tender and intimate with each other, in a way hard for European women to imagine. The community could be considered a matriarchy, if the strict mother-in-law were not representing the laws of the husbands. That is what the director is protesting most of all—that the women perpetuate their own oppression. (Martina Knoben in Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 23–24, 2002) Nadia and Sarra Nadia wa Sarra/Nadia et Sarra France/Tunisia 2003 Dir: Moufida Tlatli Scr : Moufida Tlatli, Hélène Couturier C: Alain Levent S: Faouzi Thabet Ed: Ariane Boeglin Cast: Hiam Abbass, Dorra Zarrouk, Hichem Rostom, Nejia Ouerghi et al. Prod: ARTE France, Cinétévé At forty-seven, Nadia seems to be a happy, contented woman. A French professor at Tunis University, she is well-liked by her students, married to a man who has kept his good looks, and is the mother of a ravishing eighteen-year-old. Yet, beneath her smiling, sunny exterior, Nadia conceals a deep sense of unhappiness. With her daughter, Sarra, her relationship is strained and with her husband it is even worse. How can she accept growing old when her daughter is the incarnation of beauty? How can she handle the sudden realization that it is possible to have lost what makes a ‘real’ woman?




Other Countries 415

Introduction In contrast to the Mashreq and Maghreb countries mentioned thus far, filmmaking in the rest of the Arab realm is only rudimentary in its development. Mass audiences are fed foreign-made commercial films in the cinemas and on television that must first pass through the strict scrutiny of the censors. In Sudan as well as Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates native productions have remained largely limited to documentaries, short films, and films for television. In Bahrain the first feature film for cinema was shot in 1990; in Qatar the first was much earlier, in 1976; and in Kuwait the only two feature films produced to date were made in the late 1970s. About six feature films have been produced in Jordan.215 Many filmmakers, such as Mauritanian Med Hondo, live and work outside their native country. The number of feature films that have been made up so far can be counted on the fingers of one’s hand. There are various reasons for this.


Neither a production strategy nor government film subsidies exist. Although there are a number of private production companies, they produce films for television rather than movie theaters. In 1950, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Education established a department of cinema. Four years later, the Kuwait National Cinema Company was founded to oversee the creation of cinemas and a distribution sector. However, although reference was made to production in the company’s statutes, this aspect was largely ignored and neglected. Nevertheless, until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Department played a positive role in producing a large number of documentaries as well as a few fiction films; thereafter production ceased entirely.216


Western Sahara: A whole series of films have emerged on the national liberation struggle of the Polisario Front. They were all produced by filmmakers abroad, in either Arab or Western countries. Worthy of mention are Les enfants du Polisario (The Children of the Polisario) by Jamila Olivesi and Le Sahara n’est pas à vendre (The Sahara is Not for Sale) by Lebanese filmmaker Jocelyne Saab. Very few women directors are known from the following countries:

Jordan Jordan’s Prime Minister Faisal al-Fayez reshuffled his cabinet in October 2004 on a directive of King Abdullah II; now four of the ministers are women. Only a few months earlier Queen Rania participated in the Arab International Women’s Forum Conference. One of the issues discussed was how to increase the role of women in the Arab world. Jordan’s national assembly has rejected repeated calls from King Abdullah and Queen Rania to repeal Article 340, which mandates leniency for perpetrators of honor killings. Many movie houses in Jordan have had to close in recent years for economic reasons. The country has not had a film production company for quite some time, but a few film festivals have been held, as well as other artistic and cultural events at which films have been shown.


The only known female filmmaker in the country is Saba Ghada, who made a documentary film: Insan (Human Being), 19 min., 2000.

Kuwait The Kuwaiti parliament is an elected representative body. Shaykha Fatima, wife of the president of the United Arab Emirates, demanded in 1999 that women be permitted to hold ministerial posts.217 In May 2005 the Kuwaiti Council of Ministers finally approved a bill that would give women both the active and passive right to vote. A similar decree proposed in 1999 by Amir Jabir Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah had been barely defeated in the assembly. A 2003 study commisioned by al-Qabas newspaper and conducted by the University of Kuwait had found that 65 percent of eligible voters—men!— rejected both active and passive voting rights for women. During the parliamentary elections in the same year, women’s rights activists protested the exclusion of women by conducting a straw vote with imitation ballots and ballot boxes. They spurred considerable media interest. It obviously served its purpose. The new law will take effect in the 2007 parliamentary polls. Thus Kuwait becomes the fourth Gulf country where women as well as men vote in elections after Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. The introduction of suffrage for women could have an unpleasant ripple effect for its conservative monarchist neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia. It could ultimately lead, not only to women demanding their political rights, but their male compatriots may also wonder why other Arab countries in the Persian Gulf have no elections at all. The only known female filmmaker from Kuwait is Nadra Al Sultan. She graduated from the London Film School in 1980 and made a documentary film, al-Sadwa, in 1982.

Saudi Arabia To date there are no public cinemas in Saudi Arabia. This regulation is intended to protect the country’s strict religious and moral codes, since




according to orthodox theologians, the Qur’an forbids the presentation of human beings in pictures, whether still or moving. Instead there is a boom in ‘home cinemas,’ where all film formats are shown, from video to 35 mm. The sale of films does take place clandestinely, including, even, the sale of pornographic films. Satellite television is tolerated for home use as long as it does not undermine ‘public morals.’ Women are largely banned from public life in Saudi Arabia. They are still not allowed to drive cars. In 2000 a princess assumed the position of assistant undersecretary in the Ministry of Education, the highest position ever held by a Saudi woman.218 But women want more. In a petition to Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz at the beginning of 2004, more than 300 women demanded equal rights. Their eight-point plan called for the recognition of their civil achievements without a ‘legal guardian’ or representative. Among their demands was free access to careers and employment without prior permission from a man. Women, however, were not allowed either to run for office or to vote in the first elections in the kingdom’s history in April 2005. Two months later Hanadi Sakarija Hindi nevertheless became the first female pilot in Saudi Arabia. The twenty-seven-year-old, who was trained in Jordan, is employed by the private airline of Prince Walid bin Talal. However, as women are forbidden from driving by law, Hindi has to be chauffeur-driven to work. But the law obviously omitted to regulate flying. A photograph of the young pilot on the front page of Arab News created quite a stir—Hindi wears her pilot outfit instead of the black all-body hijab, and she shakes hands with Prince Talal—while women and men in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to do so, if they are not relatives. The newspaper quoted Prince Talal as saying, “If another Saudi Arabian lady has ambitions to become a pilot of civil aviation, she should let me know.” The only female filmmaker from Saudi Arabia known to date is Hizam Al Kilani. She graduated in 1990 from the Higher Film Institute at the Academy of Arts in Cairo and completed a documentary film for Saudi television: al-Diriya, 1991. The seventh Biennial of Arab Cinema in 2004 in Paris presented the short film of another filmmaker, Haifa Mansour: Rèflexions croisées, a fifteen-minute portrait of three very different people (2004).


United Arab Emirates (UAE) In the UAE a few young female directors have produced documentaries and short films: Lamya Gargash 2001 Sol mouillé, fiction, 8 min. Nujoom Al Ghaneem studied audio-visual media in the United States and film in Australia. After completing her studies she worked at first as a journalist. Alghaneem has made two short films, Ice Cream and The Park, and a documentary, Ma bayn daffatayn . 1999

Ma bayn daffatayn (Between Two Shores), Beta, 20 min. This film is a portrait of an old man with a small rowboat working as a ferryman—a dying profession.

A handful of women graduated in 2000 as directors from the Abu Dhabi Women’s College with short videos: Al Hamed, Salma (Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, 5 min.) Hassan Al Suwaidi, Salwa (Still We Struggle, 12 min.) Mohammad Al Marzouq, Hind (Al-Liwa Dance, 11 min.) Omar Ateeq, Rahab (The Car of the Wife, 8 min.) Al Zarouni, Azza (Blue, 3 min.) Blue tells the story of a young girl’s battle against boredom in her apartment.




Other Filmmakers


After brilliantly completing her university degree, Lila becomes a government minister. She refuses to get married even after becoming pregnant because she would have to go through the humiliating procedure of obtaining her male legal guardian’s permission, as is required by family law in Algeria.


Exil à domicile (Exile at Residence), video, 52 min A documentary about Algeria, produced by the France2 television station.

AMZAL, DJAMILA Djamila Amzal, actor and director, studied civil engineering in Algiers and lives in Italy. 2004 Le tuteur de Madame la Ministre (Madam Minister’s Guardian), beta SP, 26 min


Taqrir al-masir (SelfDetermination), NA (Award winner at the

Palestinian Film Festival in Baghdad 1978) Film collage using archival material about the national liberation struggles in Africa and the Arab world.



Farida Belghoul studied business management in Paris and has made two short films. 1980 C’est Madame la France que tu préfères? (You Prefer Madame France?), video, 40 min Samira wants to escape the watchful eye of her family. She pretends to be studying in Grenoble, but in fact she moved to a different district in Paris. 1984 Le départ du père (Father’s Departure), video, 41 min An Algerian emigrant in Paris returns to his native village. His daughter accompanies him and tries to convince him to return to France.


Beladi/Du côté de chez


soi/Where Home Is, doc, 54 min

DELIBA, FEJRIA Fejria Deliba, an Algerian born in Tunis, studied dramatic arts and has worked as an actress. 1993 Le petit chat est mort (The Little Cat is Dead), 35 mm, 11 min A small poetic comedy about a young actress who is rehearsing a new role.

GUERRA, MILA Mila Guerra was born in France. 1992 Merci Monsieur Monnet (Thank You, Mr. Monnet), 35 mm, 13 min A short film about the unifying element of music. A North African gardener and his boss’s daughter come together through music.



Nous avons parlé avec (We Have Talked With), NA Lucioles/Fireflies, 33 min Documentation of a social survey commissioned by the Algerian National

Office for Commerce and Cinema.

KASSAR, MINA After several years with the Algerian National Cinema Office (ONCIC), Mina Kassar works as a scriptwriter for Canal Algérie, the second channel of Algerian-Francophone television. 2003 ‘Alam al-samt/La douleur du silence (The Pain of Silence), beta SP, 26 min

SI RAMDANE, BABETH Babeth Si Ramdane works mainly as a film editor in Paris. 1995 Anita Conti, la femme océan (Anita Conti, the Ocean Woman), video, 26 min 1997 Ventura dit Lino (a portrait of Lino Ventura), for ARTE, 90 min 2000 Dernières nouvelles des étoiles (a portrait of Serge Gainsbourg), 90 min

TENFICHE, MALIKA MEDJAHED, FAIKA Faika Medjahed studied medicine and has made documentaries for Algerian television. 1992 Women at War (for Algerian television and Channel Four) Documentary film about women in Algeria, of different ages and social backgrounds, who join together to fight a family law that reduces women to minors.


al-Darb al-bati’/La voie lente/The Way Out, fiction, 35 mm, 37 min


al-Tariq al-mukhtasar/ Chemin de traverse/ Shortcut, 35 mm, fiction, 22 min

YAHIAOUI, YASMINA Yasmina Yahiaoui studied journalism before turning to film. Prior to her feature debut, she directed several documentaries on immigration. 1989 Voilée-dévoilée (Veiled, Unveiled), doc, NA 2003 À force, à force, y’en a marre! (In the End, It’s Unbearable), doc, NA 2004 Rue des figuiers/Where the Fig Trees Grow, 35 mm, fic, 81min A tragicomedy set in



Toulon. In Marfouz’s hairdresser’s in Toulon, in the south of France, Maghrebi women immigrants of the quarter meet. A romance develops between one of the women, Djamila, and Marfouz—until he gives in to his parents’ urging to get himself a veiled woman from the old homeland.



1996 1997

Suwar rahil/Photos de voyage (Photos of a Journey), fiction, beta, 6 min Leçon de choses (Lesson of Things), 14 min La maison de Roy Adzak (Roy Adzak’s House), 5 min

Egypt Unless otherwise noted, all the directors listed below graduated from the Higher Film Institute in Cairo and have made documentaries or short films.

ABBAS, FERIAL Ferial Abbas completed her studies in art in 1968. She has made


numerous documentary films. 1990 al-‘Uqda (The Knot), NA 1991 Salata (Salad), NA 1992 Sawa sawa (Together), NA


Taxi, mini dv, 51 min Samiha, a female cab driver in Cairo, tries to earn a living in a stereotypically male occupation.

ABU SEIF, LAILA After studying literature at the American University in Cairo in 1961, Laila Abu Seif went to the United States where she received her master’s degree and her Ph.D. After returning to Egypt in 1971, she was an instructor in the Academy of Arts in Cairo. 1978 Ayna hayati? (Where is My Life?) 16 mm, 80 min A documentary about the struggle of Egyptian women against an obsolete family law and the most significant women’s rights activists of several generations: Siza Nabrawi, Aziza Hussein, Moufida Abdel Rahman, the painter Indji Aflatun, and Hoda Shaarawi.



Kamla Abu Zikri who graduated from the Cairo Higher Film Institute in 1994 worked as assistant director with numerous fiction films. 1998 Qitar al-sa‘a sitta (Six O’clock Train), 35 mm, 19 min A contemplative short film about an old man who spends an entire night waiting at a train station for his son to arrive. 1998 Malik wi kitaba (Head and Tail), NA 2003 Nadhara li-l-sama (A Glimpse at the Sky), beta, 10 min 2003 Sana ula nasb (First Year Swindlers), 35 mm, long fiction

Taghreed Al Asfouri studied art until 1977 and then transferred to the Higher Film Institute, where she gratuated in 1992. She then became a director for Nile TV. 1988 Ilaykum halat al-taqs (Now the Weather Forecast), NA 1992 Qabl al-awan (Before Time), 35 mm, 8 min 1994 Min al-dhakira (From Memory), 35 mm, 10 min 1996 ‘Ashiq al-sinima (The Cinema Lover), video 1997 ‘Ashiq al-riyada (The Sports Lover), video NA Khamas ayam fi Qana (Five Days in Qana), beta, 22 min

ALAM, NADIA 1967 1983

Hilm laylat sayf (Summer Night’s Dream) Fannan al-khurda Salah Abd el-Karim (The Recycling Artist Salah Abdel Karim), 35 mm, 13 min


Lawn al-bahr (The Color of the Sea), 35 mm, 8 min

EL BIALY, ALIA Alia El Bialy received her BA in English literature at Cairo University in 1963 and her master’s degree from the Adham Center for TV Journalism in 1990, followed by a camera training course at the American University in Cairo. She has produced and directed art videos and made several documentaries for Nile TV. 1999 Katibat masriyat/ Portraits: Egyptian





Women Writers, beta SP, 54 min Love (video backdrop for dance performance), VHS, 10 min Yawm fi bansyun bil-Qahira/Un jour à la pension Maffet Astoria au Caire (One Day at the Maffet Astoria Pension in Cairo), beta SP, 16 min



Samah Gaber graduated in 1994 first in her class at the Higher Film Institute in Cairo. 1994 Tahawala liyakun (Changed to Be), NA (Jury Prize at the Ismailia Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films, Egypt) 1994 Mayinfa’sh itnayn (Two Do Not Go Together), animation, NA

GAMAL AL DIN, MONA Mona Gamal Al Din was born on December 25, 1950. She graduated from Cairo’s Higher Film Institute in 1971 and has shot numerous documentary films. 1984 Mulid al-Sayyida Nafisa (The Feast of Saint Nafisa), 35 mm, 10 min





Zakharif huwa (Ornaments), 35 mm, 20 min al-Alat al-musiqiya (The Musical Instruments), 35 mm, 25 min al-Fannan Nagi (The Artist Nagy), 35 mm

GHALI, NAHED Nahed Ghali went to secondary school in Paris, where she also studied social sciences and film. Since 1989 she has worked as an assistant director for Egyptian feature films. 1990 ‘Id (Feast), 35 mm 1992 Fantazya (Fantasia), 35 mm (First Prize at the Ismailia Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films, Egypt) 1993 al-Nas wa-l-ful (People and Beans), 35 mm, 10 min (First Prize at the Ismailia Film Festival for Documentary and Short Films, Egypt) Fava beans are cheap and a national meal in Egypt. This films shows how meals come to be. From manufacturing special pots and delivering bread to the


selling of sandwiches to a street vendor in the Old Town of Cairo. Agras al-rabi‘a (Bells of Spring), 35 mm

compels her to return to her father’s native Egypt to document the images of the Cairo of her childhood and the realities of today.



