Out of the Shadows publication

Out of the Shadows
Assia Djebar, Jocelyne Saab, Heiny Srour, Selma Baccar, Atteyat Al-Abnoudy

All of us, all of us who come from the world of women in the shadows, are reversing the process: at last it is we who are looking, we who are making a beginning.
– Assia Djebar

Exploring a cinematic history as extensive and rich as that of the Arab Mediterranean, one is faced with an exhilarating range of forms and manifestations. From the era of silent film up to the present, the regional cinema cultures of the Maghreb and the Mashriq have produced a myriad of remarkable works. Yet, when poring over the canonical historiographies of cinema, one cannot help but being struck by their relative obscurity, which is even more striking when it comes to films that have been made by women. Although there has been a notable rise of Arab female film directors in recent decades, the work of many pioneers tends to remain painfully neglected.

The Out of the Shadows film programme, originally conceived for the Courtisane festival 2020 in Ghent, was intended to revitalize the work of a diversity of filmmakers whose films remain overlooked and barely screened. Five of these filmmakers are presented in this Dossier: Atteyat Al-Abnoudy, Selma Baccar, Assia Djebar, Jocelyne Saab and Heiny Srour. Coming from different backgrounds and regions, these filmmakers all began to produce films in the 1970s, at a moment of great political and cultural ferment. Often working against the grain, they set out to attend to voices and stories that were at risk of being drowned out by official History. While each of these filmmakers developed their own bold approaches to cinema, their works explore shared themes such as memory and identity, oppression and liberation, violence and exclusion, and the social and political role of women in Arab societies and histories.

Each of these filmmakers has been shaped by different traditions and realities, for the Arab woman filmmaker exists no more than the Arab woman. Accordingly, this programme seeks to follow Assia Djebar’s appeal “not to presume ‘to speak for’ or, even worse, to ‘speak on’, barely speak near to, and if possible, to speak right up against”. In this vein, this publication brings together a selection of writings and interviews that speak “right up against” the films in the programme. The texts, most of which have been translated for the first time in English, are a testament to the women’s singular practices. They have been brought together here, right up against one another, in the hope of illuminating their rich and inspiring work and widening its reach and appreciation.

Stoffel Debuysere (Courtisane) and Gerard-Jan Claes (Sabzian)

Compiled on the occasion of the Out of the Shadows programme, originally conceived for the Courtisane festival 2020 (Ghent, 1-5 April).

Programme curated by Stoffel Debuysere, in collaboration with Reem Shilleh and Mohanad Yaqubi (Subversive Film), Christophe Piette and Céline Brouwez (CINEMATEK), with the support of AFAC – The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.

Copy editing by Rebecca Jane Arthur, Sis Matthé, Heiny Srour, Michel Euvrard, Richard Wagman, Suzanne Kallalá

Thanks to Mai Abu ElDahab, Mireille Calle-Gruber, Sylvia Dallet, David Depestel, Marjolijn de Jager, Yasmin Desouki, Asmaa Yehia El-Taher, Olivier Hadouchi, Mary Jirmanus Saba, Lucien Logette, Natasha Marie Llorens, Monique Martineau Hennebelle, Colleen O’Shea, Mathilde Rouxel, Reem Shilleh, Heiny Srour, Wassyla Tamzali, Stephanie Van de Peer, Katrien Vuylsteke Vanfleteren, Magda Wassef, Mohanad Yaqubi, Debra Zimmerman, and many others without whom this publication would never have come to fruition.

Shadows of The Unseen / Movement Radio 7

Seventh episode of “Shadows of the Unseen” for movement_radio Athens. Airing April 2021.

TRACKLIST

1. Excerpts from Accident (Martin Duckworth, Patrick A. Crawley, 1973)
2. Jacques Bekaert – Mon Petit Album
Recorded for Mon Petit Album (Akiko Mimura, 1974)
3. Michèle Bokanowski – Personnages Dans les Escaliers
From L’Ange (Patrick Bokanowski, 1982)
4. Mort Garson – The Untamed World
From TV Series The Untamed World (1968–1969)
5. Mario Nascimbene – Quando l’uomo scoimparsa (1970)
From TV series Quando l’uomo scompare (1970)
6. Bruce Gilbert – Push
From Signature (Martyn Pick, 1990)
7. Gunter Schickert – Untitled
From In den Zeichen (Sabine Franck-Koch, 1981)
8. Excerpt from Anti-Clock (Jane Arden, Jack Bond, 1979)
9. Ennio Morricone – La Spaggia
From Veruschka: Poetry of a Woman (Franco Rubartelli, 1971)
10. Jane Arden – Sleepwalking
From Anti-Clock (Jane Arden, Jack Bond, 1979)
11. Cyclobe (Ossian Brown, Stephen Thrower) – Each And Every Word Must Die II
From Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (George Barry, 1977)
12. Saule – Lido
From Lido (Mirco Santi, Xavier-Garcia-Bardon, 1998 – 2003)

Michel Khleifi – Fertile Memory

On the occasion of the online screening of Michel Khleifi’s Fertile Memory on 18 March 2021, Sabzian published several texts on the film. These texts were already part of the publication Michel Khleifi, MÉMOIRE FERTILE / FERTILE MEMORY, compiled, edited and published by Courtisane, CINEMATEK and Sindibad Films, but on this occasion new (English) translations have been produced.

