Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Origins and Patterns in the Discourse of New Arab Cinema

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Origins and Patterns in the Discourse of New Arab Cinema

Article excerpt


AS THE WEST GRAPPLES TO COME to grips with Arab and Muslim cultures in a number of ways, the study of Arab cinema stands as an effective tool for understanding and assessing issues of great impact on one of the world's most intense areas of political and ideological apprehensions. Today there is increased interest in films originating in the Arab world. In English speaking countries, films from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia for example are making wider and more frequent rounds than ever before in local film festivals and repertoire theaters. This is matched by newly found acknowledgement of various Arab films in English language film scholarship. (1) Perhaps for the first time in the history of North American cultural scholarship this growth of interest has the potential of initiating a much needed effort to fill the existing gap in the academic study of Arab cinema.

New Arab Cinema is an emerging movement, which denotes the protracted development of an indigenous film practice; it informs and is informed by complex cultural continuities, interruptions and transformations. This movement inherits in various ways aspects of the rich legacy of Egyptian Arab cinema, which, despite its recent difficulties continues to be among the most popular indigenous cinemas in the world today. Furthermore, New Arab Cinema explores preoccupations that are of major relevance to different Muslim and non-Muslim post-colonial societies and cultural practices.

While New Arab Cinema is mainly informed by current social, political and cultural developments that have taken place over the last two decades in the "Middle East," it is equally augmented by persistent ideological and intellectual anxieties that have dominated the Arab world since the early 1800s.

This article maps out key thematic and stylistic elements that characterize New Arab Cinema's discourse and explores the historical contexts within which they have been emerging. Naturally, the bibliographic nature of this endeavor calls for temporal and regional breadth, but, as a result, it also risks leading to exclusions and makes it difficult to engage each film or theme in detail. Nevertheless, allowing for such breadth is unavoidable for appreciating the coherency and significance of a general body of film which was initially sporadic in its focus yet has recently become identifiable as part of a dynamic movement within Arab cinema. Equally as important and given the near absent familiarity of many non-Arab readers with Arab cinema in general--let alone with specific time-frames of its development--an overview of the subject facilitates further reading and research on this complex area of investigation. I have avoided extremely specialized Film Studies terminology and methods of analysis and have chosen an approach, which would be useful and accessible for both film and cultural studies scholars as well as social sciences, political and humanities researchers.

As I refer to films from various Arab countries (concentrating mainly on fiction feature films but without totally excluding relevant feature documentaries) I will illustrate how New Arab Cinema draws connections between, on the one hand, the anti-colonial struggle for national self-determination, and on the other, the struggle for cultural and social renewal. I will also draw attention to the interaction of films with major events that have afflicted various Arab regions over the last twenty years and their roots in earlier phases of contemporary Arab history.

In the first section of the article I provide a general historical framework for the study of New Arab Cinema. This section contextualizes the emergence of this cinema as part of a modernist continuum within the struggle for Arab national self-determination. However, I begin with a brief overview of the themes associated with the notion of modernity as approached by Arab intellectuals as far back as the mid to late 1800s during what is referred to as the period of Arab Renaissance (an-Nahda). …

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