Tania Kamal El Din has an Egyptian father and American mother. She is an independent filmmaker, videographer, and a writer and lecturer at the University of California in San Diego. 1995 Covered: The Hijab in Cairo, Egypt, video, 25 min Just over a decade ago it was hard to find women on the streets of Cairo who were veiled. The film examines the reasons why wearing a veil has gained popularity. 1999 Hollywood Harems, video, 24 min The film explores stereotypes of Middle Easterners with a focus on women’s roles in Hollywood movies. 2001 Cairo Chronicles, video, 28 min The death of the filmmaker’s father

Iman Kamel studied German Studies at the University of Cairo and has been living in Berlin since 1987, where she completed an interdisciplinary program in the department of fine art, theater, and film. She has written numerous essays. 1995 Noara, beta, 8 min 1996 Khadija, 16 mm, 6 min Khadija, a young Egyptian woman, survives in Germany doing odd jobs. She tells her mother in Cairo her dreams as if they were reality. 2002 Hologram, beta SP, 10 min 2004 Nachiket (name of a village school in northern India), beta SP, 40 min

KHAN, NADINE Nadine Khan was born in 1981. She has made numerous short documentary films. 2001 Ru’ya/Vision, fiction, 35 mm, 10 min





Marianne Khoury, born in 1958 in Cairo, studied economics and politcs at the American University in Cairo, and in 1982 received her master’s degree in economics from Oxford University. The niece of filmmaker Youssef Chahine, Khoury is a filmmaker and producer and cooperates with Chahine’s production company, Misr Film International in Cairo. 1999 Zaman Laura /Le temps de Laura (The Time of Laura), doc, video, 36 min 2002 ‘Ashiqat al-sinima/Les passionnées du cinéma/ Women Who Loved Cinema, doc, beta SP, 2 x 58 min Documentary film about the pioneering women in film in the 1920s and 1930s in Egypt.

LOTFI, HALA Born in 1973, Hala Lotfi has made several documentary and short films since 1999. 1998 Brova, doc, beta, 17 min 1999 Quatre scènes (Four Scenes), doc, beta, 10 min 1999 Prière de pas attendre (No Waiting, Please), fiction, 35 mm, 8 min



2001 2005

Suwar min al-ma’ wa al-turab/Images d’eau et de terre/Images of Water and Earth, doc, beta SP, 20 min (Special Prize at the 2002 Rotterdam Festival for Arab Films) Cartes de vœux, NA ‘An al-Shu‘ur bi-lburuda/Feeling Cold, 52 min (Best long documentary, Golden Hawk, at Arab Film Festival, Rotterdam)


Inharda hosan/Today . . . A Horse, 10 min

AL-MESHRI, MAHA Maha al-Meshri worked as an assistant director after completing her studies. She wrote her doctoral dissertation in 1991 on the Egyptian director Kamal Al Sheikh. 1971 Mirham, NA

AL-MESHRI, RAHMA Rahma al-Meshri, daughter of film pioneer Anwar Al Meshri, has worked as an assistant director for television. 1985 al-‘Ahd (The Oath), NA 1987 Baba fi-l mishmish

(Papa Is Not There), a TV series, NA

NAGIB, TAMADER Tamader Nagib graduated from Cairo’s Higher Film Institute in 1969 with a degree in film editing. She wrote her doctoral dissertation in 1990. She has made numerous films about the countries of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf War. She has also taught film editing at the Higher Film Institute in Cairo.

SALAH ARAM, MAHA Maha Salah Aram studied film editing and graduated from the Higher Film Institute in Cairo in 1982. She has made a number of documentary films: NA Muhimma fi muntasaf al-layl (A Mission in the Middle of the Night), NA NA Marbat al-faras (The Reins), NA NA Muwazza‘ al-barid (The Postman), NA NA Haram li-l-igar (A Pyramid for Rent), NA


Control Room, 83 min

OTHMAN, KARIMA Karima Othman studied literature and graduated in 1965. She has made numerous documentary films for cinema and television. 1987 Sukar ma’qud (Sugar Cube), 35 mm, 20 min

RUSHDI, NEMAT Nemat Rushdi has worked as an assistant director for television in Cairo. She directed a number of feature films, all of which were distributed only in video. 1990 Sira‘ al-zawgat (Battle of the Wives), 35 mm, NA

SALIM, NADIA Born on September 23, 1946 in Cairo, Nadia Salim completed her studies at Cairo’s Higher Film Institute in 1979 and later worked as a director for the Egyptian Film Center. After her film examining the Zar cult, which is widespread in Egypt, however, she did not receive shooting permits for years. 1982 al-Tifl al-shaqyan (The Child Who Works Much), 15 min 1985 Sahib al-idara bawwab al-‘imara (Mr. Caretaker Has the Say), 90 min 1988 al-Ginn al-ahmar/The Red Demons, 35 min 1990 Zar (Possessed), 45 min




Sur Misr al-‘azim (The Great Wall of Egypt), NA

AL SAWI, HANA Hana Al Sawi studied scriptwriting at Cairo’s Higher Film Institute and graduated in 1971. She worked as an assistant director and has written numerous scripts for cinema and television. 1977 al-‘Ud (The Lute), NA 1978 al-Masbaha (The Rosary), NA 1979 al-‘Umla wa-l-nuqud (Currency and Cash), NA 430


Layla (A Night), 35 mm, 30 min

Iraq AQOBIAN, SITA Originally a singer, Sita Aqobian became a director for Baghdad Television and now works for the Al Jazeera satellite television station in Qatar.

MANDIL, KHADIJA Khadija Mandil was an assistant director for Iraqi and Jordanian productions. She presently lives in Amsterdam.

SHAWKI, ROHAK Trained as a theater director, Rohak Shawki presently works for the MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corporation) television station in London.


La maison des Saoud (The House of Saoud), 103 min

EL TARZI, SALMA Inta ‘arif Leih?/Do You Know Why?, NA Mayada is torn between strict religious and cultural taboos on the one hand, and a media that promotes the female body as a brand, on the other.

AL TIMIMI, RADHIA Radhia Al Timimi has made an animated film.





al-Zanzun/Zanzoun, beta SP, 21 min Divorced, and suffering from multiple sclerosis, twenty-three-year-old Zeina is fighting for her

(Letter from Nabil), 35 mm, 21 min

life while hiding her suffering with humor, hope, and ambition.

BELAID, SOFIANE ABU HAIDAR, LAMIA Lamia Abu Haidar made a short film together with Maria Ousseimi. 1992 Enfance perdue/ Childhood Lost, 16 mm, 40 min


Sarkha (Scream), fiction, video, 18 min

CHAKHTOURA, MARIA Maria Chakhtoura is a journalist. She has made a short film and lives in Beirut.

ALAMUDDIN, RANA Rana Alamuddin studied audiovisual media and graduated with honors. She worked as a journalist for The Beirut Times. 1998 Boys first . . . Ladies after, NA 1999 Murur al-kiram, NA A young woman strolls down the street and fantasizes about the lives of the people around her.


Remembrance, beta, 37 min The film explores the circumstances of the nakba (catastrophe) in Palestine in 1948.


Risala min Nabil/La lettre de Nabil


al-Kursi/La chaise/ The Chair, 16 mm, 22 min Nader and Samer inadvertently damage the chair of their deceased brother while playing basketball. Afraid they’ll suffer their mother’s wrath if she sees it, they throw the chair away, but try to retrieve it once their guilty conscience gets the better of them. But it is gone! A film about life in the streets of Beirut.

DABAGUE, CHRISTINE Born in Beirut in 1959, Christine Dabague studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1983 she moved to New York where she studied film. She has directed and




produced short films, organized performances, and published two short stories. She lives in Beirut and New York. 1990 Bernt Naber, the Artist at Work/L’actrice en devenir, video, NA 1991 Fields, the Anatomy of Morning/L’anatomie du deuil, 16 mm, 15 min 1993 The First Night/ La première nuit, 16 mm, 20 min Pictures of war-torn Beirut and Scheherezade’s exotic chambers collide with each other, thereby creating a connection to the present-day Middle East. 1997 Zaynab wa-l nahr/Zeinab et le fleuve (Zeinab and the River), 35 mm, 80 min Zeinab, traumatized by the assassination of her only son, starts off a journey on foot in an attempt to liberate herself from this terrible memory.


Casting, video, 13 min

EID, RANA Rana Eid studied audio-visual


media in Beirut and has made two short films. 1998 Kamal Joumblatt, about a Druze leader, NA 1999 Lettre à un ami palestinien (Letter to a Palestinian Friend), NA While a college student is writing a letter to a Palestinian friend she thinks back to her visit to the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.



Fustan al-‘arus/La robe de mariée/The Wedding Dress, fiction, 16 mm, 15 min ‘Ala-l-khatt al-akhdar/ Sur la ligne verte (On the Green Line), NA


al-Huriya/La Sirène/ The Siren, beta SP, 18 min Seventeen-year-old Nadia dreams of seeing the sea one day. She wants to escape her father, who intends to arrange a marriage for her against her will.



Samira Gloor-Fadel, born in 1956 in Beirut, has studied film at INSAS in Brussels and worked as a freelance journalist for al-Mustaqbal magazine. She presently lives in Switzerland. 1997 Berlin cinéma, 35 mm, 105 min A conversation with the German filmmaker Wim Wenders and excerpts from black-and-white documentary films are montaged to create a picture of the city of Berlin.

Moutiaa Halabi is an assistant director for Lebanese television.

HADDAD, MAHA Maha Haddad studied audio-visual media in Beirut. She heads the A/V department of a school. 1998 thouryeB/TurieB (‘Beirut’ spelled backward) (Award at the International Beirut Film Festival) A bold, poetic film that reflects on the situation of young women in MiddleEastern society. 2002 Je vais bien, et toi? (I’m Well, What About You?), fiction, 16 mm, 24 min

HARB, AMAL Amal Harb was born in 1976 in Beirut, where she later studied at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA). She has made several short films. 1997 Le temps (The Time), video, 3 min 1998 Le mur (The Wall), based on a novel by Jean-Paul Sartre, video, 12 min 1999 The Other Self, beta SP, silent film, 17 min (Best Camera Award at the 1999 Beirut Film Festival) A silent film with background music about a thirty-year-old man with a mysterious dual identity. Confronted with the loneliness of his everyday life he tries to escape the demands of modern times.


Beit Bayyi/La maison de mon père/My Father’s House, 21 min


Ghasil raqm 10452 (Wash



No. 10452), fiction, beta, 13 min

EL KHOURY, TANIA Tania El Khoury completed her studies in audio-visual media in 1999 in Beirut. 1999 Yasmina, fiction, 8 min Eighteen-year-old Yasmina wants to run away from home because she constantly has to wait on her brother, the ‘man of the house.’ 2002 Abdo, doc, beta SP, 25 min (co-director) 434

LABAKI, NADINE Nadine Labaki completed her film studies in Beirut in 1997. She has made a few short films: 1996 11, Shari’ Bastoor/11, Rue Pasteur (11 Pasteur Street), video, 12 min (Best Short Film at the 1997 Beirut Film Festival) It isn’t a sin to look out the window and make nasty remarks about the neighbors. But does that still apply when the observer is a sniper who looks through a telescope sight in search of a victim? A satirical version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.


MAAKARON, MYRNA Myrna Maakaron, born in 1974, studied directing at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts in Beirut, and acting at the University Paris III—Sorbonne. She has appeared on stage and in films (by Jocelyne Saab and Randa ChahalSabbag, among others). She has been living in Germany since 2002. 1995 Une rencontre (An Encounter), 16 mm, 6 min 1996 Conte d’adulte (Tales of Adults or: Yasmina), 16 mm, 14 min 1997 Confusion, 16 mm, 10 min 2001 Kleiner Spatz (Little Sparrow), video clip on mini dv, 4 min 2003 28, mini dv, 1 min 2003 BerlinBeirut, doc, beta SP, 23 min (Received several awards, including the Berlin Today Award at the Talent Campus of the Berlin International Film Festival 2004)


100% asphalt (100% Asphalt), doc, beta SP, 26 min (Best Short Documentary at the Biennial of Arab

Cinema in Paris) About homeless children in Cairo “who no longer are children.” Living on the street and exposed to drugs and violence, they are lonely and always looking for an escape.


Who Hangs the Laundry? Washing, War and Electricity in Beirut, beta SP, 20 min, co-directed with Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdottir (Iceland)

NAOUS, NADINE Nadine Naous lives in Paris and makes experimental video short films. She was an assistant director and actress, writes screenplays and film reviews, and also makes art installations.


Malaika, video, 16 min


Enfance perdue (Childhood Lost), fiction, 16 mm, 40 min (codirector with Lamia Abu Haidar)


Abrahunna/À travers elles (Through Them), fiction, 35 mm, 10 min (co-director)

RAHEB, ELIANE Eliane Raheb is a founding member of Development Cinema in Beirut. 1995 al-Ard al-akhir/La dernière séance (The Last Seance), fiction, 16 mm, 11 min 1996 Liqa’/Rencontre (Encounter), fiction, beta SP, 28 min 2001 Qarib wa ba‘id/Si proche si loin (So Near Yet So Far), doc, beta SP, 58 min The film recounts how in October 2000 Mohammed al Durra, an innocent child, was shot by the Israeli occupation forces while in the arms of his father. The boy’s death had a strong impact on millions of people in the Arab world, especially children.


I Love This, video, 13 min A whimsical account of a girl’s awkward but



delightful transition to becoming a young woman.