Shadows of The Unseen / Movement Radio 6

Sixth episode of “Shadows of the Unseen” for movement_radio Athens. Aired on 28 March 2021.

TRACKLIST

1. Mario Nascimbene & Shirley Bassey – The Fight For Survival
From La lotta per la sopravivvenza / The Fight for Survival (Renzo & Roberto Rossellini, 1967 – 1970)
2. Roland Kovac – Jonathan
From Jonathan (Hans W. Geissendörfer, 1970)
3. The Roosters – The Crazy Family
From Gyakufunsha Kazoku / The Crazy Family (Gakuryû aka Sogo ishii, 1984)
4. Bernard Szajner – Excecute
Conceived as the soundtrack to a short film by Amnesty International (1980)
5. Excerpts from Robert Frost, A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (Shirley Clarke, Robert Hughes, 1963)
6. James Ferraro – Andorre
From Andorre (Virgil Vernier, 2013)
7. Warren Ellis – This Train I Ride
From This Train I Ride (Arno Bitschy, 2019)
8. Eiko Ishibashi – Twilight
From Mugen no jûnin / Blade Of The Immortal (Hiroshi Hamasaki, 2019)
9. Haruomi Hosono – Samidare Goma Kitou
From Murasaki Shikibu: Genji monogatari / The Tale Of Genji (Gisaburō Sugii, 1987)
10. Lou Harrison – Devotions
From Devotions (James Broughton, Joel Singer, 1983)
11. Aksak Maboul – Scratch Holiday
Made to measure for Pan! Dans Les Vacances (The Honeymoon Killers, private movie, 1984)
12. Bernard Szajner – Suspended Animation
Conceived as the soundtrack to a short film by Amnesty International (1980)
13. Rei Hayama – A Child Goes Burying Dead Insects II
From A Child Goes Burying Dead Insects (Rei Hayama, 2009)
14. Charlie Morrow – America Lament
From America series (Time–Life, 1973, reworked 2020)
15. Terry Riley – Crossroads
From Crossroads (Bruce Conner, 1976)

The Case of Farrebique

If we were to choose one film to ponder over the debates on “realism” that occupied a large part of the 20th century arena of cinema, then let it be Farrebique (1946): George Rouquier’s magnificent chronicle of a year in the life of a farming family in Goutrens, Aveyron. André Bazin famously and vigorously defended the film against its detractors, who scornfully remarked that “cowpats are not photogenic” (Henri Jeanson) and that “it’s not even a documentary, rather a film which teaches us exactly nothing” (Jean Fayard), by declaring that the film’s singular accomplishment was to “deprive reality of all that has nothing to do with it, especially the parasitism of art”. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, James Agee lauded Farrebique as one of the rare films that was able to keep the original promise of cinema alive: the promise to capture “the cruel radiance of what is.” After all, he claimed, the camera was the central instrument of his time, able to do what nothing else in the world could do: “To record unaltered reality; and it can be made to perceive, record, and communicate, in full unaltered power, the peculiar kinds of poetic vitality which blaze in every real thing and which are in great degree, inevitably and properly, lost to every other kind of artist except the camera artist.”

The controversy around the film – a new Battle of Hernani, as Jean Painlevé phrased it – brought into sharp focus the limitations and paradoxes of some of the denominators that have been used ad nauseam to divide and evaluate the cinematic landscape: documentary and fiction, authenticity and duplicity, asceticism and artfulness. These considerations, however, could not have been further away from George Rouquier’s mind when he set out to film the life on Farrebique, a farmstead that had been owned by his relatives for generations. Between 1944 and 1945, he spent a year with the family whose manner of living is governed by the seasons, by the dinnertime ritual of the grandfather cutting and handing out slices of bread, and the toilsome management of farm life on the eve of the introduction of electricity. The first shots in the film linger on the cracks slithering up the walls of the farmstead. “The house needs to be repaired,” says the grandfather, setting in motion the plot of the film: a series of daily comings, goings, and disputes, from the installation of electricity to the birth of a child, from quarrels about the farm’s inheritance to the cruel anticipation of death. All this, Rouquier films with a poetic sensibility and a sense of composition and rhythm that summons echoes with the work of Chaplin and Flaherty, Eisenstein and Dovjenko. No wonder Pedro Costa, when presenting the film at the Courtisane festival in Ghent, described the film as a form of science-fiction, as if the most day-to-day events crystallize and glisten on the screen like we’ve never seen them before; as if the actions and gestures that are all too often set aside as meritless prove to be, against all odds, all too worthy of fiction.

After making Farrebique, Rouquier directed a series of short films, documentaries, and features before finding a sideline as an actor. In 1983, he went back to the region in order to make a sequel, Biquefarre, with some of the original characters from the first film, shot some forty years earlier. Recently, seventy years after its first appearance, Farrebique was given a new lease of life, thanks to a beautiful restoration by Les documents cinématographiques. At a moment when contemporary cinema is increasingly challenging its borders and divisions and is eagerly exploring both its documenting and poetic forces, Farrebique’s splendour might be shining brighter than ever, as its achievement, to use Agee’s words, remains “wholly of our time.”

Compiled on the occasion of the online screening of Farrebique, hosted by Sabzian and Courtisane on 18 February 2021, this small dossier consists of a selection of conversations with and writings on the film.

Stoffel Debuysere (Courtisane) and Gerard-Jan Claes (Sabzian)

Available on sabzian.be