Unpacking the ArteArchive

Posted: Aug 22, 2021

Moonscape, Mona Benyamin

Ib’atli Gawab / Signed, Sealed, Delivered: On longing and political resistance through epistolary forms in four essay-films.

Online Screening: Nov. 18-21

Curated by Line Ajan

Featuring works by Mona Benyamin, Emily Jacir, Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedirxan, Akram Zaatari

Inspired by two love songs—Sabah Fakhri’s Ib’atli Gawab (Arabic for “send an answer my way”) and Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered—this program explores the affective and political potential of letter-writing and other epistolary forms through four films by Mona Benyamin, Emily Jacir, Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Siav Bedirxan, and Akram Zaatari. As odes to longing and the infinite wait for a lover’s response, Fakhri and Wonder’s songs are invoked to underline the subjective and situated perspectives of these films.

Set around a Facebook chat, Silvered Water follows the transmission of knowledge and experience between two Syrians, with Mohammed exiled in Paris and attempting to teach Bedirxan how to film, while Bedirxan recounts the reality of living in Homs as the uprisings turn into an unbearably violent conflict/proxy war. In a letter to a friend, Jacir addresses architect Eyal Weizman, recounting an embodied history of the urban fabric surrounding her family home Dar Jacir. Through absurd emails and a catchy soundtrack, Benyamin’s Moonscape tells the story of Dennis M. Hope’s claim of ownership over the Moon—a detour that allows Benyamin to question the impossibility for Palestinians to move freely. Zaatari’s Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright telescopes the outdated format of the typewriter with the immediacy of chatting to evoke the trepidation that marks the waiting for an ex’s response.

In the face of distance and borders, these contemporary takes on the essay-film use letter-writing as a visual and conceptual strategy to build affinities and solidarities, creating ingenious strategies of political resistance.

Film Program:

Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedirxan, France/Syria/United States/Lebanon, 2014,103 min – 

Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright, Akram Zaatari, Lebanon/UK, 2011, 7 min

letter to a friend, Emily Jacir, 2019, Palestine, 43 min

Moonscape, Mona Benyamin, 2020, Palestine, 17 min

This program also includes a recorded discussion between filmmaker Mona Benyamin and curator Line Ajan in which they’ll explore Benyamin’s use of musical references in her film—including the late Sabah Fakhri— as well as humor as strategies of subversion and resistance.

Additional Resources:

Tea Is Coffee, Coffee Is Tea: Freedom in a Closed RoomA fascinating text by acclaimed Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed bitingly describes the conditions of filmmaking under the Ba’athist regime in Syria

The 1999 text was first published in Insights into Syrian Cinema: Essays and conversations with contemporary filmmakers. Ed. Rasha Salti. New York: ArteEast : AIC Film Editions/Rattapallax Press, 2006. 149-163.



Si Moh, the Unlucky Man (Si Moh, pas de chance) Moumen Smihi


Online Screening October 14-17

RADICAL MODERNISMS: RETRACING ARAB AND NORTH AFRICAN FILM HISTORIES is a two-part program curated by Peter Limbrick, Professor of Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz and author of Arab Modernism as World Cinema: The Films of Moumen Smihi.

This program addresses aesthetic and cultural experiments that emerged in Arab and North African cinema from the 1960s, experiments that showed filmmakers and artists responding to histories of colonialism and the challenges of the present. Drawing on local vernaculars and international influences alike, these filmmakers created radical forms that deserve continued attention and discussion as well as urgent efforts of preservation and recirculation.

Radical Modernisms: Retracing Arab and North African Film Histories (Part 1): A film screening and panel discussion based on Peter Limbrick’s recent book on the films of Moumen Smihi and on Arab and North African cinema within a modernist frame. Smihi’s films are remarkable for the way that they emerge from and reflect on contemporary Moroccan realities within a practice that is also rooted in broader cultural dialogues across the Arab world and with international cinema more generally. Smihi’s first film Si Moh, the Unlucky Man (Si Moh, pas de chance, 1971), was made in Paris shortly after he graduated from IDHEC. An investigation of the life of migrant workers in France, the film established him as an important voice in North African cinema. His later feature A Muslim Childhood (2015), the first in what has become a kind of semi-autobiographical trilogy for Smihi, offers a tapestry of fifties Tangier–an international zone marked by the influence of Arab, Amazigh, European, and American histories. Together with these films, the program includes Mohammad Malas’s film Dreams of the City (Ahlam al-Madina) (1984), a film that develops a complex history of Syria in the 1950s in light of the many traumas of the period, all in a mode with which Smihi’s own films are in sustained conversation.