SAMMAN, RIMA Rima Samman was born in 1966. After studying orthopedics and sociolinguistics in Marseilles, she worked as an assistant director and production assistant. 1998 Libna qishta (Milk and Cream), fiction, 35 mm, 11 min Nora is a lively girl. She is never where you expect her to be. 2002 Carla, fic, 35 mm, 19 min 436

STEPHAN, RANIA Rania Stephan was born in 1960 in Beirut. Before moving to Los Angeles to work as a sound and editing assistant, she worked as a sound technician in Melbourne, Australia and in a video cooperative in Paris. She has made some documentary films and video clips. She was first assistant director to Simone Bitton for her documentary, Wall (2004). 1985 Ya layl, ya ‘ayn, an Arabic expression,219 video, 10 min 1986 Le miracle de la Manekine (The Wonder of Manekine), video, 24 min



1991 1992 1993 1995



Oh! Souffle de la brise (Oh! A Soft Breeze), video, 5 min Adonis, video, 26 min al-Qabila/La tribu (The Tribe), art video, 9 min Phèdre(s) (Phadras), hi 8, 3 min Muhawalat ghira/ Tentative de jalousie (An Attempt at Jealousy), beta SP, 24 min Ba’l wa-l-mawt/Baal et la mort (Baal and the Death), beta SP, 26 min Wayn al-sikka?/TrainsTrains, Où est la voie? (Train-Trains), beta SP, 33 min In 1896 the French laid the first railway in Lebanon, connecting Beirut and Damascus. This connection is no longer in use. This documentary film shows the villages along the former railroad and the people who live in the out-of-service train stations. A special editing technique made it possible to create an unusual image of Lebanon after the war.


al-Hamama (The Pigeon), fiction, beta SP, 15 min


Contes de la énième nuit (Tales of the Umpteenth Night), 3 min



Born in 1962, Souad El Bouhati studied film in Paris and worked as a film editor and assistant director. She co-authored a screenplay for a feature film. 1999 Salam (Peace), 35 mm, 30 min The elderly Ali feels apprehension about dying in France, yet he is just as uncomfortable at the thought of returning to Morocco, which has become foreign to him after having emigrated so many years earlier.



Touda Bouanani studied art in Bordeaux and has made a short film: NA Une histoire de pureté (A History of Purity), video, NA First Prize at the 1993 Mohammedia video festival) 1992 Histoire de la poussière (History of the Dust), 3 min

Farida Bourquia was born in 1948 in Casablanca. She studied graphic arts in Moscow until 1973 and today directs documentary films for Moroccan television. The Charcoal was her first full-length film. 1982 al-Jamra/La braise (The Charcoal), 35 mm, 104 min The film takes a look at the repression women are subject to in Arab society.



al-Mulaqqin/Le souffleur (The Prompter), doc, 17 min Ila man yahummuhu al-amr/A qui de droit/To Whom It May Concern, b&w, fiction, beta SP, 17 min

TOUMA, NADINE Nadine Touma studied in the United States and has made a video short film.





The Bouziane sisters, Yasmina and Anissa, are New York–based filmmakers of Moroccan and French background whose artistic collaboration extends beyond film into photography, video, and writing. 1993 Ali Baba: Hollywood and Paris at Their Best, video, 12 min A compilation of images taken from early and contemporary Hollywood movies that illustrates how little progress has been made in the representation of the supposed “other.” 1993 Le regard (The Look), video, 12 min The issues a female Arab videographer faces as image-maker, specifically regarding the socioeconomic status of Arab women within contemporary society. 1999 Talking to Stan, fiction, 35 mm, NA

and has made several documentary films. 2001 al-Batalat—nisa’ min al-madina/El batalett – femmes de la médina/ Women from the Medina (El Batalett), doc, beta SP, 60 min 2004 Fama . . . une héroine sans gloire (Fama, a Heroine without Glory), doc, beta SP, 52 min

HOUARI, LEILA Born in 1958, Leila Houari lives in Paris as a writer, translator, journalist, director, and actress. One of her works is the awardwinning novel Zeida de nulle part (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985). 1992 Je n’ai jamais vu de marocaines à vélo (I Have Never Seen a Moroccan on a Bike), video, 26 min This documentary is about the everyday hopes and trials of a group of young Moroccans, members of the Cactus theater group in Brussels.

KILANI, LEILA ENNADRE, DALILA Dalila Ennadre was born in 1966 in Casablanca. She lives in Paris



Tanga, hilm almaghasrin/Tanger, le rêve des brûleurs/

Tangier, the Burners’ Dream, doc, 53 min


Une femme mal à l’aise (A Woman Feels Uneasy), NA

MARRAKCHI, LAILA Laila Marrakchi was born in 1975 in Casablanca. She lives in Paris. 1996 200 dirham/ 200 Dirhams, fiction, 35 mm, 15 min 2000 L’horizon perdu/ Lost Horizon, fiction, 12 min (recipient of several awards including Best Short Film at the Torino Film Festival) Abdel Salam is spending his final hours in Tangier. He is about to abandon his lover and his homeland, trading it for a supposedly better life on the other side of the horizon. 2003 Momo Mambo, fiction, 7 min

MESBAHI, IMAN Iman Mesbahi has made a number of video short films. NA Trace sur l’eau (Trace on the Water), NA NA Une femme dans le tourbillon de la vie (A Woman in the Whirl of Life), NA


Signe particulier: arabe (Special Sign: Arabic), video, 13 min


Chapelet (Rosary), 35 mm, 14 min

Palestine ABBAS, HIAM Hiam Abbas, born in Nazareth in 1960, turned to acting after studying photography. Among the movies she appeared in are Michel Khleifi’s Wedding in Galilee, Rashid Mashrawi’s Haifa, as well as Danielle Arbid’s Demolition and Raja Amari’s The Red Curtain. Abbas has been living in Paris since 1989. 2000 al-Khubz/Le pain/ The Bread, 35 mm, 18 min (Grand Prix at the Mediterranean Film Festival of the City of Montpellier in 2001, Prix de la ville de Digne les Bains on occasion of the Festival de Digne les Bains)




al-Raqisa al-abadiya/ La danse éternelle/ The Eternal Dance, 35mm, 26 min (Procirep Producer Award at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, Silver Horse (Mediterranean competition) and Best Actor at Larissa)


Good Morning Qalgilia, doc, dig, 26 min


Ummaya Abu-Hanna was born in 1961 in Haifa, Israel. There she studied English language and literature, psychology, and interior design. After moving to Helsinki in 1981, she studied radio and television journalism and Arabic. As a freelance journalist she has made numerous documentaries for the TV1 television station and has had her own show on Radio Suomi. 1993 My Homeland

ARASOUGHLY, ALIA Originally from Acre, Alia Arasoughly grew up in Lebanon and lived in the United States. She has curated many film festivals


including A Century of Arab Cinema at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 1996 and the first International Women’s Film Festival in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus in 2005. She is also a film critic and editor of the book Film Writings from the Arab World. She began filmmaking after moving to Palestine in 1997. 1993 Hayat mumazzaqah/ Torn Living, video, 23 min 2001 Hay mush ‘aisha/This Is Not Living, doc, beta SP, 42 min (Peace Prize and Jury Honorable Mention at the 9th Festival Internazionale Cinema delle Donne, Turin, 2002) The film explores the lives of eight Palestinian women and their struggle to live normal lives amid the degrading drama of war, terror, and military occupation. 2004 Bayn al-ard wal-sama/ Between Heaven and Earth, video, 30 min On the trauma of medical workers during the Intifada 2003 Shahadat milad/ A Testimony of Birth, video, 17 min


On births given by Palestinian women at Israeli checkpoints Bidna ntir tayr?! (Are We Supposed to Fly?!), video, 14 min

ARRAF, SUHA Suha Arraf is a screenwriter, journalist, and filmmaker living in Jerusalem. 1997 Take My Sister and Give Me Yours, doc 1998 The Gypsy Quarters, doc 1999 End of the Line, doc 2000 Her Story, doc 2000 Obscure Territory, doc 2001 Holy Fire, doc 2001 The Cinder Keepers, doc 2003 I am Palestine, doc, beta SP, 16 min 2003 Ramallah Short Cuts, Summer 2001, 6 min, experimental



Asud/Lions, video, 10 min Ramallah during the second invasion by Israeli troops in April 2002. Going for a Ride?, video, 15 min Video based on an art installation by Palestinian artist Vera Tamari.


Chamsa wa ‘ashrun kilometer/25 Kilometers, video, 15 min A personal journey through checkpoints starting in Ramallah, aiming to reach the director’s home near Bethlehem.

BADR, LAYALY (1957–) Layaly Badr, the younger sister of Liana Badr (see following entry), was born in 1957 in Jericho. She worked as a children’s book author and director for a children’s theater in Kuwait. During a television internship in 1986 in East Berlin, she produced video clips for children. In Syria, she also made two musicals and a television series for children, and wrote two film scripts. Badr has been living in Cairo since 1997, where she works for the children’s channel of the ART (Arab Radio and Television) satellite broadcasting station. 1985 al-Tariq ila Filastin/ The Way to Palestine, animation, 16 mm, 8 min (Golden Laurel of East German [GDR] television, first prize at the Arab Television Film Festival in Tunis and the youth




1994 442



organization in Damascus, Syria). al-‘Arusa al-bahira/ The Little Bride, video, 30 min (First Prize at the Cairo Children’s Film Festival and the Arab Television Film Festival in Tunis; bronze medal presented by the Arab Council for Childhood and Development at the Cairo International Film Festival, 1996) al-Lughuz/The Riddle, 90 min A Planet All Our Own, UNICEF musical film for children The Fairy Tales Keys, a children’s film series

BADR, LIANA (1952–) The older sister of Layaly Badr (see previous entry), Liana Badr was born in 1952 in Jerusalem. She studied philosophy and psychology in Beirut, where she worked as a journalist until Israeli troops invaded in 1982. She then moved to Tunis, where the PLO leadership relocated their headquarters after 1982. After returning to Palestine she


was director of the audio-visual department of the Ministry of Culture of the Palestinian Authority. Liana Badr has also written several novels. 1999 Fadwa, sha‘ira min Filastin (Fadwa, Poet of Palestine), beta SP, 52 min 2000 al-Zaytunat (Olive Trees), beta SP, 37 min 2002 al-Tir al-akhdar (The Green Bird), beta SP, 52 min 2003 HISAR Mudhakarat katiba/SIEGE A Writer’s Diary, doc, beta SP, 33 min

GARGOUR, MARYSE Born in Jaffa, Maryse Gargour works as a journalist and producer for Radio-Télévision Française in Beirut and for foreign television stations in Paris. 2001 Watan Blansh/ Le pays de Blanche/Blanche’s Homeland, beta SP, 28 min


Wakalat safar/Travel Agency, beta SP, 14 min This is an ironic film essay. Some of the footage was shot with a Super 8 camera in Palestine of the 1970s, offering an alternative to

images shown in the mass media.

1998 2001

ISMAIL, SOHEIR Soheir Ismail is a cinematographer and has directed two joint video projects. 1992 Palestinian Diaries, video, 52 min (Second prize at the L’Institut du Monde Arabe film festival in Paris, 1993) Three Palestinian camerapeople film their native cities of Gaza, Bethlehem, and Nablus. 1994 Peace Chronicles/ On the Edge of Peace, video, 105 min

JACIR, ANNEMARIE Annemarie Jacir, born in Saudia Arabia in 1974, has been living in the United States since she was sixteen. She has studied film at Columbia University in New York where she co-founded the project “Dreams of a Nation” to provide resources for research into Palestinian film- and videomaking. She also works with Falafel Daddy Productions, a collective of USA-based Palestinians.



A Post Oslo History, video, experimental, 8 min Sayyad al-satilayt/ The Satellite Shooters, 16 mm, 16 min The story of the young Palestinian Tawfik, who lives in Texas. A story about assimilation and the experience of immigration, as well as a parody on the macho cowboy style in the West. Filastin tantazir/ Palestine is Waiting, beta SP, 9 min Kanhun ‘ashrun mustahil/ Like Twenty Impossibles, 35 mm, 17 min (Winner of several awards including Best Short Film at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival, the 7th Biennial of Arab Cinema in Paris, and the 2004 Mannheim Film Festival) When a Palestinian film crew decides to avoid a closed Israeli checkpoint by taking a remote side road, the passengers are slowly torn apart by the mundane brutality of military occupation. A



sale, over an aching soundtrack of a traditional Egyptian love song.

film about the politics of filmmaking and the opportunism of artists.


In My Own Skin, (co-director), doc, 16 min

2001 NA


1999 2000 444


Ru’yah (Vision), Beta, 5 min Sawa Rben (Together We Were Raised), 35 mm, 12 min Ah ya sitty (Oh, Grandmother) Beta, 5 min Sabil Sidi Omar, 35mm, 14 min For Archives Only, dv, 30 min


NASHASHIBI, ROSALIND Born in 1973 in the UK to Irish and Palestinian parents, Rosalind Nashashibi is an experimental filmmaker working predominantly in 16 mm film. She is the recipient of a number of awards and grants, including the prestigious Beck’s Futures Award, the first woman to ever win the award. 2000 The State of Things, b/w, 16 mm Images at a Glasgow Salvation Army jumble


2003 NA

Midwest, experimental, 16 mm Humanjora, experimental, 16 mm Dahyat al-barid (District of the Post Office), experimental, 16 mm Shot in a West Bank neighborhood, which was designed by the director’s architect grandfather in 1956 and is now marooned behind an army checkpoint. Instead of making any overtly political points, the film quietly follows aimless lives, boys playing football, a bored child setting fire to a heap of rubbish. Blood and Fire, dvd, 6 min. Hreash House, video, NA A day spent in the home of an extended Palestinian family. The film casts a light upon disparate notions of family within cultures.


Eyeballing, NA (filmed during Scottish Arts Council residency in New York)

2003 2003

Planet of the Arabs, experimental, 8 min Min Irhabi? (Who’s the Terrorist?), experimental/ music video, 4 min

SALAMEH, SHIRIN Born in Cairo, Shirin Salameh moved to Australia with her Palestinian parents when she was three years old. In 1989, she worked as a freelance journalist in Cairo and from 1993 as an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) reporter, receiving the United Nations Media Peace Prize for a report on the rape of Bosnian women. Since 1997, Shirin has served as a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. 2000 Farah fi Ramallah/ A Wedding in Ramallah, beta SP, 90 min Bassam returns from the United States to marry Mariam, whom his family has chosen for him. A film about the difficulties involved in learning to love one another.

SALLOUM, JACQUELINE Originally from Beit Jala, Jacqueline Salloum lives and works in New York.

SANSOUR, LEILA Born in Bethlehem, Sansour lives in London where she works as a journalist and producer. 2002 Global Coverage, doc, 6 min 2003 Jeremy Hardy vs. the Israeli Army, doc, beta SP, 75 min British comedian Jeremy Hardy travels to Palestine in March 2002 just before the invasion of Bethlehem—and finds himself caught up in the events. He returns later to take on the Israeli army.

TABARI, ULA Born in Nazareth in 1970, Ula Tabari has been living in Paris since 1998. She worked in public relations and as an actress in both theater and film, including Elia Suleiman’s Chronicle of a Disappearance. 2002 Khalaqna wa ‘allaqna/ Enquête personnelle



(Personal Inquiry), beta SP, 90 min

something is happening somewhere: while we sleep, someone else is dying; a child is hungry in Africa; bombs drop.


Not Going There, Don’t Belong Here, video, 25 min




Bidna na‘ish/Staying Alive, beta SP, 28 min The film follows a group of Palestinian stone throwers home and shows that their radicalization comes not only from Israeli repression, but also home-made problems: the teacher is a heavy-handed despot and the father a gambler. Madha ba‘d/What Next?, 40 min


Arba‘ aghani li-Filastin/ Four Songs for Palestine, fic, 13 min

Syria HAMZEH, NADIA 2005

Paloma, mini dv, 20 min An experimental video about the phenomenon that in every moment,


2004 2005

Sabah al-khayr (Good Morning), 16 mm, 3 min The Pot, color, b&w, video, 12 min

Tunisia B’HAR, MOUNIRA Mounira B’Har has made several short films. 1991 Itinéraires (Routes) 1994 Trésor (Treasure), 35 mm, 14 min A short film about two young do-nothings who are searching for a treasure in an abandoned house in Tunis and discover the ‘soul’ of the place. 1999 COUPlouetes, video

MAHDAOUI, MOLKA Born in 1975 in France, Molka Mahdaoui studied film in Paris and New York and now lives in Paris. She has worked as a film editor and has made a short film:



Khmisa, b&w, 35mm, 14 min A luxurious villa in a noble section of present-day Tunis. A woman in her mid-thirties wants to commit suicide, but then the doorbells rings. . . . al-Ruh wa-l-qalb/ L’esprit et le cœur (The Spirit and the Heart)

MODIANO, ZINA Zina Modiano was born in 1974. She studied at the Paris School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux Arts). She has directed two plays for the theater and co-directed a short film: 1999 En face/Vis-à-vis, 35 mm, 27 min (co-director) Present-day Tunis: Mémia is twenty with a slight mental disability. She falls in love with her neighbor but is forced to marry someone else.

