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Films That Shaped the Arab World

posted on: May 28, 2021

Photo: The Culturist

By: Sara Tawfik/Arab America Contributing Writer


Arab films generally translate to films that are created by Arab filmmakers, take production within Arab countries, and/or express stories about Arabs. Because the Arab community includes over twenty-two different countries, Arab films include both ethnically and culturally diverse content. It is important for the Western world to experience and be exposed to Arab films because they get to see some of the culture surrounding the Arab identity, but these movies also combat Arab stereotypes. Understanding the stories that are written directly by Arabs can help break ties with these stereotypes.

How Arab Films Came to Be

The earliest exposure of Arab films to Western audiences occurred in the late 1800s within North Africa when films by the Lumiere brothers were screened in cinemas all over Egypt and Algeria. Arab-made films were not featured until the late 1920s whether it be because of the disapproval of film within parts of the Arab World, or the resources of the Western film within the Arab World. When Arab film production took off in Arab countries, it became a powerful tool for cultural expression.

Arab Films You Should Consider Watching

Arab films
Al Momia | The Night of Counting the Years | Shadi Abdal Salam
Photo: Arab America

The Night of Counting the Years | Al-Mummia (Egypt, 1969) – Directed by Shadi Abdel Salam, the film takes place from Cairo into Thebes for an archaeological adventure finding artifacts from the 21st Dynasty within the antique black market. The film appeared in the Cannes Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival.

Chronicles of the Year of Fire | Chronique Des Années De Braise | Waqai Sanawat Al-Djamir (Algeria, 1975) – Directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina, this masterpiece is one of the few Arab films that depicts the Algerian Revolution from the perspective of a peasant at the time. Many describe this film as a well-described chronicle of the Algerian Revolution, and for this reason, it was hosted in the Cannes Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Dreams of the City | Ahlam El Madina (Syrian Arab Republic, 1983) – A young boy grows up in a growing political unrest when his father dies during the military dictatorship of Syria. The film is directed by Mohamed Malas and was featured in the Cannes Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the Doclisboa International Film Festival.

Arab films
West Beirut Movie Poster
Photo: TV Guide

West Beirut | West Beiruth | À L’abri Le Enfants (France, Lebanon, 1998) – The film takes place in the 1970s during the civil war in Beirut. The coming-of-age story is set in the perspective of a high school student named Tarek who does not understand the seriousness of the war surrounding them. Directed by Ziad Doueiri and starring Mohammad Chamas, the film won the International Critics Award in the Toronto International Film Festival.

Man of Ashes | Rih Essed (Tunisia, 1986) – Directed by Nouri Bouzid, Man of Ashes is about a bachelor on the nights before his wedding where he questions his manhood. This Arab film is quite interesting because it portrays art through graffiti and street art. Man of Ashes won the Un Certain Regard award for the Cannes Film Festival in 1986 and was broadcasted at the Locarno and Chicago International Music Festival.

Al Zaoua | Prince of the Streets (Morocco, Belgium, 2000) – This film takes you on an adventure with three young boys that live on the streets of Casablanca. This film is a story about friendship through the eyes of these young children. The film was featured in the Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Vancouver International Film Festival.

These films have helped us to have a better understanding of the Arab traditions and culture behind them. These films speak about the Arab identity in a different and unique way. To learn more about Arab films and how they have shaped the way we view the Arab world and culture, please visit the website of the Arab Film & Media Institute! These films are significant because they helped the Western world better understand the social climate of many Arab countries, and continue to help identify the Arab culture and identity. These Arab films also gave a lasting impression on how Arabs would like to be perceived, and helped break racist stereotypes within Western entertainment.

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