The themes of Adam Curtis’ new documentary Bitter Lake should be well known to those familiar with his body of work: power, techno-politics, science, managerialism and the media. The film uses the contemporary history of Afghanistan to tell a story about how polities in the West have become incapable of understanding the complex and horrible happenings around them. Traditional forms of power in the West and Afghanistan have taken advantage of the fear and confusion to consolidate their control, but at the expense of an intellectually deskilled Western public and a world that is fundamentally less governable. Bitter Lake is more fable than scholarship, but the film is nonetheless a devastating examination of how Western interventions in Afghanistan refract the vacuousness of our own politics.
Ammar Basha is a Yemeni filmmaker. His documentary films include Breaking the Silence, about the discrimination faced by working women of African descent in Yemen, and a series called Days in the Heart of the Revolution, about the 2011 Yemeni uprising. Breaking the Silence took second prize at the Women Voices Now film festival in Los Angeles in 2010. The latter series was screened at the International Yemeni Film and Arts Festival in Berkeley, Washington, London and Sanaa. Basha also makes feature films.
March 18 was the third anniversary of what Yemeni “peaceful youth” call the Jum‘at al-Karama massacre, the day in 2011 when snipers opened fire on Friday of Dignity protesters in the space they had begun to call Midan al-Taghyir (Change Square). By the next day, more than 50 unarmed demonstrators lay dead.
As in Cairo’s Midan Tahrir three years ago and Ukraine’s Maidan in 2014, trigger-happy security forces not only failed to quell dissent in public squares but actually galvanized popular outrage and elite defections from the regime.
When Israeli security forces arrived in the middle of the night at the Tamimi house in Nabi Salih, the occupied West Bank, the family was already in bed. The raid was not unexpected, as news had traveled around the village on that day in January 2011: Soldiers were coming to houses at night, demanding that young children be roused from sleep to be photographed for military records (to assist, they said, in the identification of stone throwers). Bilal Tamimi, Nabi Salih’s most experienced videographer, had his own camcorder at the ready by his bedside table when he was awoken by the knock on the door.
The box-office hit Argo brings back long-faded memories of the Iran hostage crisis for many Americans.
News in November 1979 that US diplomats had been taken hostage in Tehran shocked the United States. Students stormed the US embassy, blindfolding 52 Americans and threatening them at gunpoint. The hostages, held captive for 444 days, immediately became the nation’s top news story and dogged President Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful reelection campaign.
The Arab uprisings have brought major challenges, as well as unprecedented opportunities, to the culture industries. According to a flurry of celebratory news articles from the spring of 2011 onward, protest art is proliferating in the region, from graffiti in Egypt to hip-hop in Morocco to massive photographic displays and political cartoons gone viral in Tunisia. These articles then adopt a predictably ominous tone to express the concern that resurgent Islamist forces represent a danger to arts and culture writ large.
On January 7, under a clear chill sky, the monthly culture festival al-Fann Midan (Art Is a Square) took place in Cairo’s ‘Abdin plaza. In the sunny esplanade facing the shuttered former royal palace, spectators cheered a succession of musical acts, took in a display of cartoons and caricatures, and wandered from tables selling homemade jewelry to others handing out the literature of the Revolutionary Socialists or the centrist Islamist party al-Wasat. The drama troupe Masrah al-Maqhurin (Theater of the Oppressed) put on a series of skits requiring audience participation. In the first, a daughter left the family house against her father’s will, and with her mother’s connivance, to attend a birthday party. She was caught and reported by her brother, and then beaten by her father. In the participatory iterations that followed, a young woman from the audience chose to play the brother and, to much laughter, told the sister: “I won’t tell Dad I saw you in the street if you don’t tell him I was at the café.” Another audience member played the mother, working arduously but in vain to convince the father to allow the girl out of the house under her brother’s supervision. Interestingly, no one in the audience chose to incarnate — and change the behavior of — the authoritarian and violent father.