SKANDARANI, FATMA Fatma Skandarani is a television director and author of a short film. 1988 Médina . . . ma mémoire (Medina . . . My Memory), 35 mm, 28 min The Old Town, the medina of Tunis, seen through the

eyes of a modern Tunisian girl.

TLILI, NAJWA Najwa Tlili was born in southwestern Tunisia. She studied English language and literature at the Sorbonne in Paris and was assistant director for international feature and documentary films. She has been living in Montreal, Canada, since 1991. Tlili has written a few screenplays, and a publication on female francophone African filmmakers. 1994 al-Shigara/Héritage (Heritage), fiction, 35 mm, 26 min (“Image de femme” awardwinner at the Vue d’Afrique festival in Montréal) Selma returns to her native village in southwestern Tunisia. She hardly recognizes the place of her childhood; the village makes a dismal impression. Only the songs of her grandmother are able to evoke the memories of the cultural heritage that seemed otherwise irretrievably lost. 1997 Infisal/Rupture, doc, video, 52 min



Two Tunisian women who received landed immigrant status in Canada through their husbands are threatened with deportation when they get divorced.


Le refuge (The refuge), video, 25 min

Yemen ALI RAJA, JAMILA Jamila Ali Raja works for state-run television in Sanaa. 448

BACHIRI, NAIMA Naimi Bachiri lives in Geneva. 1989 Yahudi, ‘arabi, yamani (Jewish, Arab, Yemenite), doc, 52 min Many Jews still live in Yemen today, and they have preserved their thousand-year-old culture. This film leaves tourist attractions behind and sets off to find the segment of the population that lives isolated in the midst of Yemeni society.


Notes 1 2 3 4 5


7 8

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

17 18

In Die Tageszeitung, October 20, 1984. Assia Djebar, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, trans. Marjolijn de Jager (Charlottesville, VA, 1992). Interview with author, Paris, 1994. Ibid. The following question was asked: “This is for a project on the biographies of Arab woman filmmakers. Please tell me everything that was and is important to you and for your work. I’m also interested in your personal experiences, from your childhood up to today.” Often artistically decorated, mashrabiyas were worked into window frames, so that women banished indoors could look out onto the street while at they same time remaining hidden to strangers outside. El Saadawi, “The veil is a political symbol.” In Green Left Weekly, March 10, 2004. See Sabine Kebir, “Frauen im Maghreb,” in the catalog of the 7th international women’s film festival (Feminale) (Cologne, 1994). The Feminale is a biennial women’s film series that takes place in Cologne, Germany. See also, Erdmute Heller, “Teuflische Verführung. Die Rolle der Sexualität bei der Unterwerfung der Frauen.” In EMMA, November/December 1994. Said, SF. “Island of Silences,” in Sight and Sound, no. 6/2001. See Srour’s essay in this book, “Straddling Three Stools” (page 188). Interview with Claudia Spinelli, Kunst-Bulletin, 1996. Ibid. See Viola Shafik, “Women, National Liberation and Melodrama in Arab Cinema. Some Considerations,” in special issue, al-Ra’ida 16, no. 86–87, summer/fall 1999, 13. Werner Kobe, Journal Film, no. 22, fall 1990. The term ‘Third Cinema’ was coined borrowing from the term Third World, referring primarily to a political concept for film. It was formulated as a program by Argentinean directors, Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino in their manifesto “Towards a Third Cinema,” first published in Tricontinent, 1969. The term had already been used in 1957 by Cuban Fernando Birri. This term was coined by the New Cinema Group in Cairo. Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity (Cairo, 1998), 39.




19 Ella Shohat, Framing Post-Third Worldist Culture (New York, 1997). 20 The Egyptian Magda supposedly directed a feature film, Whom Do I Love?, in as early as 1968. This is doubtful according to film critic Samir Farid (see p. 99). 21 Edward Mortimer in Financial Times, May 11, 1987. 22 Shafik, Arab Cinema, 42–43. 23 Shafik, “Women, National Liberation and Melodrama in Arab Cinema. Some Considerations”; see also Shohat, Framing Post-Third Worldist Culture. 24 See interview with the author, pages 218–21. 25 Interview with the author, Paris, April 2005. 26 Ibid. 27 See interview with the author, pages 312–16. 28 L’Express, February 20, 1992. 29 Interview with Jean-Ives Gaillac in this book, pages 279–83. 30 Interview with the author, April 2005. 31 Beur is a French expression for young Frenchmen of Maghrebi descent. 32 Interview with the author, Paris, April 2005. 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid. 35 Interview with the author in Cairo, April 1995. Samir Farid has been a film critic for the daily newspaper al-Gumhuriya (The Republic) since 1965. In the 1960s he was one of the founders of the New Cinema Group in Egypt and co-organizer of the first Festival of Young Arab Cinema in 1972 in Damascus. He initiated several film festivals in Egypt and has written numerous books on Arab film. 36 Interview with the author in Cairo, September 1994. 37 The film Qubla fi-l-sahra (A Kiss in the Desert) premiered a few months earlier. But Egyptian film choniclers do not recognize it to be the first full-length Egyptian feature film because the cast was not entirely Egyptian, and the directors, the Lama brothers, were also not Egyptian; see also Michael Lüders, Gesellschaftliche Realität im ägyptischen Kinofilm. Von Nasser zu Sadat (1952–1981) (Frankfurt, 1989), 26. 38 National liberation movement led by Saad Zaghoul against British occupation; Zaghoul was deported. In 1922 Egypt was formally given independence, but the British occupation did not actually end until 1952 with the coup staged by the Free Officers. 39 Viola Shafik, on the other hand, writes that all the pioneering women in Egyptian silent film belonged to the affluent upper class; in Shafik, “Women, National Liberation and Melodrama in Arab Cinema,” 13. 40 Pierre Haffner, in the program for a Carthage Film Festival retrospective in Berlin, May–June 1997. 41 Werner Kobe, “Hollywood am Nil—Zu einer Retrospektive ägyptischer Filme,” in epd-Film 12/87. 42 Ibid. 43 See Shafik, Arab Cinema, 27. 44 From her acceptance speech in Frankfurt on the occasion of being awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in October 2000.



46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

58 59 60

61 62 63 64 65 66

Nadje Al-Ali, “Standing on Shifting Ground: the Egyptian Women’s Movement” in Gender, Secularism and the State in the Middle East: The Egyptian Women’s Movement (Cambridge, UK, 2000). Ali Abu Shadi, Panorama des Arabischen Films 1954–2004 (Frankfurt, 2004), 19–20. Kristina Bergmann, Filmkultur und Filmindustrie in Ägypten (Darmstadt, 1993), 64. Farouk was the king of Egypt at the time. Shafik, Arab Cinema, 131. Mona Tayara-Deeley in: Overview of Arab Cinema, http://www.library.cornell. edu/colldev/mideast/arbcinem.htm on December 14, 2004 Shafik, in Die 7. Tage des Unabhängigen Films (Augsburg, 1991). See Andrea Wenzek, in Journal Film, no. 29, summer 1995. Ali Abu Shadi in the catalog of the festival, Panorama of Arab Cinema 1954–2004, Frankfurt, October 2004–April 2005. Interview with the author, Cairo, April 1995. Cited from Werner Kobe, “Youssef Chahine, das Kino und die Zensur,” in epdFilm 5/1995. See Shafik, Arab Cinema, 42. Ayam al-dimuqratiya (Cairo, 1998), which includes the material used in her 1996 documentary on female candidates in the parliamentary elections, and Ayyam lam takun ma‘ahu (Cairo, 1999), her memories of the six months when her exhusband Abdel Rahman El Abnoudy was in prison for his open Communist sympathies. This is how the press referred to her in an article on the World Conference on Women in Nairobi. See Viola Shafik, “Film in Palästina, Palästina im Film.” In Die Siebenten Tage des Unabhängigen Films (Augsburg, 1991). Abnoud is the hometown of El Abnoudy’s ex-husband, poet Abdel Rahman El Abnoudy. He took the name of the town as his last name. Ateyyat in turn took her husband’s surname for political reasons when he was arrested. Normally an Arab woman retains her maiden name after marriage. After the birth of an Arab woman’s first child, she is no longer called by her first name, but as ‘mother of. . . .’ Analogously, men are referred to as ‘father of. . . . ’ Shafik quoting from Peter B. Schumann, Handbuch des lateinamerikanischen Films (Frankfurt, 1982). ‘Pasha’ is the title held by high-ranking officers in Turkey and North Africa. Mendiants et orgueilleux (Paris, 1968), new edition by Joëlle Losfeld, 1987, 1993. Proud Beggars, trans. Thomas W. Cushing (Santa Barbara, CA, 1981). The Higher Film Institute is one of several schools affiliated with the Academy of Arts in Cairo. According to Islamic law, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry someone outside her faith, so Arab Lotfi and her husband first married in England. Her husband later converted to Islam so that they could get married in Lebanon and live together as a couple in Egypt.




68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76


452 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88

Jamila Buhreid was a member of the Algerian Liberation Army. She was imprisoned by French occupation forces and tortured, but she never revealed the names of her comrades-in-arms. Shadi Abdel Salam was an architect, film director, and property manager. His feature film The Mummy (1969) is considered an Arab cult film. A Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon where thousands of people, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were killed during an Israeli air-raid. The protests were against the pro-United States, anti-Soviet ‘Baghdad Pact’ of 1955. The Phalangists, one of the parties in the Lebanese Civil War, allied with the Israeli occupation army. On Buhreid see n. 67. Film critic Magda Maurice thinks the director had fallen ill and Magda took over and completed the film in his place. Arabic for ‘sin’ or ‘taboo.’ The title of a popular Arabic song. More than a century ago, in 1899, Qasim Amin published his book Tahrir almar’a (The Liberation of Women) in which he challenged the veil, polygamy, and divorce as a solely male privilege. Two years later he published al-Mar’a al-gadida (The New Woman). A family law reform in 2000 also gave women the right to divorce, but the khul divorce proceedings require that they then have to return to the husband any money or property that he paid her upon the marriage that was originally intended as a security for her, and to renounce all further financial claims for herself and her children. Viola Shafik. “Im Schatten der Kulturindustrie: Der ägyptische Kurzfilm,” in Retrospektive Ägyptischer Kurzfilm, 1990, 114–15. Regular programming did not begin until 1956. Rolf Richter, in Der irakische Film, 89. Other sources cite 1955 as the start of Iraqi television. Shakir Nouri, A la recherche du cinéma irakien 1945–1985, 53f. Kassem Hawal, “Regard sur le cinéma irakien,” in the catalog of the 7th Biennale des cinémas arabes (Biennale of Arab Cinema) in Paris, 2004. The ‘Tanit’ prizes are named after a Punic goddess of the ancient Carthaginians. Shafik, Arab Cinema, 23. Ibid., 9. Telephone interview by the author with Shanaz Ahmed, director of the Kurdistan Children’s Fund, August 2004. Interview with the author in August 2004. The filmmaker lives in Berlin. Iraqi film director and producer Kassem Hawal lives in the Netherlands. He has made twenty documentary films, some of which were produced by the PLO, and three feature films. For several years he was president of the league of Iraqi writers, journalists, and artists living in exile. His autobiographical book Mudhakkarat jawaz safar (Diary of a Passport) was published in 1993 by Sahara Publishing and Media, Budapest.


89 90 91 92

93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117

The cabaret legislation is still in force today. A program of the European Union and Birzeit University in Ramallah See “Panorama of Lebanese Cinema,” pages 137–41. Shi‘ism takes its name from the Arabic word shi‘a meaning ‘supporter of ’ ‘Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the state religion in Iran. In contrast to the Sunnis, Shi‘ites reject the divorce practice by which a man can be divorced from his wife by thrice reciting the divorce formula; they accept marriage contracts valid for a limited period of time and inheritance by female offspring. Members of a Uniate church in Lebanon, submitting to papal authority, with a Syriac Christian liturgy; named after St. Maro, 423 CE. Members of an Islamic sect in Asia Minor and Syria; names after its founder alDarazi, who died in 1019 CE. Xenix Filmclub, Zurich, 1989. Ibrahim Al Ariss, Rihla fi-l-sinima al-arabiya (Beirut, 1979), 44. See also Shafik, Arab Cinema, 9. Mohammad Soueid, “Women’s Role in and Contribution to Lebanese Cinema,” in al-Ra’ida 16, no. 86–87, summer/fall 1999, 10. In a 1995 interview with the author in Paris. In Libanon, Dumont travel books (Cologne, 1999), 42. http://www.zeit.de/2003/13/Beirut of September 6, 2003. Nadine Naous is also a filmmaker. See the entry on page 434. The magazine al-Ra’ida has been published by the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World since 1976. It is affiliated with the American University of Beirut. Chahal-Sabbag, a Muslim, is herself married to a Christian. The term also includes Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Husayn was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the son of Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law. He was martyred at Karbala, Iraq, now a Shi‘ite shrine. As well as at many locations in Iran. The film was first released with the following title: Ghazl al-banat /L’adolesente sucre d’amour (Teenage Flirtation). See Maxime Rodinson l’athée des dieux by Safaa Fathy, page 80. Salah Sirmini in catalog of the festival, Panorama of Arab Cinema 1954–2004, Frankfurt, October 2004–April 2005. Peter Münch, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 27–28, 2004. Krifa, Michket. “Nous voulons vivre! Gros plan sur le cinéma palestinien: 1993– 2002.” In 6e Biennale des cinémas arabes à Paris (Paris, 2002), 94–96. Heiko Flottau, in Süddeutsche Zeitung (September 7, 2000). Buntstift later became the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Hildegard Becker et al., Der schwierige Weg zum Frieden (Gütersloh, 1994). Interview with the author, Berlin, April 2003. In Freitag, March 20, 1998. Felicia Langer is author of many books, including Asr al-higara (An Age of Stone), 1988; Zorn und Hoffnung, 1990; and Brandherd Nahost oder: Die geduldete Heuchelei, 2004. She has been living in Germany since 1990.




