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For the Self Expression of the Arab Women: Women, Cinema, and Commitment of the long 1970s
In 1978, filmmakers Heiny Srour and Salma Baccar along with film critic Magda Wassaf published the a manifesto titled “For the Self Expression of the Arab Woman.” The manifesto appeared in the short-lived French-language publication CineArabe, a publication whose founders, Abdou Achouba and Khmeis Khayati, hoped would animate a regional movement for politically and/or artistically engaged cinema. The manifesto assumes that Arab women have a specific perspective that emerges from their gendered position in Arab societies, a position that also stymies their work in cinema. It then calls for the support material support of women filmmakers. “For the Self Expression of Arab Women” appears at an important turning point in Arab cinema history. By the late 1970s, the region had already experienced the euphoria and disappointments of what I term “development cinema,” that is, film movements explicitly tied to a post-Bandung enthusiasm for national development. Working creatively and interstitially, enthusiastic young filmmakers to emerge from Egypt’s Higher Cinema Institute, founded in 1959 and producing its first graduating class in 1959, and from film schools in both Eastern and Western Europe had produced a number of highly creative works, including militant films, experimental works, and observational documentaries and semi-documentary fictional films through which filmmakers discovered the diversity of their recently independent homelands. Filmmakers across the region had also already experienced crushing political disappointments, the stultifying effects of local bureaucracies, and a changing landscape for material support for cinema, all of which fundamentally affected their work. Arab women had participated (albeit in rather small numbers) in the development of Arab cinema (as directors, technicians, producers, and/or critics) throughout this period. “For the Self Expression of Arab Women” also appears at the cusp of what Egypt what critic Samir Farid defined as a new realism and the emergence of intensely personal works across the region. Just one year earlier Nabihah Lutfi and Assia Djebar had directed, respectively Because Roots Will Never Die and The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua each of which explores revolution (Palestinian and Algerian) through the eyes of its women and thereby demonstrating the possibility of multiple perspectives within a militant movement. This paper situates the manifesto by Srour, Baccar, and Wassef within this film history, arguing for its embeddedness within both larger political and material developments in the region, as well as the trajectory of Arab women’s work within cinema of the previous decade.
Media Arts
Geographic Area
Arab States
Sub Area
19th-21st Centuries