Politics of State and Revolution in Arab Cinema – WOCMES – Seville, Spain, July 2018


On July 18, 2018, ICMES Board member Terri Ginsberg chaired and participated in a panel session entitled “State and Revolution in Arab Cinema,” at the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) held on July 16-22, 2018 in Seville, Spain. Also participating in the panel were Samirah Alkassim, Program and Communications Manager at The Palestine Center and Adjunct Professor of Film and Video Studies at George Mason University, both in Washington, D.C.; Isabelle Freda, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York; and Iman Hamam, Instructor in Rhetoric and Composition at The American University in Cairo. The panel was sponsored by the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies (IAMES). The panel brought together four papers on Arab cinema in an effort to extend and deepen the extant scholarship in this area, by theorizing how Arab films, some produced by state and private cinema industries and some by independent means, have attempted to explain cinematically the politics of the nation-state and revolution vis-à-vis the Cold War legacy, and how such films may in turn come to evidence ideological tendencies and socio-cultural discourses that resist the regional longue durée. Dr. Freda began the panel with a presentation on Terrorism and Kebab (1992), a classic of the modern Egyptian cinema industry that at one lampoons the “administrative grotesque” of the Egyptian state apparatus and symptomatizes its popular fetishization in the form of biopolitics. Dr. Hamam extended this discussion with a comparative historiography of 1970s Egyptian industry films commemorating the 1973 war, and recent independent shorts concerning political resistance, lending particular attention to experimental, animated and science fiction works of Egypt and Palestine as they allegorize contemporary political economy. Prof. Alkassim extended the discussion even further, focusing on critical works of Syrian documentarian Omar Amiralay and Lebanese filmmaker Randa Chahal Sabbagh, each of whom placed Palestine at the critical center of their work through differing yet overlapping anti-aesthetic strategies aimed at critiquing political contradictions in their respective countries, Amiralay often with state support, and Sabbagh through independent means. Finally, in this context Dr. Ginsberg offered an analysis of cinematic aura in Leila and the Wolves, a rarely discussed independent film about the necessity as well as problematics of women’s involvement in revolutionary struggle, directed in 1984 by anti-Zionist Jewish Lebanese filmmaker Heiny Srour. [read more]