118 Hanan Ashrawi was part of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks in Washington, D.C. and was Minister of Education in the Palestinian Authority government of Yasser Arafat. 119 Mail to the author, March 23, 2005 120 The Jordanian army crushed the military units of the PLO, which had set up a ‘state within a state’ in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, which included a health system, schools, and a public administration. Palestinian guerrilla fighters patrolled the streets of Amman and used this as their base for launching attacks on Israel. 121 Monika Maurer made around ten films, some of which were produced by the PLO. 122 According to Georges Sadoul, author of The Cinema in the Arab Countries (Beirut, 1966) the first Palestinian feature film was Le rêve d’une nuit (Dream of a Night) by Salah Baderkhan (1948). 123 On March 21, 1948 a battle was fought in Karameh, Jordan, between Palestinian and Israeli armed forces, which the Palestinians considered a victory. Consequently, their underground movement spread quickly in Jordan. 124 The original title is No To The Peaceful Solution (La li-l hall al-silimi), but its gist is ‘no to the surrender solution.’ [Author adds: William Rogers, then US Secretary of State, had launched his so-called Roger’s Plan or ‘The peaceful solution.’ The plan discussed a peaceful solution between Israel and the Arab states, totally ignoring the PLO and the Palestinian people. The Palestinians strongly opposed it. The film documents the popular Palestinian reaction to the ‘peaceful solution,’ which of course meant ‘no to the surrender solution.’] 125 It is still not known what happened to the Palestine film archive. Filmmaker Azza El Hassan has traced the various clues to its whereabouts in her documentary Kings and Extras. 126 This had been the new seat of the PLO government in exile after their expulsion from Beirut in 1982. 127 Irit Neidhardt is a freelance curator for Middle Eastern films and manager of mec film (middle eastern cinema) distribution company. She lives in Münster, Germany. 128 Sobhi Al Zubaidi, “Voices of Redemption, Voices of Rage,” n.p., 2002. 129 The massacre of several thousand Palestinians by the Jordanian army; see page (essay by Viola Shafik). 130 On the occasion of the turn of the millennium, the Palestinian National Authority sponsored a year of cultural events. The Bethlehem 2000 Project that was founded to organize the events commissioned five very different Palestinian filmmakers each to make a short film for December 31, 1999. 131 The BBC broadcast the film with the title This is Palestine. 132 The British distribution title is Exposed and Lost. 133 Now known as the Woman of Willendorf; an 11-cm-high statuette of a female figure discovered in 1908 at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, Austria. Has pronounced vulva, breasts, and belly, suggesting fertility.


134 A Palestinian politician (see also the film portrait Hanan Ashrawi: A Woman of Her Time by Mai Masri, page 230). 135 The Washington peace agreement of 1993. 136 PLO leader Abu Jihad, alias Khalil Al Wazir, was assassinated in 1988 in Tunis by an Israeli secret commando. 137 After Israeli troops reinvaded Lebanon in 1982, Maronite Phalangist militiamen massacred among the Palestinian residents of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps under the watch of the Israelis. The worldwide reaction to the massacre forced the Israelis to withdraw from Beirut. 138 The story of a Palestinian dancer trying to fulfill her dreams in a conservative society under occupation. 139 It was later stopped again for reasons of censorship. 140 See “Few Oases in the Desert” in this book, pages 251–52. 141 Hans-Joachim Schlegel, 154. 142 Haitham Hakki, Bidayat al-sinima fi suriya. 143 Viola Shafik, “Zensierte Träume,” in Notizen zur Entwicklung des syrischen Films (Hamburg, 1990), 4. 144 This union fell apart as early as September 1961; Egypt initially retained the name UAR, whereas the Syrian Arab Republic was proclaimed in Syria. 145 Shafik, “Zensierte Träume,” 6. 146 Ibid., 6. 147 See Shafik, Arab Cinema, 9. 148 The commercial showing of Sanduq al-dunya was approved. Étoiles du jour (1988), Oussama Mohamed’s first film, however, is still banned in Syria fifteen years after its completion. 149 Der Tagesspiegel, September 24, 2000. 150 Martin Girod is co-director of the Zurich Film Podium and was a member of the jury at the 1999 Damascus International Film Festival. 151 In the weekly newspaper Yemen Times, March 2–8, 1998. 152 An intoxicant made from the tender green leaves of the Catha edulis tree. Picked, carefully chewed, and then thoroughly salivated in thickly swollen cheeks, it creates a pleasurable sensation that is experienced more as a calm state of clarity than a sudden dulling of the senses. See Claus-Peter Lieckfeld, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 4, 2000. 153 Lieckfeld, ibid. 154 Georges Sadoul, The Cinema in the Arab Countries (Beirut, 1966), 190. 155 Susanne Sporrer and Klaus Heymach in Die Zeit, September 17, 2005. 156 Charlotte Wiedemann, Facts. April 2005. 157 Kristin Helberg, “Im Hinterhof von Al-Kaida Deutschlandfunk, March 03, 2005; http://www.dradio.de/dlf/sendungen/hintergrundpolitik/352991/ on March 18, 2005. 158 Charlotte Wiedemann, Facts. April 2005. 159 Telephone interview with the author, February 2001. 160 Interview with the author, February 2001.



161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172



174 175



178 179

Jacques Mandelbaum in Le Monde, October 17, 2000. Ibid. Catalog to the 1994 Feminale, Cologne. Rudolph Chimelli in Süddeutsche Zeitung, February 14, 2001. Interview with Beate Thill, Hessischer Rundfunk broadcasting station, Frankfurt am Main, January 1999. Mandelbaum, Le Monde, October 17, 2000. Ibid. Shafik, Arab Cinema, 9. Television journalist Thomas Hasel in the political magazine inamo, no. 35, autumn 2003. Morituri (Paris, 1997), Double Blanc (1997), L’Automne des chimères (1998). Claudia Altmann in Nachspiel, Frauen und Sport in Algerien, DeutschlandRadio Berlin, July 18, 2004. al-‘Id al-kabir (also known as ‘Id al-adha), the Great Feast, is the annual Feast of the Sacrifice celebrated at the culmination of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims celebrate the feast to commemorate Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command. At the last moment, God yielded and had Abraham sacrifice an animal instead. For this reason every Muslim family slaughters at least one animal depending on how much it can afford. The rich also donate meat to the poor. In his films the Breton director and screenplay writer, born in 1928, criticized French atrocities committed during the Algerian War, including discrimination against women. In 1973, he went on a hunger strike to protest the ban in France on a film depicting French police excesses against Algerian demonstrators in Paris in 1961. The French authorities subsequently lifted the ban. Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels. FESPACO = Le Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ougadougou. The Ougadougou and Carthage festivals present Arab and African productions; they alternate with each other in a two-year cycle. Djebar, from al-Jabbar, ‘the Compellor’; in Islam, one of the ninety-nine names of God. Djebar assumed the pseudonym when her first novel was published because she worried about her family’s reaction to her first novel—which deals with eroticism. Even academic articles generally give the false birthdate of August 4. FatimaZohra Imalayène chose this birthdate for her alter ego, Assia Djebar, because it was her parents’ anniversary. In English: So Vast the Prison, trans. Betsy Wing, 1st ed. (New York, 1999). Historically her name was Dihya and she was Berber and Jewish. At the end of the seventh century, she forced the Arab invaders back to the Libyan border and held them there for five years until she was killed in battle (from Clarisse Zimra in the afterword to Djebar’s novel The Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, trans. Marjolijn de Jager (Charlottesville, VA, 1992); original: Femme d’Alger dans leur appartement (Paris, 1980)).


180 L’amour, la fantasia (Paris, 1985); English: Fantasia, an Algerian Cavalcade, trans. Dorothy S. Blair (Portsmouth, NH, 1993). 181 Lajja = Shame, trans. Tutul Gupta (New Delhi, 1994.) [and Shame, trans. Kankabati Datti (Amherst, NY, 1997)]. Because of this book Taslima Nasrin had to flee her native Bangladesh and later had a fatwa issued against her. 182 Today she goes by her maiden name of Toumi and is Minister of Culture and Communication (see page 270). 183 Hit is Arabic for ‘wall,’ and the unemployed youth who hang around ‘propping up walls’ have become known as hittistes. 184 Sabine Kebir, Feminale 1994 catalog, 26. 185 Menschen machen Medien, no 1–2, 2001. 186 German radio station WDR Funkhaus Europa, September 2, 2003. 187 TIMEeurope Magazine, February 15, 2004, http://www.time.com/time/europe/ html/040223/story.html, December 24, 2004 188 She also appeared in the comedy A la recherche du mari de ma femme, 1993; screenplay by Farida Ben Lyazid. 189 Arabic for ‘speech,’ or ‘report.’ Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, the main source of the Islamic religion after the Qur’an. 190 Die Tageszeitung, March 14, 2000. 191 Rabea Naciri in the interview with the author, Berlin, April 2003 192 Martina Sabra is an Islamic scholar and freelance journalist in Cologne, Germany. 193 The Goethe Institute in Rabat has revived this tradition in 2004 together with the Moroccan railroad company ONCF (Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc). These are the so-called vagons-cinéma (cinema waggons), which are mobile cinema units. 194 Isabelle Eberhardt, born in 1877, the daughter of Russian emigrants, traveled for seven years dressed as a man through Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. She converted to Islam and was admitted to an exclusively male Sufi brotherhood in 1900. 195 In Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 8, 2001. 196 al-Nahda, the only Islamist party, is outlawed. 197 http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2751/is_73/ai_109220707 on February 28, 2004. 198 Rudolph Chimelli in Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 21, 2004. 199 Neil MacFarquhar in The New York Times, June 25, 2004; http://coranet. radicalparty.org/pressreview/print_250.php?func=detail&par=10454. Sihem Bensedrine is the author of the book Lettre à une amie irakienne (disparue) (Paris, 2003). 200 Mail correspondence with the author in January 2005. 201 Interview with the author, Paris, April 2005. 202 Hans-Joachim Schlegel, 152. 203 Habib Bourguiba, founder of the state of Tunisia, was an autocratic ruler and president from 1957 to 1987. 204 In an interview with Werner Kobe in Journal Film, no. 22, fall 1990.



205 He did the same thing with LTC laboratories in Paris he had bought two years before. 206 “Der neue arabische Film und das arabische Kino,” part 1 (April 1989). 207 Written interview with the author, Berlin/Tunis, February 2001. 208 In his article “Le cinéma de la femme en Tunisie” (Women’s Cinema in Tunisia), 2001. 209 Shafik, Arab Cinema, 9. 210 Named after a Punic goddess; see n. 82. 211 Viola Shafik, in Frankfurter Rundschau, November 30, 1994. 212 There is also a 50-minute version (1989). 213 In other countries the hat is referred to as a fez. 214 Moufida Tlatli was the second director from the Maghreb region ever to serve on the jury at the Cannes film festival. The first was Férid Boughédir, ten years earlier. 215 See Shafik, Arab Cinema, 9. 216 See Abdel Sattar Naji, “Le cinéma et la télévision dans les pays du Golfe: Réalité et ambitions,” in the catalog of the 5th Biennial of Arab Cinema in Paris, 2000. 217 Libya, also a conservative country, appointed a woman to a ministerial position in 1989 for the first time. 218 German Press Agency announcement in Süddeutsche Zeitung, July 13, 2000. See also Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001, “Saudi Arabia.” 219 Literally, ‘O night, O eye!’



Bibliography Arab Women Filmmakers Books Catalog of the 7th International Women’s Film Festival (Feminale) (Cologne, 1994). Catalog of the “Frauen(t)räume” film series on Arab women filmmakers (Berlin, 1995). Catalog of the “Unsterbliche Scheherazade” film series on women’s cinema in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq (Vienna, 1999). Kuhn, Annette and Suzanne Redstone, eds. The Women’s Companion to International Film (London, 1990). Lent, John A. Women and Mass Communication. An International Annotated Bibliography (New York, 1991). Léon, Maryse. La femme dans le cinéma algérien (Paris, 1980), vols. 1–2. Qamus al-mukhrijat al-sinima’iyat (Cairo, 1996). al-Ra’ida 16, no. 86–87. Special edition: Arab Women and Cinema, summer/ fall 1999. Toubia, Nahid, ed. Women of the Arab World (London, 1988). Wassef, Magda. L’image de la femme à la campagne dans le cinéma égyptien des années soixante (Paris, 1982).

Articles Behi, Ridha. “La femme et le cinéma dans les sociétés islamiques.” In Film exchange, no. 3, summer 1978, 50–54.




Buhrfeind, Anne. “Leidenschaftliche Stimme aus Algerien. Assia Djebar auf der Suche nach den Wurzeln.” In Buchjournal 4/97, 70–72. Chikhaoui, Tahar, “Selma, Nejia, Moufida et les autres/Selma, Nejia, Moufida and the others.” In Écrans d’Afrique, no. 8, 1994, 9–10. Deffontaines, Thérèse-Marie. “De la musique avant toute chose/Music above all.” In Écrans d’Afrique, no. 5–6, 1993, 8–15. Écrans d’Afrique, no. 8, 1994, 8–13. Gaye, Amadou. “Femmes cinéastes au Maroc/Women Filmmakers in Morocco.” In Écrans d’Afrique, no. 5–6, 1993, 10–12. Gottschligg-Ogidan, Anna. “Schreiben ist kein Beruf. Portrait Assia Djebar.” In Südwind-Magazin, no. 6, June 1998. El Hassan, Azza. “When The Exiled Films Home.” In Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 43, no. 2, fall 2002, 64–70. Institut du Monde Arabe, ed. La femme et le cinéma arabe. Esquisse de filmographie suivie du petit dictionnaire des femmes cinéastes (Paris, 1985). Léon, Maryse and Magda Wassef. “L’image de la femme dans le cinéma arabe.” In CinémArabe, no. 10/11, August–September 1978, 55–61. Merdaci, Djamel Eddine. “Algérie: cinéma au féminin.” In Deux Écrans, no. 25, June 1981, 6–10. Mulvey, Laura. “Moving Bodies.” In Sight and Sound 5, no. 3, March 1995, 18–20. Ragab, Rashda. “Women in Motion.” In al-Ahram Weekly, May 18–24, 1995. Rieck, Barbara-Ann. “Zwischen den Fronten Ein Porträt der algerischen Autorin Assia Djebar” (article published by Unionsverlag in publicity material on the occasion of publication of Le blanc de l’Algérie by Assia Djebar) (Zurich, 1996). Said, SF. “Island of Silences” in Sight and Sound, no. 6/2001. Srour, Heiny. “L’image de la femme dans le cinéma arabe de fiction.” In Image et Son, no. 318, June–July 1977, 59–68. Ziouane, Samia. “De l’exorcisme à l’integrisme.” In MediaSud, no. 8, 1994, 17–21.


Arab Cinema Books Titles in Arabic Al Ariss, Ibrahim, Rihla fi-l-sinima al-arabiya (Beirut, 1979). Bahgat, Ahmed Ra’fat, ed. Mi’at sana sinima (Cairo, 1996). Al Bindari, Mona, Mahmud Qasim, and Ya‘qub Wahba. Mawsu‘at al-aflam al-arabiya (Cairo, 1994). Egyptian Film Fund, Ministry of Culture, ed. Banurama al-sinima almasriya (Cairo, 1986). Hawal, Kassem. Mudhakkarat jawaz safar (Budapest, 1993). High Cultural Commission, National Cinema Center, eds. al-Sinima altasqieya fi Masr heta akhir sana 1980 (Cairo, 1981). Saad, Abdel Moneim. Tarikh al-sinima al-masriya (Cairo, 1976). Titles in English Baghli, Sid-Ahmed. Aspects of Algerian Cultural Policy (Paris, 1978). El Basri, Abdel Gawad Daoui. Aspects of Iraqi Cultural Policy (Paris, 1980). Boyd, Douglas A. Broadcasting in the Arab World (Philadelphia, 1982). Culhane, Hind Rassam. East/West, An Ambiguous State of Being: The Construction and Representation of Egyptian Cultural Identity in Egyptian Film (Series title: Intercultural Studies 4) (New York, 1995). Dajani, Karen Finlon. Egypt’s Role as a Major Producer, Supplier and Distributor to the Arab World: A Historical-descriptive Study (London, 1980). Darwish, Mustafa. Dreammakers on the Nile: A Portrait of Egyptian Cinema (Cairo, 1998). Farid, Samir. Arab Cinema Guide (Cairo, 1978). Gordon, Joel. Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser’s Egypt (Chicago, 2002). Hamilton, Marsh. The Middle East and North Africa on Film: An Annotated Filmography (New York, 1982). Holmes, Winifred. Orient: A Survey of Films Produced in Countries of Arab and Asian Culture (London, 1959).



