New Arab Cinema
August 25, 2012 § Leave a comment
Working in collaboration with the Dubai International Film Festival and featuring ten full-length feature films and nine shorts, “Orientation: A New Arab Cinema” begins Friday, August 24 and runs until Wednesday, August 29, at Lincoln Center in New York.
Programmer Richard Peña provides some insights into the programming of the series.
How did the concept of this series come about? Why bring Arab cinema to NYC now?
The Film Society and I personally have a long-time interest in cinema from the Arab world. In 1996 we presented “A Centennial of Arab Cinema,” possibly the largest such showcase ever presented in America. We have done series devoted to Youssef Chahine, Salah Abu Seif, Syrian and Lebanese cinema, as well as an earlier “New Arab Cinema” series in 2003. Thus Arab cinema has for years been an essential part of our offerings.
This particular series came about because I was impressed by some of the most recent films I saw emerging from the Arab world; I was also interested to learn more about the role of some of the new producing organizations that had begun in the Gulf region. I had some personal contacts with the people working in Dubai, and so we decided we would try to work together on a film series.
Lastly, the past few years have seen enormous changes in the region, which are still going on, and I think this series is good way to get a sense of what people are thinking and feeling, even if the films are not directly related to the “Arab Spring.”
What’s different about this New Cinema compared to Arab cinema pre-1960s? Have directors consciously chosen to tell more intimate personal stories than just explicitly focus on socioeconomic and political issues?
Pre-1960? If you really mean that period, you’re talking almost exclusively about Egyptian cinema, which accounted for about 95% of all Arab-language films up to that point. Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s developed one of the world’s great film industries, supplying films not only to the Arab world but also to Turkey, Iran, and many other markets. It was an export-oriented cinema, and therefore tried to create a kind of cinema that depended little on specific Egyptian references.
If anything, this generation of filmmakers doesn’t see the difference between political and personal issues, but yes, there is less of a tendency to make the kinds of national epics that one saw a lot in the 1980s and 1990s.
What are the main themes and styles of filmmaking that dominate Arab cinema today? Did this directly influence how you selected the films for the series?
I’d like to think that I selected the films that seemed to me the most successful works of art, according to my arbitrary standards. It’s hard to say what the main themes are, but I do think there is a certain emphasis on the conflict between individual desire and what’s perceived as public duty.
Many of the directors showcased have left to study cinema and looked for funding away from their Arabic origins. Can you say more about why this is such a widespread phenomenon?
We all live in an increasingly globalized context, in which travel and emigration are simply part of our contemporary reality. One can hardly find a European or Latin American film that isn’t a co-production with partners from all over the world, so why shouldn’t Arab filmmakers avail themselves of the same funding possibilities?
With regards to overseas film schools, I think the important factor is that young Arab artists have the chance to be exposed to a wide range of work from many parts of the world, and these influences have begun to have their impact on Arab filmmaking.
You are including five fairly prominent contemporary female filmmakers. What do you think is the most characteristic feature or set of features that a female voice brings to this cinema that is still so male-dominated?
It’s probably a bit of an overstatement to imply that female directors generally are more focused on the interpersonal, but I do think that is pretty much accurate. It’s no accident that the rise of the notion that the “personal is political” in the West coincided with the emergence of second-wave feminism. Women artists have been crucial in exposing the way politics asserts itself in everyday life.
You have created a very complete program with full-length features and shorts. What is your opinion about these even-younger rising filmmakers with their shorts as dramatic social commentaries? Is the new generation of filmmaking becoming more and more dissecting of its immediate intellectual and emotional surroundings?
Obviously, I’m impressed by all our filmmakers. I think this new generation is showing that courage, and indeed “fearlessness” are its hallmarks. Increasingly, there are no longer taboo subjects; young Arab filmmakers feel empowered to look at their societies with very critical eyes, regardless of the consequences.
>>> More on New Arab Cinema, here.