Arab Experimental Films: Reflections on Situated Time
Curated by Samirah Alkassim
This screening is comprised of five recent short films that provide a sampling from among the contemporary experimental film scene of the Middle East. From references that are more recognizable to an American audience to more specific signifiers tied to geographic location and cultural histories, each film casts a reflection on the historical circumstances from which it was produced that are also global in their resonance. On the Road (be fekret hastam) frames a soul’s longing to encounter its other through eight windows playing simultaneously; Deep Sleep, shot under self-hypnosis, “takes us on a journey through the sound waves of Gaza to travel between different sights of modern ruin” (Al-Sharif) ; Though I Know the River Is Dry is an elliptical narrative where past and present collide as a man relives the choice that sent him to America and the forces of history now driving him to his home in Palestine; Transparent Evil frames the eeriness of empty spaces outside Tahrir Square during the 2011 Egyptian revolution; and Incarnation of a Bird from an Oil Painting fuses an obscure 20th century snippet of Lebanese intellectual history with an homage to surrealist cinema. The cultural locations are Abu Dhabi, Cyprus, Gaza, Ramallah, Cairo, Beirut, but the cultural references are global, via a mixture of overlapping locations, superimposed elements, and stylistic techniques, invoking the materiality of film, video and photography. Such works and many more of their kind engage us with the fertile creative work of today’s experimental filmmakers from an oft-portrayed (in many cases justifiably) beleaguered region.
is a conversation with Jack Kerouac and his novel “On the Road”. The scroll like form represents Kerouac’s process of working on the scroll for his novel, while the work is also conversation with the energy of the Beat Generation and the philosophy inherent with that period of Zen Buddhism, the practice of consciously living in the now, while walking through the journey of life. This work is a narrative describing the theory in metaphysics of twin souls.
“A hypnosis-inducing pan-geographic shuttle built on brainwave generating binaural beats, Deep Sleep takes us on a journey through the sound waves of Gaza to travel between different sights of modern ruin. Restricted from to travel to Palestine, I learned autohypnosis for the purpose of bilocating. What results is a journey recorded on super 8mm film to the ruins of ancient civilizations embedded in modern civilization in ruins, to a site ruined beyond evidence of civilization. Deep Sleep film is an invitation to move from the corporeal self to the cinema space in a collective act of bilocation that transcends the limits of geographical borders and plays with the fallibility of memory.” – Video Data Bank
In early 2011, the filmmaker set out together with a friend to undertake a commissioned project to follow in the footsteps of James Bruce and document the Nile River from Alexandria to Aswan, but he got caught up in the events of the Egyptian revolution.
Dr. Dahesh made reference to a painting by Ms. Marie Haddad representing a bird on a tree. The paint colors took the form of flesh, blood and feathers. The bird in this painting is converted into a living bird, which was placed in a cage and remained there for several years. His place on the fabric remained white.” This surrealist film references Maya Deren’s At Land and Bunuel & Dali’s Un Chien Andalou within the specific context of and references from Lebanese intellectual history. Dr. Dahesh was the pen name of a Lebanese intellectual Salim Moussa Aichi who changed his name at the age of 21 to Dahesh (Arabic for “inspiring wonder”) and founded a new religion entitled, Daheshism based in 1942, founded on the principles of, among other things, the unity of religions, spiritual causality and karma.
Formerly Director of the Film Program at the American University in Cairo, Samirah is a filmmaker and film scholar, with published articles about experimental film/video in Egypt, and research on Egyptian and Arab media, including Ramadan serials and revolutionary graffiti. Her film credits include experimental documentary “Far From You” (1996) about Egyptian singer Umm Kulthoum and memory, and a current unfinished film about Palestinian artists in Jordan, among various other experimental films and installations. She has taught film studies and production in Singapore, Cairo, Jordan, and the San Francisco Bay Area; and is co-chair of the Middle East Caucus group of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies organization.This screening is funded by The Grit Fund
About the Grit Fund: The Grit Fund, administered by The Contemporary, provides 8-12 grants in amounts between $1,000–$6,000, totaling $50,000 annually. The Grit Fund will accept proposals from non-incorporated, artist-organized initiatives that work collaboratively and reside in Baltimore City or Baltimore County. Projects must take place in either Baltimore City or Baltimore County and be accessible to the general public. The Contemporary’s mission is inspired by three guiding principles: artists matter, collaboration is key, and audience is everywhere. In keeping with this mission, the Grit Fund values risk-taking, encourages collaboration, and seeks to expand points of access to contemporary art.
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