30 November 2016
Films from and about the Middle East and North Africa have been making headlines in recent years as several from Iran, Palestine, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been nominated for international prizes, and an increasing number are being shown to international audiences at diverse film festivals in Europe, Asia and the US.
What is interesting about the emerging, complex and artful films from the region and its diasporas is their creativity in terms of genre and content. This is coupled with their ability to provide articulations of lives and experiences beyond restrictive formats imposed by the state, which has controlled cultural output in different parts of the region. Furthermore, many of these films have moved beyond the frames of incessant conflict, extremism and violence that dominate the news headlines. They engender more complex, intimate and humane accounts of ordinary lives that are not only politically relevant but also show that people in the region are not that different from others in their aspirations and hopes.
It is a cliché to say film offers a window of the world, particularly in a globalised digital age. But it is true to say that, as many of the contributions in this special issue show, this window is becoming wider and more accessible as film festivals from London to Singapore, from Bristol to San Francisco can testify. They offer the spaces for film created in or about the Middle East to travel: these films move across borders and enable encounters in different mediums and genres as well as in the creative imagination.
This issue of The Middle East in London endeavours to showcase the variety of film genres and productions in the MENA region, a region that is beset by forced displacement due to long-term conflict and repression as well as inter-communal violence, patriarchal systems, ideological struggles and external intervention. These contexts no doubt play a role in how film travels, as do other issues: the continuous war on culture waged by the state, institutional restraints, lack of funding and insufficient training for would-be film producers. However, as the articles in this issue show, culture remains a source for creativity, resistance, voice and visibility and film, as an essential element of culture, has increasingly been the space through which these issues are made visible and discussed.
This issue begins with an Insight piece by Sheyma Buali who delves into how films shown in London have changed in the last five years, a topic also taken up by Dan Gorman. Zeina Shanaah looks at creative trends in Palestinian cinema, and Yonatan Sagiv addresses Israeli horror films. Suzanne Gauch looks at the evolution of North African cinema post-independence. Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad and Asal Bagheri envision an optimistic future following the death of the prominent Iranian film-maker Kiarostami, while Yasmin Fedda talks about the challenges some of the Syrian film-makers face in Aleppo in the wake of the raging civil war. Mizgin Mujde Arslan discusses the challenges for Kurdish cinema. Finally, Nazli Tarzi relays a brief history of Iraqi cinema and Ehab Jalal discusses Egyptian cinema after 2011. In this issue we have also announced the winners of the 2016 photo competition. Congratulations!
For more information visit The Middle East in London.