MESA Banner
Tracing Transnational Indigenous Expression in Amazigh Cinema

Panel VII-19, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
Indigenous studies have found increasing relevance in public debate as issues of environmental crisis and cultural survival have moved to the forefront. From the Canary Islands across North and Northwest Africa to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, ancient and contemporary indigenous ways of life of Amazigh groups, formerly known as Berber, have likewise gained visibility. Building on long-term activism, this public presence is in part due to the availability of digital technology and the circulation of amateur and semi-professional videos and audio recordings, both in the form of popular TV dramas and musical recordings for home, diasporic, and world audience consumption. Drawing on the Canadian-born Anishinaabe cultural theorist Gerard Vizenor’s concept of “survivance,” which underscores Native resiliency and narrative agency in the face of historical erasure, and the work of Martin, Higby, and Bahmad in their examination of Transnational Moroccan Cinema, this panel introduces a new debate at MESA on the existence of an Amazigh Cinema and the cinematographic expression of North and Northwest African transnational indigeneity or Amazighity. Constituting a wide range of Amazigh-centered shorts, documentaries, and full-length features, and produced in countries across the Amazigh space and in the diaspora since the mid-1990s, these works have often struggled to secure funding and distribution and have been screened largely at film festivals, including the New York Forum of Amazigh Film (NYFAF) which is co-curated by the panelists. Both an element of national cinemas and a transnational genre of its own, Amazigh Cinema - film production by and about Amazigh subjects - turns such contradictions and dual loyalties into necessary and constructive conditions for its existence. From systemic repression to gradual official recognition to an active role in contemporary culture, the status and place of Amazighity can thus be examined through this body of cinematic work, which varies from one country, generation, and filmmaker to another and is shaped by national political pressures, the experience of diaspora, and access to film production means and skills. Working towards a forthcoming collection of essays, the panelists will critically examine the linguistic, narrative, and cinematographic choices of select filmmakers in their portrayal of Amazigh ways of life, indigenous relations to space and time, evolving social roles and aspirations, and contemporary cross-cultural dilemmas, while reflecting on the inherent contradictions this genre presents and its potential for creative reinventions.
Media Arts
  • Dr. Habiba Boumlik -- Presenter
  • Yahya Laayouni -- Presenter
  • Lucy McNair -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Soubeika Bahri -- Presenter
  • Yahya Laayouni
    Amazigh filmmaking can be considered a part of the larger indigenous film studies, which aims to give a voice to historically marginalized and oppressed peoples. Indigenous cinema seeks to decolonize and transform existing [hegemonic] structures (Schiwy 2009). It allows these mis- and under-represented communities to reclaim their identity and tell their stories through visual narratives. The Amazigh films subscribe to this process of decolonization by using the Amazigh dialects and highlighting cultural and historical aspects related to the Amazigh experiences. Amazigh film also raises questions of identity, agency, and representation facing Amazigh people in contemporary North African societies and the diaspora. The process of assimilation the Amazigh people experienced during the occupations of their lands contributed to the loss of several aspects of their cultural and linguistic heritage (Maddy-Weitzman 2011). Recognizing the importance of visual media, Amazigh filmmakers started using film to promote the Amazigh language, culture, and heritage and join the larger indigenous cinema movement. In the last thirty years, Amazigh cinema has gained greater recognition and visibility, with films such as The Forgotten Hill (1994) and, Adios Carmen (2013), Myopia (2020) to name but a few being screened at local and international film festivals. The emergence of Amazigh cinema and its momentum, especially after the 2011 revolutions, signals a significant shift toward the role Amazigh film could play in the larger scope of indigenous cinema and its contribution to this developing field of studies. My talk will focus on the convergences and divergences Amazigh film has with the global indigenous film experience concerning modes of production, aesthetics, and themes. I will also address the possibilities this cinema offers to decolonize the existing modes of representations.
  • Dr. Habiba Boumlik
    In Amazigh transnational cinema, filmmakers draw from various cultures, memories and attachments. Their background is multilingual and multicultural as they navigate various spaces: their native countries, their diasporic home, and the various countries they roam to seek funds or to promote their films during film festivals. I will discuss the trajectory of four filmmakers: the Moroccan Mohammed Abbazi through his film Itto Titrit (2013, 113 min), one of the first films to be shot in Amazigh; the Algerian Blekacem Hadja through his film Fadhma N’Soumer (2014, 110 min); the Algerian Amor Hakkar through his film The Yellow House (2008, 85 min) and the Moroccan Yasmine Kassari through her film The Sleeping Child (2004, 95 min). I will use Lefebvre’s theory of space that emphasizes the interplay between the production of space and the space of production. Lefebvre argues that if “space is a product,” then the object of our interest must “shift from things in space to the actual production of space,” that is, from space as a fixed entity to space as a “productive process” that induces change and is subject to revision.
  • This paper examines the function of language choices and stylization in constructing an indigenous Amazigheity in Amazigh films set in different countries around North Africa and the diaspora. Drawing upon data from films shown at NYFAF ( Myopia by Sanaa Akrout, Tamellest by Chahine Berriche, and Papicha by Mounia Meddour) alongside other Amazigh films, such as La Montagne de Baya by Azeddine Meddour, and the sociolinguistic concept of cinematic discourse (Androutsopoulos, 2012), the analysis will attempt to explain what ideological statements and meanings underpin the representation of Tamazight language(s) in dialogues and subtitle translations. The paper uses a qualitative approach that includes an account of the mono- and multilingual language choice patterns in the movies in question and an analysis of the audience reactions generated either by NYFAF audience or social media comments (YouTube in particular). The analysis reveals three major findings: 1) when language choices are styled linguistically as local and/or Tamazight, a rejection of colonial ethnolinguistic essentialism is often the main goal in defiance of a homogenous monolingual ideology that has longly lumped Imazighen under one category; 2) Amazigh filmmakers’ stylistic choices interact continuously with the dominant-language ideology perpetuated by Darija, Arabic, and/ or French to reinforce, oppose, and in some way to just negotiate it while highlighting the historical reality of the Amazigh linguistic hybridity;3) Despite audience’s appreciation of a pluralist and heteroglossia depiction in Amaizgh film, their ideologies often hold traces of the dominant language ideology and mainstream stereotypes.
  • Lucy McNair
    We know from the work of Benedict Anderson, Brian Edwards and other cultural historians that the terms “North Africa” or “The Magreb,” besides designating geographical borders, transport social and political histories and the losses and victories of colonial and independence struggles from periods long past into contemporary discourse. The term Tamazghra, a neologism coined after the Amazigh World Congress in 1996 to designate the transnational space inhabited by Amazigh peoples, re-invents, in the words of Amazigh scholar and translator Brahim El Guabli, an “idyllic land of origins” where different Amazigh cultural actors have drawn inspiration to gradually recover political as well as creative agency and imagine a visible and viable indigeneity. This paper will examine four female-centric films by female directors who engage with Amazighity implicitly or explicitly as they narrate this shared conflictual past and the individual processes of (re)inventing contemporary social and cultural identities.