Spring 2008 | ArteZine

In the Clement Society of Cinema

By and

Between the ardor of militants and passions of aesthetes, a retrospective visit to the golden era of ciné-clubs in the Arab world.

There was a time in the contemporary history of Arab world, a mere forty or thirty years ago, when the passion for non-commercial cinema and the yearning for critical engagement with art and culture and the search for venues for an unhindered and open political discussion inspired the formation of ciné-clubs. These cultural spaces drew significant membership and transformed into vivacious realms for a dialogue with world cinema and politically-engaged art. Some of these ciné-clubs were admitedly guises for political parties to mobilize a constituency, but in the end, films were screened, and people’s imaginary enriched with characters stories and images, and innovative ways of telling stories, representing daily lives and history with a capital H.

As autocratic régimes strengthened their iron grip on freedom of expression, political pluralism and subversion, these ciné-clubs became regarded as renegade loci for dissent. They were either forcibly shut-down by governments, or voluntarily disbanded by their instigators lest they be coopted. They played a key role in introducing generations of filmmakers and cinéphiles at large (students, workers and everyday folk) to the works of masters such as Eisenstein, Antonioni, Fellini, Lelouch, Wajda and Godard, to name a few. They also played a key role in shaping the political identity of generations of cinéphiles. This special issue of ArteNews is dedicated to unearthing the memory of these informal institutions whose history has received almost no attention. It also aims to pay homage to those behind these magnificent ventures.

Our aim is to provide venue and exposure for critical writing about film culture, encourage writing and criticism but also the importance of cinema in society.

The issue will include texts from filmmaker Nigol Bezjian (Aleppo), writers Omar Zelig (Algiers), Shawki Amari (Algiers) and Raja Shehadeh (Ramallah), interviews with ciné-club founders Omar Amiralay (Damascus), Aziz Mihrab (Casablanca), Jean-Pierre Goux Pelletan (Beirut), Walid Chmeit (Beirut), Chafia Djemame (Constantine), Said Benmerad (Algiers), Mustapha Darwish (Cairo), Abdallah Eyyaf (Saudi Arabia) as well as filmmaker Moncef Dhouib (Tunis).

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