Livestream Panel Discussion: October 15 at 12 pm EDT:

Arab Modernism as World Cinema: Moumen Smihi and Peter Limbrick in conversation with Tarek Elhaik

A dialogue between Moumen Smihi (filmmaker) in conversation with Peter Limbrick (film historian and theorist at UC Santa Cruz) moderated by Tarek Elhaik (curator and anthropologist at UC Davis). The discussion will focus on the ideas underpinning Smihi’s films and those animating Limbrick’s book.

Film screening: October 14-17

Si Moh, the Unlucky Man (Si Moh, pas de chance) Moumen Smihi, France, 1971, 17 min

A Muslim Childhood (El Ayel/Le gosse de Tanger) Moumen Smihi, Morocco, 2005, 83 min

Dreams of the City (Ahlam al-Madina) Mohammad Malas, Syria, 1984, 120 min

This program is co-sponsored by the Center for the Middle East and North Africa at UC Santa Cruz


About Some Meaningless Events (De quelques évènements sans signification) , Mostafa Derkaoui



Online Screening: October 21-24

Livestream Panel Discussion: October 24 at 3 pm EDT

The films included in the package are rare and vital treasures of Moroccan and diasporic Maghrebi filmmaking. We are proud to present the US premiere of the recently restored Ali in Wonderland (1976), a stunning film about Maghrebi migration and life in France that resonates with Moumen Smihi’s earlier film on this topic in Part One of our program. Also included are two rarely-seen films by the Moroccan filmmaker Ahmed Bouanani and his collaborators: the recently restored “city symphony” film Six and Twelve (1968) and the radical archival essay film Memory 14 (1971) which turns to the French colonial archive to create a searing and poetic essay on Moroccan history. The program also includes another recent restoration: the feature film About Some Meaningless Events (1974)directed by Mostafa Derkaoui, which is recirculating decades after it was first banned in Morocco. Together these films offer audiences an exciting exploration of the fragile and often overlooked cinematic legacy of Morocco and the Maghreb.

Livestream Panel Discussion: October 24 at 3 pm EDT

Cinematic Archives, Preservation, and Circulation in the Maghreb.

This panel discussion will address the question of archives—ArteEast’s archive and the fragile cinematic archives of Arab and North African cinema—and the urgent demands of preservation and recirculation of work that is at risk of disappearance. Limbrick will speak with Léa Morin, an independent curator and researcher based in Morocco and France, about her work restoring the film Ali in Wonderland (1 976) and other North African films; and with Touda Bouanani, video artist and archivist based in Rabat, Morocco, on recovering the legacy of her father Ahmed Bouanani’s cinema and writing. Touda Bouanani’s work has involved creative forms of visual documentation and preservation, as well as the re-editing and publication of Ahmed Bouanani’s landmark history of Moroccan cinema, La septième porte (The Seventh Gate). They’ll be joined by Sido Lansari (Cinémathèque de Tanger) who will discuss this important institution in the cinematic life of Morocco and its work of screening and archiving.

Film Screening: October 21-24:

Six and Twelve (Six et Douze), Ahmed Bouanani, Mohammed A. Tazi, Abdelmajid Rechiche, Morocco, 1968, 18 min

Memory 14 (Mémoire 14), Ahmed Bouanani, Morocco, 1968, 24 min

About Some Meaningless Events (De quelques évènements sans signification), Mostafa Derkaoui, Morocco, 1974, 76 min

Ali in Wonderland (Ali au pays des merveilles), Djouhra Abouda et Alain Bonnamy, France, 1976, 59 min US PREMIERE ! 

Radical Modernisms: Retracing Arab and North African Film Histories is co-sponsored by the Center for the Middle East and North Africa at UC Santa Cruz

Hostage: The Bachar Tapes, Walid Raad


Online Screening: September 16-19

RECONSTRUCTING HISTORIES examines the role of the documentary in representing the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) through the experimental works of three important Lebanese post-war artists/filmmakers: Walid Raad, Jayce Salloum, and Mohamad Soueid.   Curated by Ginou Choueiri

Featuring works by Walid Raad, Jayce Salloum, Mohamad Soueid

The Lebanese Civil War officially ended after the 1989 Taif Accord, granting amnesty to those who committed war crimes, allowing these same figures to freely exchange their guns for a seat in the government, many of whom are still in power to this day. This raises the question: How can a country move forward when its past is unresolved and prone to repetition?