Khan, Mohamed. An Introduction to Egyptian Cinema (Cairo, 1969). Landau, Jacob M. Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema (Philadelphia, 1958). Malkmus, Lizbeth and Roy Armes. Arab and African Film Making (London, 1991). Sadoul, Georges, ed. The Cinema in the Arab Countries (Beirut, 1966). Salmane, Hala, ed. Algerian Cinema (London, 1976). Shafik, Viola. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity (Cairo, 1998).


Titles in French Aziza, Mohamed. L’image et l’islam. L’image dans la societé arabe contemporaine (Paris, 1978). Bachy, Victor. Le cinéma de Tunisie (Tunis, 1978). Boudgedra, Rachid. Naissance du cinéma algérien (Paris, 1971). Boulanger, Pierre. Le cinéma colonial. De l’atlantide à Lawrance d’Arabie (Paris, 1975). Brossard, Jean-Pierre, ed. L’Algérie vue par son cinéma (Locarno, 1981). Cinématographe. Special edition: Cinéma Beur (Paris, 1985). Centre film catholique, ed. Index des films égyptiens (Cairo, 1953/55). CinémAction, ed. Les cinémas du Maghreb (Paris, 2004). Cluny, Claude Michel. Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes (Paris, 1978). Dadci, Jounis. Première histoire du cinéma algérien 1896–1979 (Paris, 1980). Dar al-Hilal, ed. Le film égyptien 1927–1951 (Cairo, 1951). Dérives, no. 3–4 (January–April 1976). Special edition: Cinéma arabe, cinéma dans le tiers monde, cinéma militant. . ., Quebec and Paris. Driss Jaidi, Moulay. Le cinéma au Maroc (Rabat, 1991). General Egyptian Cinema Organization, ed. Egyptian Film-Week in London (Cairo, 1971). Hadj-Moussa, Ratiba. Le corps, l’histoire, le territoire: les rapports de genre dans le cinéma algérien (Paris, 1994). Institut du Monde Arabe. Biennale des cinémas arabes à Paris, catalogs 1992–2004. Khayati, Khémais. À propos du cinéma égyptien (Montréal, 1984). Klifi, Omar. Histoire du cinéma en Tunisie (Tunis, 1970). La Revue du Cinéma, no. 283, April 1974.


Maherzi, Lotfi. Le cinéma algérien. Institutions—Imaginaire—Idéologie (Paris, 1980). Megherbi, Abdel Ghani. Le miroir aux alouettes (Algiers, 1980). –––––. Les algériens au miroir du cinéma colonial. Contribution à une sociologie de la décolonisation (Algiers, 1982). –––––. Le miroir apprivoisé (Algiers and Brussels, 1985). Nouri, Shakir. À la recherche du cinéma irakien. Histoire, infrastructure, filmographie. 1945–1985 (Paris, 1986). Tamzali, Wassyla. En attendant Omar Gatlato. Regards sur le cinéma algérien (Algiers, 1979). Thoraval, Yves. Regards sur le cinéma égyptien. 1895–1975 (Paris 1988). Wassef, Magda. Égypte, 100 ans de cinéma (Paris 1998).

Titles in German Bergmann, Kristina. Filmkultur und Filmindustrie in Ägypten (Darmstadt, 1993). Catalog of festival, Panorama of Arab Cinema, 1954-2004 (Frankfurt, 2005). Eichenberger, Ambros. Dritte Welt kontra Hollywood (Bremen, 1981). Farzanefar, Amin. Kino des Orients. Stimmen aus einer Region (Marburg, 2005). Giesenfeld, Günter, ed. Das Dritte Kino in Arabien und Afrika. AugenBlick, no. 16 (Marburg, 1993). Marburger Hefte zur Medienwissenschaft, AugenBlick, no. 16 (Marburg, 1993). Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek e.V., ed. Der algerische Film nach 1970, no. 57, December 1978. Katalog anlässlich der Siebten Unabhängigen Tage des Films in Augsburg, March 13–17, 1991. Katalog zum Israelischen und Palästinensischen Filmfest Münster, September 17–October 10, 1995. Lüders. Michael. Gesellschaftliche Realität im ägyptischen Kinofilm. Von Nasser zu Sadat (1952–1989) (Frankfurt, 1989). –––––. Film und Kino in Ägypten. Eine historische Bestandsanalyse (Berlin, 1986). Richter, Erika. Realistischer Film in Ägypten (Berlin, 1974).





Abu Shadi, Ali. “Genres in Egypt in Cinema.” In Screens of Life: Critical Film Writing from the Arab World, ed. and trans. Alia Arasoughly (Quebec, 1996), 84–129. –––––. “Egyptian Cinema in the Second Half of the 20th Century: A Critical Reading.” In Panorama of Arab Cinema 1954–2004 (Frankfurt, 2004), 19–25. –––––. “The Golden Age before the Golden Age: Egyptian Cinema before the 1960s.” In Armbrust, Walter, ed. Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond (Berkeley, 2000). Asfour, Nana. “The Politics of Arab Cinema: Middle Eastern Filmmakers Face Up to Their Reality.” In Cineaste 2000 26, no. 1, 46–48. Berrah, Mouny, Claude-Michel Cluny, and Jacques Levy. “Les cinemas arabes.” In CinemAction, no. 43, 1987. Boughédir, Férid. “Cinema in the Maghreb: An Experimental Laboratory for ‘New Arab Cinema.’” In Panorama of Arab Cinema 1954–2004 (Frankfurt, 2004). Bouzid, Nouri. “New Realism in Arab Cinema: The Defeat-Conscious Cinema.” In Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 15/2000, 242–250 (English section; trans. Shereen el-Ezabi) (Arabic section), 199–200. Brown, Penelope. “The Riddle of the Sands.” In Stills 1, no. 2, spring 1981, 32–34. Chériaa, Tahar. “Pour une coproduction interarabe.” In Adhoua, no. 4/5, April/September 1981, 11–12. Chériaa, Tahar, Guy Hennebelle, and Serge Le Peron. “Toward a Revolutionary Arab Cinema: An Interview with the Palestinian Cinema Association.” In Cineaste 6, no. 2, 1974, 32–35. Chmait, Walid. “Le cinéma arabe d’alternative.” In Deux Écrans, no. 39, November 1981, 7–13. CinémAction, no. 14. Special edition: Cinémas du Maghreb, spring 1981. CinémAction, no. 24. Tricontinental spécial: Le tiers monde en film, n.d. Diawara, Manthia. “Whose African Cinema Is It Anyway?” In Sight and Sound 3, no. 2, February 1993, 24–25. Downing, Taylor. “Palestine in Film.” Pamphlet published by the Council


for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) (London, 1979). Farid, Samir. “Periodization of Egyptian Cinema.” In Screens of Life: Critical Film Writing form the Arab World, ed. and trans. Alia Arasoughly (Quebec, 1996). Fawal, Ibrahim. “Three Perspectives on Arab Cinema.” In The Journal of Middle Eastern Literatures 11, no. 2, 2000, 275–282. Feinstein, Howard. “Arab Films at the Pesaro Festival.” In Cineaste 20, no. 2, 1993. Filmclub Xenix, ed. Der neue arabische Film und das arabische Kino, parts 1 and 2 (Zurich, 1989). Gaffney, Jane. “The Egyptian Cinema: Industry And Art in a Changing Society. In Arab Studies Quarterly 9 (1), 1987, 53–73. Ghareeb, Shirin. “An Overview of Arab Cinema.” In Critique Journal for Critical Studies of the Middle East, no. 11, fall 1997, 119–127. Gordon, Joel. “Class-Crossed Lovers: Popular Film and Social Change in Nasser’s New Egypt.” In Quarterly Review of Film and Video, no. 4, October 2001, 385–396. Harris, E. “Film Production Problems and Activities in Palestine.” In The Penguin Film Review, no. 5, 1948. Girod, Martin. “Viel Wüste und wenig Oasen. Arabisches Kino im Nahen Osten.” In epd-Film 3/2000. Hennebelle, Guy and Khayati, Khemais, eds. “Les cinémas africains en 1972.” In Afrique littéraire, no. 20, 1972. Horville, Gilles. Farida Belghoul. “La rélisatrice du départ du père dresse la carte du cinéma beur.” In Cinématographe, Cinéma Beur, 1985, 18–19. Ibrahim, Munir Mohamed. “Studyu misr: Madrasat al-sinima al-misriya.” In Mi’at sana sinima. Matbu‘at mahrajan al-qahira al-sinima’i, ed. Ahmed Ra’fat Bahga (Cairo, 1996), 158–166. Khleifi, Georges. “L’histoire du cinéma palestinien.” In Les cinéastes arabes du moyen-orient, trans. Maher Anjari, on the occasion of the Festival of Three Continents, 2002. Kobe, Werner. “Hollywood am Nil—Zu einer Retrospektive ägyptischer Filme.” In epd-Film 12/87. –––––. “Youssef Chahine, das Kino und die Zensur.” In epd-Film 5/95.




Krifa, Michket. “Nous voulons vivre! Gros plan sur le cinéma palestinien: 1993–2002.” In 6e Biennale des cinémas arabes à Paris (Paris, 2002), 94–96. Malkmus, Lizbeth. “The ‘New’ Egyptian Cinema: Adapting Genre Conventions to a Changing Society.” In Cineaste 16, no. 3, 1988, 30–33. Naous, Nadine. “Panorama cinéma Libanais.” In al-Hayat, January 14, 2000. Al-Obaidi, Jabbar. “Egyptian Film: Gender and Class Violence Three Cycles.” In International Journal of Instructional Media, summer 2000, 261. Sabra, Martina. “Marokko entdeckt seine Kinokultur.” In epd-Film 9/98, 20–27. Shafik, Viola. “Im Schatten der Kulturindustrie: Der ägyptische Kurzfilm.” In Retrospektive Ägyptischer Kurzfilm, 1990, 114–15. –––––. “Zensierte Träume.” In Notizen zur Entwicklung des syrischen Films (Hamburg, 1990), 4–9. –––––. “Film in Palästina, Palästina im Film.” In Die siebenten Tage des unabhängigen Films, ed. Augsburg, 13–17 March, 1991. –––––. “Eine Frau, ein Land. Topoi des arabisch-palästinensischen Films.” In Augen-Blick no. 16: Das Dritte Kino in Arabien und Afrika, 1993, 54–61 –––––. “Kopf in den Wolken, Füße im Müll.” In Frankfurter Rundschau, November 30, 1994. –––––. “Zwischen Stagnation und Improvisation: Von den Leiden der ägyptischen Filmindustrie.” In Journal Film, no. 29, summer 1995, 22–25. Sirmini, Salah. “Cinema in the Arab Mashreq.” In Panorama of Arab Cinema 1954–2004 (Frankfurt, 2004). Thoraval, Yves. “Syrian Cinema: A Difficult Self-Assertion.” In Cinemaya, no. 22, winter 1993, 48–50. Wassef, Magda. “Egypt through the Looking-glass.” In UNESCO Courier, July–August 1995, 49. Wenzek, Andrea. “Die Mischung macht’s. Zur Ästhetik neuerer gesellschaftskritischer ägyptischer Filme.” In Journal Film, no. 29, summer 1995, 28–29.


Arab Women Books Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (New Haven and London, 1992). Atiya, Nayra. Khul-Khaal. Five Egyptian Women Tell Their Stories (Cairo, 1984). Bechara, Souha. Résistante (Paris, 2000). Becker, Hildegard et al. Der schwierige Weg zum Frieden (Gütersloh, 1994). Bellil, Samira. Dans L’Enfer Des Tournantes (Paris, 2002). Djavidan, Hanum. Harem Life (New York, 1931). Grünert, Angela. Der längste Weg heißt Frieden. Die Frauen im ersten palästinensischen Parlament (Munich, 1998). Mernissi, Fatima. Tales of a Harem Girlhood (New York, 1994). –––––. Der politische Harem. Mohammed und die Frauen, 3rd ed. (Freiburg, 1998). –––––. Sultanes oubliées (Paris, 1990). Messaoudi, Khalida. Une Algérienne debout (Paris, 1995). Mosbahi, Hassouna. Die rebellischen Töchter der Scheherezade. Arabische Schriftstellerinnen der Gegenwart (Munich, 1997). Rühl, Bettina. Wir haben nur die Wahl zwischen Wahnsinn oder Widerstand. Frauen in Algerien (Cologne, 1998). El Saadawi, Nawal. The Nawal El Saadawi Reader (London and New York, 1997). Articles Chimelli, Rudoph. “Der Islam hat ein weibliches Gesicht.” In Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 4, 2000. Chu, Jeff, and Amany Radwan. “Raising Their Voices.” In TIMEurope Magazine, February 15, 2004. “Die Teufelin,” in EMMA, November/December 1994. Farhat-Naser, Sumaya. “Die weiße Fahne ist zerrissen.” In Neue Zürcher Zeitung, April 17, 2002. Gothe, Karin. “Frauenfreundliche Fatwa. Ägyptischer Mufti setzt sich für vergewaltigte Frauen ein.” In Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 16, 1999.




Grünert, Angela. “Vielleicht werden wir einander nie umarmen.” In Freitag, March 20, 1998. –––––. “Für den Frieden ausgeliehen, Porträt von Hanan Ashrawi.” In Freitag, March 20, 1998. –––––. “Zweifelhafter Fortschritt. Zum neuen Scheidungsrecht in Ägypten.” In Freitag, June 16, 2000. –––––. “Töten aus verletzter Ehre. Jordanien.” In Freitag, June 16, 2000. –––––. “Tradition versus Religion. Interview mit Prinzessin Basma von Jordanien.” In Freitag, June 16, 2000. Hassoon, Iqbal. “Die Welt schaute zu. Interview mit der Präsidentin der “Liga der arabischen Frauen.’” In Die andere, no. 40/1990. Heller, Erdmute. “Teuflische Verführung. Die Rolle der Sexualität bei der Unterwerfung der Frauen.” In EMMA, November/December 1994. Heumann, Pierre. “Nur eine tote Frau ist eine ehrenwerte Frau. Ehrenmorde in Jordanien.” In Die Weltwoche, April 27, 2000. Kebir, Sabine. “Zwischen gescheiterter Moderne und militantem Islam.” In Feminale 1994. Kebir, Sabine, “Frauen im Maghreb.” In Programmheft zur Feminale 1994. Livingstone, David. “Crimes of Honor.” In The Middle East, July 1992. Touma, Marlyn. “Treffpunkt im Kulturzentrum. Die autonome Frauenbewegung in Tunesien.” In Frankfurter Rundschau, October 24, 1998. Wiggershaus, Renate. “Friedensarbeit—Kampf auf verlorenem Posten?” In Neue Zürcher Zeitung, June 6, 2002. Zangana, Haifa. “Why Iraqi Women Aren’t Complaining.” In The Guardian, February 19, 2004.


