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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Film and Society in the Middle East

Course Code:
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Taught in:
Full Year

This course introduces the nature and development of Arabic cinema, both as an apparatus enmeshed in the processes of cultural production and social consumption and as an artistic genre reflecting the major concerns and expressions of Arabic culture and society. It surveys the development of Arabic cinema from its early beginnings to the present through a range of selected films and offers a structured elaboration of the context in which Arabic cinema emerged. It studies cinema as a major component of Arabic culture and its interaction with other cultural and literary forms. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The course aims to provide students with appropriate theoretical and critical tools in the understanding the language of film, its narrative and structure, its relation to the visual culture of the Middle East, its location in world cinema, and the different areas of academic investigation of the genre and field of cultural production. By the end of the course students will have learned to read and analyse films critically and treat them as cultural expressions of some of the concerns and inherent attitudes of the culture that produced them.

Scope and syllabus

The course is taught by two hours of lectures weekly in addition to two to three hours of film viewing.

The following are the major areas of investigation:

  1. The context of the emergence of Arabic cinema
  2. Egyptian film history and genres (the musical and melodrama and realism)
  3. North African and Levantine cinemas
  4. Cinema and the quest of national identity and nationalization of Arab cinema
  5. Post-colonial criticism and revolutionary aesthetics
  6. Gender, sexuality and feminisms
  7. Exilic and diasporic filmmaking
  8. Cinema and its audience
  9. Popular/commercial cinema and art cinema
  10. Language and the impact of diglossia on film production and distribution
  11. Story and narration in film
  12. Semiotics of visual language
  13. The film medium as distinguished from the literary medium

Method of assessment

A film analysis of 1,500 - 2,000 words to be submitted at the end of term 1 (15%);  a film analysis of 1,500 - 2,000 words to be submitted at the end of term 2  (20%); an essay of 4,500 - 5,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 2, term 2 (30%); an essay of 5,000 - 5,500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (35%).  

Suggested reading

  • Roy Armes, Third World Film Making and the West (University of California, 1987).
  • Roy Armes, African Filmmaking North and South of the Sahara (Edinburgh, 2006).
  • Hamid Dabashi (ed), Dreams of a Nation: on Palestinian Cinema (Verso, 2006).
  • Kevin Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca: MA Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema (Indiana University Press, 2004).
  • Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden, Transnational Cinema: the film reader (Routledge, 2006).
  • Narith Gertzand and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
  • Catherine Grant and Annette Kuhn, Screening World Cinema: a screen reader (Routledge, 2006).
  • Joel Gordon, Revolutionary Melodrama: Popular Film and Civic Identity in Nasser’s Egypt (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2002).
  • Paul Hockings (ed), Visual Anthropology 10 (1998), The Seen and the Unseeable: Visual Culture in the Middle East.
  • Oliver Leaman (ed), Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film (Routledge, 2001).
  • Rasha Salti (ed), Insights into Syrian Cinema: essays and conversations with contemporary filmmakers (ArteEast, 2006).
  • Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity (American University in Cairo, 1998.
  • Viola Shafik, Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class and Nation (American University in Cairo, 2007).
  • Sherifa Zuhur (ed), Images of Enchantment: Visual and Performing Arts of the Middle East (The American University in Cairo, 1998).
  • Sherifa Zuhur (ed), Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East (The American University in Cairo, 2001).
  • Charles R. Acland, Screen Traffic: movies, multiplexes, and global culture (Duke University, 2003).
  • Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, Film Theory and Criticism (Oxford, 2004).
  • Mark Cousins, The Story of Film (Pavilion, 2004).Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall, Visual Culture: the reader (The Open University,1999).
  • Susan Hayward, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (Routledge, 1996 [2006]).
  • James Monaco, How to read a film: movies, media, multimedia (Oxford, 2000).