This policy of forgetting, and the failure of the government’s handling of the nation’s historical narrative, prompted a number of post-war artists – who were born during the 1960s and 1970s and grew up during times of war – to tackle the challenges of representing their recent past. These post-war artists used the documentary as a terrain to critically examine their history and how it was being represented.

In the experimental documentary Hostage: The Bashar Tapes, Walid Raad challenges notions of truth and historiography, bringing to the foreground the mediation of images in the construction of historical knowledge, questioning who has the right to shape historical narratives. In This is Not Beirut, Jayce Salloum highlights the crisis of representation – from reductionism to misrepresentation – conveying the impossibility of representing the overwhelming and complex narrative of the Lebanese Civil War. While the works of Salloum and Raad are crucial to addressing the issues and limitations of the documentary form, their role has been to point out, rather than fix these problems, reflecting the postmodern approach and its tendency towards aversion to “truth” in representation. In comparison, Mohamad Soueid’s Nightfall takes a subjective rather than conceptual approach, excavating fragments of Lebanon’s past from the ruins of memory.

Hostage: The Bachar TapesWalid Raad, 16 min | United States, Lebanon | 2001

This is Not Beirut (There was and there was not), Jayce Salloum, 49 min | United States, Lebanon | 1992-1993

Nightfall (Indama Ya’ati al-Masa), Mohamad Soueid, 70 min | Lebanon | 2000

RECONSTRUCTING HISTORIES is curated by ArteEast’s curator Ginou Choueiri and presented by ArteEast as part of the ArteEast legacy program Unpacking the ArteArchive, preserving and presenting over 15 years of film and video programming by ArteEast


Shattered Beirut 6:07, Carol Mansour, Lebanon, 2020, 17 min



Online Screening August 12 -16

Marking the one-year anniversary of the devastating Beirut blast, this program of films and videos from Lebanese artists and filmmakers conveys their direct experience assimilating overwhelming loss and trauma. Two of the works are a response to the Beirut blast, which shook the city on August 4, 2020, while the other two were created as a response to the 2006 Lebanon war with Israel. From the political and performative to the poetic, these subjective works emerged from the rubble of a collapsed present. Curated by Ginou Choueiri 

Featuring Charbel Samuel Aoun, Ali Cherri, Carol Mansour,  Wael Noureddine

Shattered Beirut 6:07, Carol Mansour, Lebanon, 2020, 17 min
The Heap, Charbel Samuel Aoun, Lebanon, 2021, 5 min

July Trip, Wael Noureddine, 2006, Lebanon, 35 min

Slippage, Ali Cherri, Lebanon, 2007, 12 min


Before I Forget (Abel Ma Insa), Mariam Mekiwi, Egypt/Germany, 2018, 30 min


Online Screening July 24 – 27

Disrupted Pasts, Displaced Futures is a selection of moving image works by contemporary artists from the Middle East and North Africa, blending science fiction, arabfuturism, and magic realism to tackle themes of displacement, migration, and climate crisis. Responding to an unstable present through the lens of the future, these alternate realities resist hegemonic narratives and open a space where new possibilities emerge.   Curated by Ginou Choueiri

Featuring Meriem Bennani, Mariam Mekiwi, Larissa Sansour

Party on the CAPS, Meriem Bennani, Morocco, 2018, 26 min
Before I Forget (Abel Ma Insa), Mariam Mekiwi, Egypt/Germany, 2018, 30 min

In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, Larissa Sansour, Søren Lind, Palestine/UK/Denmark/Qatar, 2015, 29 min

Nation Estate, Larissa Sansour, Palestine/Denmark, 2013, 9min

Disrupted Pasts, Displaced Futures film program is presented by ArteEast as part of the ArteEast legacy program Unpacking the ArteArchive, preserving and presenting over 17 years of film and video programming by ArteEast. This program is in partnership with the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington (VAC) as a parallel program to the VAC’s Fossilized Sunshine exhibition.