Index of Arabic Film Titles ‘Afwan ayuha al-qanun, 61, 62 Ahbabak ‘ashra, 88 Ahla al-awqat, 88 Ahlam al-banat, 48 Ahlam al-manfa, 228, 232 Ahlam mu‘allaqa, 228, 230 al-Ahlam al-mumkina, 48, 49 Akhir shita, 102, 103 Aita, 348, 350, 351 ‘Ala khota al-nisyan, 370, 375, Alf ‘am bayn aydihum, 87 al-Amal al-ghamid, 222 Amal Zaynab, 99 ‘Andama yabki al-rijal, 355 Arba‘a nisa’ min Misr, 106 Ard al-Saba, 261 ‘Arusati, 96 Asfa, arfud al-talaq, 113 ‘Ashura, 171, 172 Atfal jabal al-nar, 228, 229 Atfal Shatila, 228, 231 Atfal, walakin, 200, 209 Athyubya bi-‘uyun misriya, 48 Awraq rasmiya, 83 al-Ayubiyun, 53 al-‘Ayun al-jaffa, 358

Ayyam al-dimuqratiya, 48, 450 ‘Azif bi-l-alwan, 87 Bab al-sama’ maftuh, 337, 338 al-Bahithat ‘an al-huriya, 62 Bahr al-awham, 85 Bawabat al-fawqa, 92 Bayni wa baynak . . . Bayrut, 160, 161, 162 al-Bayt al-zahr, 157 Bihar al-‘atash, 48 Burtreh, 53 Chut, 272 Dahsha, 53 Dantilla, 61 Dardasha nisa’iyat, 83, 84 Disku disku, 61 Dunia, 20, 23, 173, 176, 178, 180, 181 al-Farah misri, 92 al-Fatha, 309 Fatima Amaria, 9, 13, 296 Fatima al-hawata, 295, 301 al-Fatimiyun, 53



Fi bayt abi, 352, 353 al-Film al-mafqud, 157, 158 Gamal al-thawra, 87 al-Ghariba, 143 al-Ghariba fi madinatiha, 261, 262 al-Ghawzi, raqisat Misr, 78, 79


Habiba Msika, 376, 377, 378, 379 Hadiqa ghayr ‘adiya, 83 al-Hadiqa al-mu‘atara, 286, 288 Hadramawt, multaqa al-hadarat, 261 Halat harb, 143, 144 Halima, 172 al-Hams ‘ala al-nahas, 87 Hams al-gawari, 85 Haramiya fi KG2, 102, 104 Haramiya fi Taylanda, 102 Hayy al-Daher, 5 Hikayat al-gharib, 113, 114 Hilm al-fukhari, 87 Hiqd al-mar’a, 85 Hiwar min al-shabab ila al-shabab, 97 Hosan al-tin, 47, 49 Hosan wa ‘asfur, 96 Houria, 310, 316 Hudu’ al-layl, 87 Hurubna al-ta’isha, 148, 151 al-‘Id al-kabir, 272, 273 Ila ayn?, 97 Illi ba’ wa-lli ishtra, 48 Imra’a fi zaman al-tahaddi, 228, 230


Imra’a li-l-asaf, 85 Imra’a safira, 309 Imra’a wahida takfi, 61 Innaha tazra‘ al-ard wa tasqiha, 97 Iqa’ al-haya, 48 Ismaha Maryan, 317 Istakoza, 61 Jawhar al-nisyan, 236 al-Jaza’ir al-hayah musta‘mirra, 317 Jil al-harb, 228 Kalam al-layl, 62 Kamel Kilani, 87 Kayd insa, 337, 341 Khatwa khatwa, 147 al-Khayyam al-saghir, 87 Khiyam, 157 Khoshkash, 376 Kilab mutasharrida, 355 Kiswa, al-khayt al-dayya‘, 387 Koushan Mousa, 210, 211 Kunchirtu fi darb sa‘ada, 53, 59 Lab ‘iyal, 97 Lahm rakhis, 61, 63 Layla wa-l-dhi’ab, 183, 184 Laylat ‘urs fi Tunis, 387 Leih khalitni ahibbak?, 102, 103 Layluna, 163, 167 Li’ann al-guzur lan tamut, 96, 97 Lubnan min taraf ila taraf akhar, 172 Lubnan zaman, 147

al-Ma‘addi, 143 Ma‘arik hubb, 143, 144 Mabruk wa Bulbul, 102 Maksim Rodinson, mulhid al-aliha, 79, 80 Mallaki Iskandariya, 102 Man uhibb?, 98 al-Mar’a wa-l-dimuqratiya fi-l Yemen, 261 al-Mar’a al-misriya wa-l-tanmiya, 87 al-Mar’a wa-l-qanun, 85 al-Mar’a fi Yemen, 261 Ma‘rakat al-naqib Nadia, 85 Mathaf al-Iskandriya, 53 Mawsim al-rijal, 401, 407 Maysun wa Majida, 210, 239, 241 Miya ‘ala miya, 126, 127 Mudhakkarat murahiqa, 62, 64 al-Mudun takhtar mawtaha, 83 al-Mufiola, 102 Muluk wa kumbars, 210, 212 Musim zar‘ al-banat, 110, 111 al-Mutahaddirat, 148, 154 Nadia wa Sarra, 401, 413 al-Naql, 143 Nidaa, 97 al-Nisa’, 97 Nisa’, 85 Nisa’ didd al-qanun, 85 Nisa’ khalf al-qudban, 85 Nisa’ mas’ulat, 48 Nisa’ sa‘aliq, 85 Nisa’ Vietnam, 183

Nisa’ wa nisa’, 85 Nisf khalq Allah, 317 Nuna al-sha’nuna, 113, 114 Qadiyat Samiha Badran, 61 al-Qahira 1000, al-Qahira 2000, 48 Qahwa ashtar, 394 Qasim Amin, 113 al-Qatila, 61, 62 Qatrat ma’, 53 Qitar al-Nuba, 48 Rachida, 275, 276 Raddem, 143 Rajul min dhahab, 387 Ramad, 157, 158 Rango, 92 Rihla, 83 Risala min Higaza, 97 Ru’a halima, 254 al-Rukham, 53 Sa‘at al-tahrir daqqat, 183, 184 Saba‘ layali wa subhiya, 92 al-Saha, 210 Sa’id al-ahlam, 113 Saida Saighon, 178 Sala min nawahi Misr al-‘atiqa, 96 Sama, 380, 381 al-Sama’ al-sabi‘, 358 al-Samat, 79, 80 Samat al-qusur, 401, 402 al-Sandawich, 47, 49 Shagarat al-laymun, 110 Shahhatin wa nubala’, 53



Sharia Mohammed Ali, 97 Shasha min al-raml, 147, 148 al-Shaytan imra’a, 321 al-Shawk, 83 Shaykh Imam, 147 al-Shaykha, 146 al-Sitar al-ahmar, 370, 371 Sitta ‘ala sitta, 126 Suha, al-nagat min al-gahim, 148, 155


al-Tahhadi, 61 Taht al-anqadh, 227 Talata sintimetar, 210 al-Taqaddum ila al-‘umq, 48 al-Tariq ila Eilat, 113 Tayyara min waraq, 148, 155 Tilka allati, 254 Tiri ya tayyara, 87, 88 al-Tubul, 350 Ughniyat Touha al-hazina, 47 Umm Kulthum, 113 Umm al-nur wa banatiha, 110, 111 al-‘Unf wa-l-sukhriya, 53 Wa-hayat qalbi wa farahuh, 85 Waqt mustaqta‘, 83 al-Warda al-hamra, 62 al-Wuguh al-khafiya, 78 Yawmiyat imra’a misriya, 113, 114 Zaharat al-kindoul, 228, 229 Zaman al-akhbar, 210, 211


Zaman al-mamnu‘, 61 al-Zerda, 304, 308 Ziyara qasira, 92

Index of English Film Titles 100 Percent, 126, 127 1001 American Nights, 66 3 cm less, 210 333 Sycamore, 157 Adoration and Creativity, 126 Agony of the Feet, The, 157 Algeria: Life in Spite of It All, 317 Alone with War, 143, 144 Angels Do Not Die, 126 Arab Women Speak Out, 210 Around the Pink House, 157, 158 Ashes, 157, 158 Awakening to Tomorrow, 292 Basma, 126 Bedwin Hacker, 21, 361, 394, 395, 396, 398 Beirut My City, 178 Beirut, Never More, 177 Beirut! Not Enough Death to Go Around, 105 Between Us Two . . . Beirut, 113, 136, 139, 159, 161, 162 Bitter Water, 128 Boy Named Mohamed, A, 236

Bread of Our Mountains, 183 Builders, The, 126 Call of Iraq, The, 126 Casablanca, Casablanca, 337, 345, 346 Changing Parts, 214, 215 Charlotte’s Empire, 66 Children of Fire, 199, 226, 227, 228, 229 Children of Shatila, 228, 231, 234, 235 Children of War, The, 177 Churches of Iraq, The, 126 Cinema Lover, 125, 126 Citron, Fruit of Splendor, 350 Civilized People, A, 141, 147, 148, 154 Cyberstories, 350 Dance of Fire, The, 376, 377, 379 Daughter of Mesopotamia, The, 126 Days of Democracy, 48 Derrida’s Elsewhere, 79 Determination, 126



Diaries of a Teenage Girl, 62, 64, 65 Diary in Exile, 48 Doctors with Hearts, 105 Dream, The Memory, The, 125, 126 Dry Eyes, 328, 358 Egypt, The City of the Dead, 177 Egyptian Heroines, 48 Emergency! A Critical Situation, 106 Eyes Skinned, 214


Fatima and the Sea, 295, 301 Fatma 75, 364, 376 For a Few Lives, 177 For the Eye’s Delight, 350, 351 Four Women of Egypt, 106, 108, 109 Freedom Gang, The, 139, 146 Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, 228, 232, 233, 234, 235 Ghazeia, Dancers of Egypt, 19, 74, 75, 78 Girls Still Dream, 48 Guellala: A Potter’s Village in Tunisia, 399 Halima’s Paradise, 352 Hanan Ashrawi: A Woman of Her Time, 228, 230, 453 Hidden Faces, 73, 78 Honey and Ashes, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72 Horse of Mud, 45, 47, 48, 49 Hour of Liberation, The, 25, 183, 184, 188


Immigrant Memories-The North African Heritage, 285, 286, 287, 290 Inch’Allah Sunday, 286, 288 In My Father’s House, 352, 353 In Search of Shaima, 381 In the Battlefields, 25, 143, 144 Infidels, The, 148, 153 Interview in Room No. 8, 48 Iran, Utopia on the March, 178 Iranian Journey, 128 Iraqi Women, Voices from Exile, 128 Jamila’s Mirror, 92 Jerusalem: Dealmaker or Dealbreaker, 235 Jumble Sale, 47 Kate’s House, a Place of Hope, 286 Keswa, the Lost Thread, 385, 386, 387, 388, 389 Kings and Extras: Digging for a Palestinian Image, 210, 212, 453 Kiss Me Not, 176, 178, 180 Kite, The, 87, 88, 148, 155, 156 Kurdistan, 177 Lady Killer, 61, 62, 63 Lady of Ages, The, 125, 126 Land Development, 222 Last Painting, The, 126, 127 Last Winter, 102, 103 Lebanon in the Tempest, 177 Lebanon, Bits and Pieces, 172

Leila and the Wolves, 17, 183, 184, 185, 192, 199 Lemon Tree, The, 110 Letter from Beirut, 178 Letters from New York, 66 Little Hélène, The, 352 Little Jerusalem, 272, 273, 275 Living with the Past: People and Monuments in Medieval Cairo, 128 London Views, 47 Look!, 125, 126 Looking for Freedom, 62 Lost Film, The, 157, 158 Made in Love, 66 Magic Binoculars, 66 Magical Fingers, 125, 126 Mask of the Night, The, 161 Maxime Rodinson, Atheist of Gods, 79, 80, 452 Measures of Distance, 13, 213, 214, 215, 217 Memory of an Eye, The, 126 Message from Hegaza, 97 Mixed Up, 67 Monastery St. Katherine, 96 Mother of Light and Her Daughters, 110, 111 My Country Left Me, 272 Naim and Wadee‘a, 235, 236 Need for Dignity, The, 358 News Time, 210, 211 Nubia Train, The, 48

October Conflict, The, 177 On Borders, 143 Once Upon A Time . . . Beirut, 131, 133, 175, 178, 179 One Day in Baghdad, 125, 126 Other Half of Allah’s Heaven, The, 317 Our Heedless Wars, 148, 151 Palestinian Women, 177 Palestinians Keep On, 177 Pardon, Law, 61, 62 Perfect Day, A, 157, 158, 159 Perfumed Garden, The, 286, 288 Permissible Dreams, 15, 48, 49 Place, The, 210, 238, 241, 242 Planting of Girls, The, 20, 110, 111 Portrait of a French Mercenary, 177 Projections on Sundays, 66 Quintessence of Oblivion, 236 Rawya, 48, 50 Red Satin, 21, 25, 365, 370, 371–75. Remains of a Certain Time: Mohammed Ali Street, 97 Responsible Women, 48 Return to Oulad Moumen, 350, 351 Return to the Land of Wonders, 128, 129 Rhythm of Life, 48 Rolla Tree, 48 Sad Song of Touha, 45, 47, 51 Sahara is not for Sale, The, 177, 416




Sand Screens, 22, 147, 148, 150, 151 Seas of Thirst, 48 Season of Men, The, 25, 401, 407– 409, 410, 411, 412, 413 Sellers and Buyers, 48 Semi-Sweet, 66 Sesame Street, 235 Seventh Heaven, 358 Shoot Me Angel, 284 Silences of the Palace, The, 19, 25, 364, 365, 400, 401–407, 412 Silk Road in Central Anatolia, The, 161 Sindbad is a She, 210 Singing Sheikh, The, 183 Sinned Again, 352, 354 Sleeping Child, The, 328, 355, 356 Smoke, 128 So Much I Want to Say, 214 Son, A, 284, 285 Soraida, Woman of Palestine, 106 Souha, Surviving Hell, 148, 155 South Lebanon: History of a Village, 177 Stranger in Her City, A, 261, 262 Stray Dogs, 355 Strike 36, 128 Student and the Battle, The, 126 Sugarblues, 66 Suspended Dreams, 228, 230 Suspended Life, A, 178 Syria: A Grain of Sand, 177

Trace, The, 17, 363, 364, 379, 380–83. Two Festivals in Grenoble, 47

This Is My Village, 125, 126 Title Deed from Moses, 210, 211

Zarda: A Nomadic Tribe’s Feast Days, 399


Under the Rubble, 225, 227, 228 Upper Gate, The, 92 Veil and Fear, The, 285 Veil and Silence, The, 285 Veil and the Republic, The, 285 Veiled Hope, The, 20, 24, 222 War Generation, 225, 228, 229 Wells of Iraq, The, 126 When Men Cry, 355 Where Dollars Grow on Trees, 105 Where to?, 97 White Dreams, 125, 126 Why’d You Make Me Love You?, 102, 103 Wild Flowers: Women of South Lebanon, 228, 229 With Drums Beating, 350 Woman Global Strike 2000, 183 Women in Development, 235 Women in Islam, 285, 286 Women of Vietnam, 183 Women’s Chitchat, 83, 84 Women’s Wiles, 337, 341 Year of Maya, 48 Young Tentmaker, The, 87

