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National and Transnational Cinema

Session XIII-14, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
Media Arts
  • Shirin Neshat, a multidisciplinary expatriate Iranian artist, depicts the lives of four Iranian women from diverse social strata during a decisive period, in her first feature film, Women without Men (2009) that is loosely adapted from the novel by the same name, written by Shahrnush Parsipur in 1989. Neshat also visualizes the fifth character from the novel, Mahdokht, in a separate short film of identical designation in 2004. Women without Men and Mahdokht are set within the notorious context of the 1953 coup d’e ́tat in Iran contrived by the CIA and the British against the secular democratic government of Mohammad Mosaddegh. These movies are multi-layered portrayals of the intertwining lives of Iranian women “all trapped in seemingly poignant and oppressive situations”: Zarrin, Munis, Faezeh, Fakhri, and Mahdokht, where the critical space of garden becomes a sanctuary for these women to find safety and security. Hence, the majority of scholarship on Women without men is circulating around the exploration of the symbolic employment of the garden as a “site of rebellion” and “as a feminist epistemic space”. However, I aim to offer a novel reading by providing a narrative analysis to tease out how these women, in Neshat’s movies, engage with the politics of everyday resistance, negation, and subversion in a patriarchal society that inhibits women’s activism and freedom of expression. By drawing on feminist standpoint theory with its emphasis on “the lived experiences of women”, Bettina Aptheker’s resistance “shaped by the dailiness of women’s lives”, and Asef Bayat’s theory of “quiet encroachment”, I argue that Neshat intends to illustrate that Iranian women, despite “Sokut-o-Sokun,” or silence and immobility that is the expected social norms for ideal virtuous and desirable females in Iran, exercised agency in opposition to oppressive power with quotidian practices, such as appearing in public spaces to reverse the domestic private sphere of the home, to negate, resist, and subvert the dominant power structures, and existing social and gender norms. Keywords: Everyday resistance, Quite Encroachment, Agency, Gender Norms, Shirin Neshat, Women Without Men
  • This paper investigates what I suggest is a new cinematic mode that emerged in the wake of the Arab Uprisings of 2011. In films such as Out on the Street (2014), by Egyptian filmmakers Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk, and Le Challat de Tunis (2013), by Tunisian director Kaouther ben Hania, techniques of classical documentary filmmaking are combined with more unusual choices, such as animation, improvisation, and subjective, lyrical sequences in the manner of what film theorist Bill Nichols calls the “poetic mode.” These techniques of fictional film depict scenes that veer away from traditional realism and show us moments where the hope and promise of the uprisings’ early successes has not yet faded. In Out on the Street, for example, we observe an acting improvisation workshop, in which former Egyptian factory workers enact a successful strike against their exploitative bosses. These scenes depict the Arab world, if only briefly, “as if” the uprisings had been successful. I argue that the effect of this hybrid documentary mode is to call into question the narrative—upheld both by official state narratives and the Western media–that the Arab uprisings were a failure. These scenes are still circumscribed, nonetheless, within a frank assessment of the Arab world’s contemporary challenges. Metwaly and Rizk show us footage of a factory, for instance, that is being stripped for parts by a foreign buyer, while ben Hania reveals the rampant sexism in Tunisian society through man-on-the-street interviews. In other words, these films do not serve as mere wish fulfillment. Rather, by virtue of the juxtaposition of realism with utopianism, these films ask us to reevaluate the criteria for what ‘success’ looks like. Drawing on scholars both of Middle Eastern film as well as of traditions of radical documentary cinema, this paper contributes to the growing body of work on art and media after the Arab uprisings.
  • This paper aims to explore ancient Egyptian representations in modern Egyptian popular culture with a particular focus on film. The depiction of ancient Egypt in Egyptian cinema is relatively infrequent, in contrast to several lavish Hollywood and European film productions that often represent a stereotypical illustration of ancient Egypt through an orientalist prism. My goal is to examine, in particular, Arous El-Nil (Bride of the Nile), which in 1963 was the first post-colonial Egyptian film to represent ancient Egypt, albeit in a whimsical fashion, both aesthetically and textually. I argue that Arous El-Nil recapitulates a nationalist state narrative imparted through Western and orientalist reproductions of a cursory and abstract perception of ancient Egypt, rendered in a subjective and essentialist mode. It focuses on how film was used as a tool to reproduce orientalist tropes about ancient Egypt through the reproduction of myths. I draw mainly on Edward Said’s Orientalism as well as Stuart Hall’s concept of representation and its relation to power. I look at film as a site of struggle over identity as it also reveals embedded anxieties and internalization of orientalist tropes of ancient Egypt. Through a narrative analysis of some of the most significant dialogues in the film these different power dynamics will be further articulated. The film despite being worthy of recognition for its attempt to depict ancient Egypt with the incorporation of advanced cinematic techniques at the time. It is however emblematic of the ongoing struggle since the beginning of the twentieth century over what constitutes an Egyptian identity. It reflects a deeper issue which testifies to the complexities of both imperialism and nationalism as forces of power over knowledge production and the institutions that shape the narratives of ethnic and national identities. It is also a manifestation to what extent the whitewashing of ancient Egypt has managed to disintegrate seven thousand years of history with its complexities to symbols and stories disjointed from the reality of that history for the sake of entertainment. Egyptian perceptions of ancient Egypt have varied over the years, yet knowledge of ancient Egypt was primarily exclusive to a certain social and political class of Egyptians. This research aims to highlight the importance of decolonizing Egyptology, along with the knowledge it produced and disseminated across different media platforms.
  • In the summer of 2014, a group of six local women embarked on a participatory video project that documents their social and environmental struggles living on the outskirts of the western Lut Desert in Kerman, Iran. Six years and hundreds of hours of footage later, the collaboration resulted in a feature-length documentary film, a handcraft cooperative, and a renewed interest in qanat water management. As an anthropologist and producer, I worked alongside many of the collaborators as the video project evolved from a local participatory videomaking workshop into a transnational cinematic production. Like many other participatory video projects, the footage and workshops revealed the sources of struggle and stress of community members and documented the participatory video group’s efforts in addressing them. Unlike other participatory video projects, the filming occurred for several years among the group members and involved different levels of collaboration and ethical understandings between domestic and foreign partners. As other participatory video scholars have pointed out, there is a lack of information in the literature on the consequences of long-term participatory video projects and their lasting impacts once facilitators have left or the project has ended (White 2003; Shaw 2016; Pink 2007; Milne et al. 2012; Nygreen 2010). In this article, I intend to engage with the methodological practices of the participatory video project and analyze their efficacy in addressing the initial goals set out by the group. Based on my ethnographic findings, I will also be critiquing the politics of film collaboration from the local to the transnational, specifically in an Iranian context, while examining the unique positionality of these women as media makers, subjects, and spectators and its implication for feminist counter-cinemas.