Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Periodization and Genre of Egyptian Cinema

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Periodization and Genre of Egyptian Cinema

Article excerpt


Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies visiting assistant professor Dr. Walter Armburst spoke on "Art and Commerce in Egyptian Cinema: Rethinking Some Truisms about Periodization" at the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt on Jan. 17. Ms. Shirin Ghareeb, assistant director of the Washington, DC International Film Festival, followed the lecture with a brief commentary on "How American Audiences Receive Egyptian and Arab Cinema."

Dr. Armburst focused on the categorization and genre of the Egyptian film industry from the late 1920s to the present. He defined the very act of periodizing and categorizing as "fundamentally an act of interpretive memory done by specialists--by film historians and filmmakers, as well as journalists, culture brokers, and, generally, educated and influential people."

Armburst pointed out that Egyptian films in the U.S. are usually presented in the context of "Arab cinema," which is linguistically accurate, as the films' dialogue is mainly Arabic, but also a bit deceptive. He compared this to a hypothetical category of "Anglophone cinema"--encompassing cinema in the English language, including American, British, Australian, and even Nigerian films. Categorizing by language would create problems and "consequently there are no Anglophone film festivals," Armburst noted. Yet, Arab, or even "Middle Eastern" film festivals are a regular occurrence. "Ultimately one relies on the not-very-satisfactory device of regional cinema, and hopes that the audience has some appreciation of the differences between the various constituent parts of the region," he said.

Speaking before a predominantly Egyptian audience, Armburst defined their interpretation and recollection of films as "an intimate sphere of national culture." Egyptians grow up with these films from childhood, and the uniqueness and complexity of memory--both everyday memory and specialist memory--play a vital role in the interpretive act of categorizing the Egyptian cinema, he said.

The most important element of the formal contexts in which Egyptian cinema appears is nationalism. Armburst went on to cite numerous types of Egyptian films that incorporate in a nationalist narrative a hierarchy of value, including realism, followed in no particular order by mythic, narratives, politics, and melodrama. Music, dance and comedy, which occupy the largest part of memory outside formal contexts, are essentially swept under the rug for purposes of the nationalist narrative. …

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