Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

North and Sub-Saharan Africa at the Rencontres Internationales Pour Un Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal, 1974: Background Notes

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

North and Sub-Saharan Africa at the Rencontres Internationales Pour Un Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal, 1974: Background Notes

Article excerpt

WHY AFRICA IN MONTREAL?

In their effort to gather the most significant theoreticians and practitioners involved in Third World filmmaking, the Comité d'action cinématographique in Montreal invited a significant number of participants from Africa to the Rencontres internationales pour un nouveau cinéma. There was a delegation from North Africa, which included Algerian filmmaker Lamine Merbah (Union of Audio-Visual Arts of Algeria, Third World Cinema Office), Tunisian theoretician and film critic Tahar Cheriaa ( head of the cinema sector at the Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation in Paris), Tunisian filmmaker and film critic Férid Boughedir (Fédération panafricaine du cinéma - FEPACI), and Egyptian filmmaker Tewfik Saleh. Sub-Saharan Africa was also in attendance with South African filmmaker Lionel N'Gakane and Mauritanian filmmaker Med blondo as guests of honour. This article seeks to situate these figures within the film environment they participated in shaping at home, in order to better understand their contribution to the Rencontres, and the dialogues they engaged in there.

These participants came as representatives of specific instances and organizations-a testament to Africa's growing regional and national film industries- and their presence positioned the continent as a major actor in the defense of cinema in the Third World struggle against imperialism. Beyond the expected contextual divisions along national lines, the continent was home to two distinct yet connected civilizational discourses that were politically motivated and often intersected in the North African context, promoting a discursive unity against imperialism supported by regional economic cooperation. Both born in the early twentieth century, Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism gained a new strength with the de-colonization process and the removal of the colonial powers from the recently independent countries. The two movements proposed a narrative of modernity in which Africans and Arabs could play an important part, and also offered a unifying discourse backing the necessary transformation of national administrative structures that still responded to colonial needs.

In North Africa, Pan-Arabism was largely developed by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who promoted Arab nationalism and socialism as an answer to national social and economic underdevelopment in the Middle East and North Africa. Arab nationalism and socialism meant, in the words of the famous historian Albert Hourani, that the national people's government would "control the country's resources in the interests of society, develop state-ownership and direction of production, and redistribute income equally through taxation and the provision of social services."1 Nasser's idea of an Arab unity provided a frame for the newly independent Arab states of both the Levant (and Syria in particular, where the Baath party was advocating a slightly different idea for a single and unique Arab country as early as 1947) and North Africa to rally under a common history and civilization. Arab unity would "not only give [Arab states] a greater collective power but would bring about that moral unity between people and government which would make government legitimate and stable."2

This discourse was appropriated differently by Tunisia and Algeria where the specific understandings of the role of the State contributed to shaping distinct political and economic contexts for the rise of their respective national film industries. Nasserism also pervaded Sub-Saharan countries due to Nasser's interest in situating Egypt at the confluence of three circles: the Arab World, the Muslim World, and Africa.3 The Cairo summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) hosted by Nasser in 1964 concretized the confluence of the PanAfrican and Pan-Arab projects. Pan-Africanism later worked to relay the idea of regional unity after 1967 and the defeat of the Arab countries against Israel, which marked the decline of the internal belief in a strong Arab civilization. …

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