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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


FSS Arab Cinema

FSS Arab Cinema: Mediating Memory, Identity, and Political Struggle in Arab Cinema

Course Convenor: Dr Kareem Estefan (, Centre for Film and Screen and Department of History of Art

Often represented as monolithic in the West, the region called the “Middle East” is in fact as heterogeneous as it is vast—and its cinematic practices reflect this diversity. This module offers a broad but necessarily partial overview of Arab cinema, focusing on the Levant, from the state-sponsored cinema of 1960s/1970s Egypt and Syria to independent films produced across the region and its diasporas in recent years. Within this frame, the module will survey a range of cinematic genres and modes, including (neo)realism, documentary, essay-films, animations, and features that are by turns comedic, melodramatic, and fantastical. We will examine these films as aesthetic objects rooted in local image-making and storytelling traditions and as media that reflect and reshape cultural identities, social histories, and political struggles. We will also explore their dialogues with and contestations of Western cinema and media, both commercial and independent, as well as their relationships to Global South film movements such as Third Cinema.

The module will ask: How has Arab cinema represented political upheaval, from anticolonial revolts to recent uprisings associated with the “Arab Spring”? How do Arab filmmakers navigate limited funding, state censorship, and tumultuous political environments? How have their films reconstructed and reimagined archives, lands, identities, and communities that have been appropriated, partitioned, or destroyed by colonialism and imperialism? What makes a film an Arab film (or a Syrian or Palestinian film), and how do transnational networks as well as portrayals of hybrid and marginalized identities—e.g. the Arab Jew, the migrant laborer, the multiply displaced refugee—complicate narratives of the “Middle East”?

The module will be roughly split into two units, the first surveying central aesthetic and political questions, modes of address, and forms of production across the Arabic-speaking world, and the second exploring contemporary Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese cinema in greater depth.  


Preliminary Reading

Livia Alexander, “Is There a Palestinian Cinema? The National and Transnational in Palestinian Film Production,” in Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture (eds. Rebecca Stein and Ted Swedenburg), Duke University Press, 2005. 150-174.

Samirah Alkassim and Nezar Andary, The Cinema of Mohammad Malas: Visions of a Syrian Auteur, Palgrave McMillan, 2018.

Donatella Della Ratta, Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria, Pluto Press, 2018.

Donatella Della Ratta, Kay Dickinson, Sune Haugbolle (eds.), The Arab Archive: Mediated Memories and Digital Flows, Institute of Network Cultures, 2020.

Kay Dickinson, Arab Cinema Travels: Transnational Syria, Palestine, Dubai and Beyond, Palgrave BFI, 2016.

Chad Elias, Posthumous Images: Contemporary Art and Memory Politics in Post–Civil War Lebanon (Introduction and Ch. 5), Duke University Press, 2018.

Nurith Gertz and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma and Memory, Indiana University Press, 2008.

Touria Khannous, “Realms of Memory: Strategies of Representation and Postcolonial Identity in North African Women’s Cinema,” Journal X: Vol. 6, No. 1 (2020): 47-61.

Lina Khatib, Lebanese Cinema: Imagining the Civil War and Beyond (Ch. 7), I.B. Taurus, 2008. 153-184.

Laura U. Marks, Hanan al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image, MIT Press, 2015.

Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Introduction, Ch. 1, Ch. 4), Princeton University Press, 2001.

Kamran Rastegar, Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East, Oxford University Press, 2015.

Walid Sadek, “In the Presence of the Corpse,” Third Text Vol. 26, Issue 4 (July 2012): 479-489.

Viviane Saglier, “Decolonization, Disenchantment, and Arab Feminist Genealogies of Worldmaking.” Feminist Media Histories Vol. 8, No. 1 (Winter 2022): 72-101.

Rasha Salti (ed.), Insights Into Syrian Cinema: Essays and Conversations with Contemporary Filmmakers, AIC Film Editions/Rattapallax Press, 2006.

Rona Sela, “Seized in Beirut: The Plundered Archives of the Palestinian Cinema Institution and Cultural Arts Section.” Anthropology of the Middle East Vol. 12 No. 1 (Summer 2017): 83-114.

Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity, American University of Cairo Press, 1998.

Ella Shohat, Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices (Ch. 4 and Ch. 10), Duke University Press, 2006.

Nadia Yaqub, Palestinian Cinema in the Days of Revolution, University of Texas Press, 2018.

Akram Zaatari, A Conversation with an Imagined Israeli Filmmaker Named Avi Mograbi, Sternberg Press, 2012.


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