Index of French Film Titles 9 heures 30, 147 Abed Azrié, musicien du monde, 163 L’âge mûr, 319 Aicha, 286 Aita, 348, 350, 351 Algérie, la vie quand meme, 317 Algérie, la vie toujours, 317 Alice Guy ou l’enfance du cinéma, 316 Les almées danseuses orientales, 178 Aminata Traoré, une femme du Sahel, 337 Anomalies passageres, 67 Arc-en-ciel, 163 Ashoura, 171, 172 Au Chic Resto Pop, 105 Au coeur des mots, 316 Au pays de Tarayoun, 376 Augustine Neto, 105 Autour de la maison rose, 157 Aux frontières, 143 Avoir 2000 ans dans les Aurès, 317 Avril, 370, 371 Les Ayoubides, 53

Bam Pay A! Rends-moi mon pays!, 105 Le bateau de l’exil, 178 Beyrouth jamais plus, 177 Beyrouth ma ville, 178 Beyrouth! À défaut d’etre mort, 105 Bilan de la guerre, 178 Le bouquet, 370 477

C’est pas un cadeau, 105 Cendres, 157, 158 Le cerf-volant, 148, 155 Ceux de la casbah, 311 Chechia, 364, 399, 400 Les chercheuses de poux, 163 Chiens errants, 355 Chut, 272 Civilisées, 148, 154 Le confort et l’indifférence, 105 Conversation de salon, 143 Corps étranger, 214 Couleurs fertiles, 387 Le crépuscule, 376 D’ailleurs, Derrida, 79 D’amour et d’eau fraîche, 66


D’un désert, l’autre, 319 La dame de Saigon, 178 Dans le champs de bataille, 143, 144 La danse du feu, 376, 377 De la toison au fil d’or, 376 Démolition, 143, 439 La démon au féminin, 321 Du coté des femmes leaders, 394


Ecrans de sable, 147, 148 Égypte, la cité des morts, 177 Égypte: La croix des pharaons, 178 Égypte: Les fantomes d’Alexandrie, 178 Égypte: L’amour d’Allahl’intégrisme, 178 Égypte: L’architecte de Louxor, 178 Les élites féminines en Tunisie, 399 L’enfant endormi, 355, 356 Les enfants de la guerre, 177 Entre femmes, 83 Entre nous deux . . . Beyrouth, 61 L’éspoir voilé, 222 Et les arbres poussent en Kabylie, 317, 318 L’étrangère, 143 Une étrangère dans sa ville, 261, 262 L’éveil, 376 L’exigence de la dignité, 358 L’exile de Bougie, 296 Façon de faire, façon de créer dans l’artisant féminin, 393


Fatima et la mer, 295, 301 Les Fatimides, 53 Fatma 75, 364, 376 Faute d’identités, 157 Fécondation in video, 178 La femme dévoilée, 309, 310 Femmes d’Islam, 285, 286 Femmes du Yémen, 261 Les femmes et la démocratie au Yémen, 261 Les femmes Palestiniennes, 177 Fifty-Fifty mon amour, 394 Un fils, 284, 285 Fleur de l’oubli, 376 Forêt d’El Medfoun, 387 Les frères ennemis, 105 Le front du refus, 177 Ghazeia, danseuses d’Égypte, 78 Guerre d’octobre, 177 Hadramout, carrefour des civilisations, 261 Haiti, nous là! nou la!, 105 Haiti. Québec, 155 Un homme en or, 387 L’heure de la libération a sonné, 183, 184 Houria, 310, 316 Il était une fois . . . Beyrouth, 178, 179 L’imnarja, 399 Inch’Allah Dimanche, 286, 288 Les infidèles, 148, 153

L’innocente, 272 L’Irak l’autre guerre, 311 Irak: La guerre au Kurdistan, 177 Iran l’utopie de marche, 178 Le jardin parfumé, 286, 288 Un jour pour l’Algérie, 286 La journée continue, 319 Keswa, le fil perdu, 387 Khaddouj, mémoire de Targha, 358 Lettre de Beyrouth, 178 Leur crise, on la paye pas, 105 Liban d’autrefois, 147 Le Liban dans la tourmenté, 177 Les libanais otages de leur ville, 178 Lorsque mon heure viendra, 66 Lynda et Nadia, 355 Les magiciens, 387 La maison de Aleya, 105 Maison de famille, 254 La maison de Kate, un lieu d’espoir, 286 Malgré tout le voyage, 316 Le mannequin, 375 Mariage à Sabria, 399, 400 Marionettes, 87 Maxime Rodinson, l’athée des dieux, 79, 80, 452 Médecins de coeur, 105 Mémoires d’immigrés-l’héritage maghrébin, 286, 287

Les ménagères de l’agriculture, 399, 400 Mendiants et orgueuilleux, 53, 450 Les mesures de controle et une nouvelle société, 105 Miel et cendres, 66, 67 La moitié du ciel d’Allah, 317 Mon pays m’a quitté, 272 La mutuelle, 143 Nadia et Sarra, 401, 413 Nos guerres imprudentes, 148, 151 Notre grand-mères, 253, 254 Notre nuit, 163 La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua, 268, 304, 305 Nuit de noces à Tunis, 387 479

Opération Télé-cités, 317 Les Palestiniens continuent, 177 Le paradis, c’est complet, 286 Paroles sculptées, 399 Pas à pas, 147 Le passeur, 143 La pêche traditionelle en Tunisie, 399 Perles de verre bleus, 253 La petite Jérusalem, 272, 273 La phonie furieuse, 105 Une porte sur le ciel, 337, 338 Portrait d’un mercenaire francais, 177 Portrait d’une femme séropositive, 66


Portrait de Khadafi, 177 Pour le plaisir des yeux, 350, 351 Pour le plaisir, 394 Pour faire changement, 105 Pour quelques vies, 177 Pour vous servir, 381 Prénom Marianne, 317 Privé Alex, 102 Quand les hommes pleurent, 355 Quatre femmes d’Égypte, 106


Rachida, 275, 276 Regard de mouette, 387 Retourner à Oulad Moumen, 350, 351 La route du cédrat, 350 Ruses de femmes, 337, 341 Le Sahara n’est pas a vendre, 177, 416 Saida, portrait d’une ville, 171 La saison des hommes, 401, 407 Satin Rouge, 370, 371 Le septième ciel, 358 Seule avec la guerre, 143, 144 Le silence, 79, 80 Un soir de Juillet, 370 Soraida, une femme de Palestine, 106 Souha, suivivre à l’ènfer, 148, 155 Sous les pieds des femmes, 278, 309, 310 Stambali, 399, 400 Sud-Liban: Histoire d’un village, 177


Suite saturnienne, 284 Sur la terrasse, 337 Sur les traces d’oubli, 370, 375 La Syrie: le grain de sable, 177 Tambours battant, 350 Tanitez-moi, 394 Tant qu’il aura de la pelloche, 394 La télévision: une compagne bruyante pour une solitude muette, 286 Terre de Saba, 261 La trace, 381 La triste chanson de Touha, 47 Trois personnages en quete d’un théatre, 387 La tueuse, 178 Urgence! Deuxième souffle, 106 Une valise pour la nouvelle année, 254 Une vie suspendu, 178 La violence et la dérision, 53 Visions chimériques, 254 Les voleurs de jobs, 105 Une vue imprenable, 284 Yemen, le film perdu, 157, 158 Les yeux du coeur, 183 Les yeux secs, 358 Zarda, 399 La Zerda et les chants de l’oubli, 304, 308, 309

Index of German and Dutch Film Titles German: Das Innere des Granatapfels, 110 Die Musik der Tuaregs, 292 Die Reise einer Königin, 110 Frauenknast Lichtenberg, 292 Irakische Künstler, 110 Medienland Ägypten, 110 Nach dem Terror kam die Flut, 292 Wandel der Bilder, 292


Dutch: 10 Geboden - Het waas weer zondig, 352 De Kleine Hélène, 352 Het dode vlees, 352 In het huis van mijn vader, 352 Schape-ogen, 352 Voorbij de jaren van onschuld, 352


Index of Filmmakers El Abnoudy, Ateyyat, 15, 16, 43–52, 93, 450 Abu Ali, Khadija, 200, 209 Albou, Karin, 272–75 Amari, Raja, 21, 25, 26, 370–75 Amir, Aziza, 28–29, 31, 246 Arbid, Danielle, 24, 25, 26, 142–46 Assaf, Leyla, 139, 146 482

Baccar, Selma, 364, 375–79, 400 Bachir-Chouikh, Yamina, 23, 25, 275–83 El Bakry, Asma, 5, 19, 52–59 Bedjaoui, Amal, 284–85 Benguigui, Yamina, 285–91, 324–26 Ben Lyazid, Farida, 328, 329, 337–46 Ben Mabrouk, Néjia, 15, 362, 364, 379–83, 400 Bornaz, Kalthoum, 384–89, 394 Chahal al-Sabbag, Randa, 22, 134, 137, 141, 147–56, 384, 434, 452 Chalabi, Malika, 291–95 Cherabi, Nadia, 9, 295–302


Dagher, Assia, 29, 31, 32, 132 El Degheidi, Inas, 19, 40, 59–66, 84 Djebar, Assia, 5, 16, 22, 36, 37, 268, 302–309, 313, 314, 316, 448, 455 El Fani, Nadia, 13, 21, 24, 361, 364, 390–98 Fares, Nadia, 4, 66–72 Fathy, Safaa, 19, 72–80, 452 Ferchiou, Sophie, 364,399–401 Galal, Hala, 81–84 Genini, Izza, 346–52 Hadjithomas, Joana, 157–59 Hafiz, Bahiga, 29–30, 41 Hamza, Nadia, 19, 40, 59, 84–86 El Hassan, Azza, 201, 208, 209–12, 237–43 Hatoum, Mona, 13, 135, 212–17 Jebli Ouazzani, Fatima, 329, 352–54 Al Joundi, Dima, 133, 136, 139, 159–62

Kamel, Ferial, 86–87 Kassari, Yasmine, 328, 355–57 Khalil, Hala, 87–89 Khlat, Yasmine, 132, 162–67 Krim, Rachida, 278, 309–11 Lefkir-Laffitte, Naima, 311–12 Lotfi, Arab, 89–93, 199, 205, 450, 451 Lotfy, Nabeeha, 38, 43, 89, 93–98 Magda, 98–99, 448 Al Mansour, Khairiya, 120, 124, 125–27 Marcos, Norma, 20, 21, 24, 217–23 Masri, Mai, 132, 199, 205, 223–35, 453 Megahed, Mona, 99–100 Mohamed Ali, Inam, 113–14 Mohamed, Amina, 30

Saab, Jocelyne, 173–82, 205, 416, 434 Sadki, Florida, 22, 312–16 Sahraoui, Djamila, 316–18 Al Salami, Khadija, 261–62 Shafik, Viola, 16, 18, 19, 20, 40, 51, 109–11, 115, 202–205, 247 Srour, Heiny, 4, 12, 13, 16, 17, 25, 182–87, 188–95, 199 Taouss-Maton, Sarah, 319 Tlatli, Moufida, 12, 19, 20, 25, 338, 364, 365, 376, 381, 401–413, 457 Zinai-Koudil, Hafsa, 22, 320–23


Najjar, Najwa, 235–36 Nakkas, Olga, 167–72 Nejjar, Narjiss, 357–58 Nashat, Sandra, 100–104 Pachachi, Maysoon, 122, 127–29, 198 Queeny, Mary, 29, 31, 32, 94, 132 Rached, Tahani, 105–109 Al Raheb, Waha, 253–55 Rushdi, Fatima, 30–31


Photographic Credits


28, 29, 30, 31, 32, courtesy Samir Farid; 43 Courtesy Ateyyat Al Abnoudy; 49 Permissible Dreams, courtesy Ateyyat Al Abnoudy; 50 Rawya, Ateyyat Al Abnoudy; 52 Hugo Jaeggi; 53, 54 Beggars and Nobles, trigon film; 59 Courtesy Ina El Degheidi; 63 Cheap Flesh, Hollywood Al Arab; 66 Balz Rigendinger; 67, 68 Honey and Ashes, Dschoint Ventschr; 72 Courtesy Safaa Fathy; 79 Ghazeia, Dancers of Egypt, Gloria Films; 81 Courtesy Hala Galal; 84 Women’s Chitchat, Misr International Films; 84 Courtesy Nadia Hamza; 85, 86 Female Vagabonds, Sphinx Film; 87 Courtesy Hala Khalil; 89 Courtesy Arab Lotfi; 93 Courtesy Nabeeha Lotfy; 105 National Film Board of Canada; 109 Courtesy Viola Shafik; 111 The Planting of Girls, Media House; 113 Courtesy Inam Mohamed Ali; 125 Courtesy Khairiya Al Mansour; 127 Courtesy Maysoon Pachachi; 142 Courtesy Danielle Arbid; 147 Courtesy Randa ChahalSabbag; 148 Sand Screens, Carthago Films; 159 Courtesy Dima al Joundi; 161, 162 Between Us Two . . . Beirut, Wallonie Image Production; 162 C. Deudon, courtesy Yasmine Khlat; 163 Our Night, Institut du Monde Arabe; 173 Courtesy Jocelyne Saab; 179 Once Upon a Time . . . Beirut, both photographs courtesy Jocelyne Saab; 182 Courtesy Heiny Srour; 183 Srour presenting The Hour of Liberation at Museum of Modern Art, New York, courtesy Heiny Srour; 184 Leila and the Wolves, Cinenova; 209 Courtesy Azza El Hassan; 210 Arab Women Speak Out, John Hopkins University; 212 Marcella Leith, courtesy Mona Hatoum; 216 Measures of Distance, London Electronic Arts; 217 Courtesy Norma Marcos; 222 The Veiled Hope, Solera Films; 223 Daniel Rosenthal; 229 Children of Fire, MTC; 230 Hanan Ashrawi: A Woman of her Time, Nour Productions; 253 Courtesy Waha Al Raheb; 272 Gloria Films; 275 Ciné-Sud Promotion; 276, 279 Rachida, Ciné-Sud Promotion; 284 A Son, ML Productions; 285 Courtesy Yamina Benguigui; 295 Courtesy Nadia Cherabi; 296 Fatima Amaria, courtesy Nadia Cherabi; 302 House of the Cultures of the World, Berlin; 310 The Unveiled Woman, Bicéphale Production; 312 Courtesy Florida Sadki; 319 La Huit Production; 337 Courtesy Farida Ben Lyazid; 338 A Door to the Sky, courtesy Farida Ben Lyazid; 341 Women’s Wiles, Tingitania Films; 346 SOGEAV; 351 Aita, OHRA (SOGEAV); 352 MM Produkkties; 353 In My Father’s House, MM Produkkties; 354 Sinned Again, Pieter van Huystee Film; 355 Les Films de la Drève; 356 When Men Cry, Les Films de la Drève; 376 Fatma 75, Touza Films; 377 Dance of Fire, Touza Films; 379 Courtesy Néjia Ben Mabrouk; 381 The Trace, Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek; 384 Rebecca Hillauer; 385 Keswa, the Lost Thread, courtesy Kalthoum Bornaz; 388, 389 Keswa, the Lost Thread, Les Films de la Mouette; 390 Courtesy Nadia El Fani; 394 Fifty-fifty mon amour, courtesy Nadia El Fani; 401 Les Films du Losange; 407 The Season of Men, Les Films du Losange; 402 The Silences of the Palace, Pegasos Film.