Festival Cinéma Arabe and National Cinema

In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.

Curating for Festivals
By Sanne van Rijswijk

In the current film festival landscape of the Netherlands, it seems like there is a broad range of festivals that focus on the representation of international cinema, national cinema, different genres, minorities, etc. In Amsterdam alone, there is a large number of different film festivals organised each year. A few examples are Imagine Film Festival, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, World Cinema Amsterdam, International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Roze Filmdagen, CinemAsia Film Festival, and Festival Cinéma Arabe. One of the most important parts of a film festival is the program and each festival has a particular selection process of programming that raises particular questions on curating for festivals in relation to identity and politics. What is included and excluded and what are the consequences of these choices? In the text “Film Festivals, Programming, and the Building of a National Cinema,” Liz Czach explores the repercussions of programming choices of festivals and discusses the role that film festivals and programming play in the process of forming a national cinema. An interesting case study to reflect on Czach’s examination of film festivals, programming, and the concepts of “national cinema” and “film canon” is the film festival Cinéma Arabe. What does Cinéma Arabe contribute to the building of a national film canon of Arab film on an international scale?


This year, Festival Cinéma Arabe is organised for the 8th time, and takes place from 19 until 24 April at different locations in Amsterdam. The festival program offers a total of twenty-five short films, feature films, and documentaries and, in cooperation with cultural meeting place De Balie, the festival offers several debates, adding more layers to the programming. Although it may not be very surprising, Cinéma Arabe spends a great deal of attention to the challenges of living between two different cultures, and this theme is addressed, among other, in the opening film, the Dutch premiere of Fatima (Philippe Faucon, 2015). The film was awarded with three Césars and tells the story of the single mother, Fatima Elayoubi, who immigrated to France. Besides the challenges of migration the festival also deals with the disillusionment of the Arabic Spring, for example in the documentary trilogy about the three most influential presidents of Egypt, Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, whom the director calls “modern pharaohs.” These films provide insight into the political power system in Egypt, where a new powerful authority constantly compromises the hope for democratic changes. The documentary The Tainted Veil (Ovidio Salazar, 2015) addresses the dilemma of wearing a headscarf and a debate following the documentary poses the question, is it a cultural custom or religious rule? Besides these thematically charged films, the festival also aims to show that humour is used in the Arab world as a means to make life more bearable by programming (black) comedy productions. Lastly, the festival also provides attention to the use of music in times of trouble, for example in the film I Open My Eyes (Leyla Bouzid, 2015). In conclusion, the film festival programming of Cinema Arabe tries to provide a thematically broad and relevant program of films that transport the visitor to other countries and cultures. This festival is interesting for its particular selection of films that relate to these well thought-out themes that seem to capture common challenges and issues in the Arab world. For more information on the film program visit http://www.cinemaarabe.nl.


As I Open My Eyes (Leyla Bouzid, 2015)

The concept of “national cinema” is problematized in the current festival landscape, because most films nowadays are co-productions between many nations. The entire film festival Cinéma Arabe is a platform to showcase selections of Arab cinema, but do these selections play a role in the canon formation of cinema from the Arab world? According to the press release of the film festival, Cinéma Arabe offers an inside look into life in the Arab world by screening films from filmmakers that come from very diverse and dynamic regions. There are films screened from countries like Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Moreover, Cinéma Arabe wants to contribute to a more balanced conceptualisation of the Arab world and the Arab diaspora, especially in the Netherlands. Recurring themes of the film festival programme are the consequences of political turmoil, war and occupation, migration and identity, problems within the family, and the position of women. As the festival trailer shows, a remarkably large number of women’s portraits came to the fore in this year’s film program. Czach discusses the importance and challenges of programmer opinion and taste in film festival programming (83) in relation to the inevitable political nature of selecting films for a program that focuses on a particular nation. The curatorial choices made in the selection process for Cinéma Arabe need to be discussed in their relation to the undeniable political nature of programming for a film festival. A festival such as this is important because most of the films shown are not screened anywhere else in the Netherlands after the festival, and more importantly, some films are even banned from screenings in their home countries.

Czach, Liz. “Film Festivals, Programming, and the Building of a National Cinema.” The
Moving Image 4:1 (2004): 76–88.


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