Academic journal article Framework

Middle Eastern Media Arts: An Introduction

Academic journal article Framework

Middle Eastern Media Arts: An Introduction

Article excerpt

Consider the following set of snapshots:

1: During a Modern Language Association conference panel on West Asian and Mediterranean cinemas, an elderly American scholar asked in frustration whether there is an authentic Middle Eastern cinema. He was particularly surprised at an Iranian film clip showing two women in a car chase scene conducted in the best of Hollywood traditions. The man insisted that there must be, somewhere, an organic (and presumably isolated) indigenous form of Middle Eastern cinema. We, the panelists, exchanged flabbergasted glances; where does one even start to explain?

2: Summer 2001: In preparation for the coverage of the UN conference on racism in South Africa, I received a phone call from NPR's Lynn Neary. She was looking for recommendations for interviewees for a story on how racism in American cinema influences racism in the actual lived experience of other societies. I responded by saying that this is a very Americancentric perspective for a story, and that while Hollywood cinema is available mostly everywhere, it does not simply determine social behavior. I suggested she should put together a story on the expressions of racism in world cinema, and the relationships between these cinemas and the societies they are part of.

3: While contacting artists and scholars with the suggestion that they submit materials for this issue, I occasionally encountered the question about whether my last name is Lebanese/Arab. As these first contacts were conducted over email, I usually replied cautiously, explaining I was Israeli born, and revealing a little bit of the story behind my name. On one occasion, the scholar, an Iranian with a Muslim sounding last name, replied back informing me that she was Jewish, and telling me the story of how her family acquired a Muslim last name. This incident clarified to me how identity in the Middle East cannot simply be extracted from one's surname or national affiliation.

4: I am watching Nizar Hassan's Cut (2000). Hassan, a Palestinian, focuses this last film on a group of Jewish villagers who immigrated to Israel from Iran in the 1950s. The village, only 30 minutes away from Tel-Aviv, is a 'foreign land:' it's Mizrahi community marginalized by the euro-Zionist establishment. Hassan focuses primarily on a local melodramatic version of the Romeo and Juliet story, an on-going saga between two rival extended families who are continually fighting over control, while also struggling to come to terms with the love and marriage of two of their offsprings. The villagers are not quite sure why Hassan wants to make a film about them, and they speculate that his real interest lies in the fact that the village sits on confiscated Arab land. Hassan never brings up any Palestinian issues in the film, but focuses on the unraveling familial drama. In the few times Hassan is seen on-screen, he is wearing a red Nike baseball cap, a symbol so at odds with any other underdog 'reality' the film explores. And yet, because of the lack of any visual presence of the 'state' or of global material economy, the Nike cap somehow perfectly completes the picture, providing a reference point to that which envelopes the local reality of the main characters.

5: Every time I watch Makhmalbaf's The Peddler (Iran, 1987) the same thought crosses my mind: how is it possible for a filmmaker who claims to have not watched many films prior to becoming a filmmaker, (and certainly not those constituting the Western canon), to have made a film that so perfectly represents the Western philosophical and aesthetic transition from realism to modernism to postmodernism? Are these philosophical trends universal? Is there really no indigenous work outside the Western canon? Then again, Makhmalbaf's other films so well exemplify the uniqueness of his own, (and of Iran's), cinema. I show the film to a baffled class of Americans; the date is September 10, 2001. After the screening a student asks me if the film makes an intertextual reference to Psycho. …

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