A Look into Algerian Cinema
By: Mariam Alyakoob / Arab America Contributing Writer
How Independence Inspired Filmmakers
One of the many topics that Algerian films tend to cover is France’s colonial rule over the North African country and the Algerian War, taking place between 1954 and 1962, that resulted in the independence of Algeria.
The French occupation of Algeria began in the 1830s after the invasion of Algiers and spanned over 132 years until the Algerians gained their independence during the eight-year War of Independence. The fight for freedom started in 1954 when the National Liberation Front (NLF) was formed.
Now you may be wondering how Algerian cinema was inspired by Algeria’s efforts toward independence. At the beginning of the fight, images of the war circulated but only from the French colonialist perspective, which at that point had control of the film industry. Propaganda images distributed in the west regarding the war benefited the French occupation and lacked any depictions of the real-life brutalities taking place against the Algerian population. Thus, to counter this incorrect narrative, Algerian cinema, and films were made to depict that there were atrocities committed against them and to show the war from their perspective.
One of the people who helped kickstart Algeria’s efforts to document the war was actually French himself. Rene Vautier is a militant filmmaker who was born in France in 1928 and at the young age of 15 fought against Nazi fascism in France. After the end of the second world war, Rene Vautier, who was greatly anti-colonialist, joined the Algerian National Liberation Front and helped develop films documenting the war. He even developed a cinema school as part of the National Liberation Front in 1957.
With Vautier’s help, the film Algérie en flammes was released in 1958 and depicted the war from the standpoint of the Algerian population fighting for their independence. The film garnered much attention and was banned in France for many years.
From that point on, Algerian cinema quickly grew. One of the most influential people who helped with the growth of the industry was Mohammed Lakhdar Hamina, who is believed to have been one of the filmmakers who helped develop national cinema. In 1962, Hamina released the film Yasmina, a documentary depicting the life of a girl who becomes a refugee after her village is bombed.
Finally, in 1964, two years after the war, movie theatres in Algeria were nationalized. The government also developed the Algerian Cinema Center which developed its first film “Une Si Jeune Paix” in 1964. The film depicts stories of children whose families had died in the war of independence.
Algerian Cinema Following Independence
Following the war of independence and the end of colonial rule, Algerian filmmakers continued to develop and release many extraordinary films. One of the most notable films is the movie Z, which was released in 1969 and received the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. Algeria is the only Arab country that has received an Oscar to date.
The premise of Z, which was produced by the National Organization for Algerian Cinema, focuses on the events and uprisings following the assassination of a Greek politician. The movie is based on the book of the same name released in 1967.
Although the film itself does not depict Algeria and events taking place there, similar to some of the previous films, the majority of the scenes were filmed in Algeria and many Algerian actors such as Hassan Hassani, Sayed Ahmed Akoumi, and Alal al-Mohaib act in the film.
Algeria is not only the only Arab country to win an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, it also has the most nominated films among all other Arab countries. The film Le Bal was nominated in 1983, Dust of Life in 1995, Days of Glory in 2006, and Outside the Law in 2010.
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