Amir Bar-Lev, The Tillman Story (2010).
“We are so racially profiled now, as a group,” the Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah says in his routine, “that I heard a correspondent on CNN not too long ago say the expression, ‘Arabs are the new blacks.’ That Arabs are the new blacks.” Obeidallah continues:
Waltz with Bashir (2008) opens with a strange and powerful image: a pack of ferocious dogs running headlong through the streets of Tel Aviv, overturning tables and terrifying pedestrians, converging beneath a building’s window to growl at a man standing there. It turns out that this man, Boaz, is an old friend of Ari Folman, the film’s director and protagonist. Like Folman, he was a teenager in the Israeli army during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And the pack of menacing dogs is his recurring nightmare, a nightly vision he links to the many village guard dogs he shot — so they wouldn’t raise the alarm — as his platoon made its way through southern Lebanon.
To live the East as film is to be in Dubai in mid-December, perched front-row in the outdoor cafés that dot the Madinat Jumeira Oriental theme park. An integrated hotel, shopping and entertainment “experience” sprawled on the city’s booming beachfront rim, the Madina and its whimsy of stucco battlements mass an Arabian fort effect plucked straight from an Indiana Jones set, and as such, the red carpets and film banners that have also come to adorn it in wintertime key a double sense of enframement. From December 11-17, 2005, the Madina hosted the second annual installment of the Dubai International Film Festival, a production whose rumored budget of $10 million has quickly distinguished it as the richest Middle Eastern event of its kind.
Joining Ang Lee, director of the gay cowboy epic Brokeback Mountain, among the winners at the January 16 Golden Globes award ceremony was the director Hany Abu-Assad, a Palestinian born in Israel whose Paradise Now took home the prize for best foreign language film. While critics of all persuasions remark upon what Brokeback Mountain’s victory means about Hollywood and American mores, it is perhaps more remarkable that Paradise Now, a film about two Palestinians recruited to carry out suicide bombings, was deemed unremarkable enough to be honored by Hollywood.
Persons of Interest (Allison Maclean and Tobias Perse). New York: First Run/ Icarus Films, 2004.
Maziar Bahari opens his documentary, Football Iranian Style (2001), at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, where a large mural of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic until his death in 1989, peers down on the 110,000 soccer fans filling the bleachers. Like 75 percent of Iran’s population, most of the crowd is under the age of 25. Bahari’s lens focuses on a security guard chastising a dancing spectator and pushing him down into his seat. Undeterred, the young fan kisses the guard’s face and resumes his rabble rousing.
Following the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the inauguration of the Islamic Republic, many predicted that new restrictions would kill off Iran's cinema. But Iranian film has survived, undergoing remarkable transformations in parallel with the wider changes in Iranian culture and society. Today, Iranian cinema is recognized as one of the most innovative and exciting in the world, and films from Iranian directors are being screened to increasing acclaim at international festivals. The key to resolving the apparent contradiction between Iran's repressive image and the renaissance of Iranian cinema is to understand the relationship that developed between art, society and the state after the Islamic revolution.
Rivka, the tragic protagonist of Amos Gitai's new film Kadosh, is unable to conceive a child. Her anxiety is acute. The ultra-Orthodox community of Me'ah She'arim in West Jerusalem, in which Rivka lives with her husband Meir, is known to ostracize its barren women. Seeking spiritual guidance, she leaves their home one evening to pray. The camera follows Rivka as she walks through the darkened streets of Me'ah She'arim, then cuts to her arrival in the spacious, well-lit courtyard of the Western Wall. Hands pressed against the stones, she seeks salvation.
Post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema has attracted critical attention abroad while constituting a vibrant focus of cultural, narrative and technical experimentation at home. In the politically restrictive context of the Islamic Republic, film has become one of the key ways that sensitive topics are broached in civil society. One of the most important topics is the social and juridical situation of women, including the enforcement of legislation over women’s hejab, which refers to modest dress but can also mean modest decorum.