Third Cinema revisited

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The “Anti-Semitic” abuse.

Posted by keith1942 on June 7, 2018

An earlier post detailed the responses to an article of mine criticising the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir. Now I have had a second brush with a Zionist/fellow-traveller over an article defending the British film-maker Ken Loach from the slurs of “anti-Semitism’” and “holocaust’ denier”. This appears to be part of the shenanigans around the Labour Party and the campaign by Zionists and fellow-travellers to strike two birds with one stone – attacking Jeremy Corbyn and sabotaging support for the Palestinian Struggle in the party. Like parallel campaigns this is abuse of language, dishonest and reactionary. One critic makes an important point,

“Partisans of Israel often make false accusations of anti-Semitism to silence Israel’s critics. The ‘antisemite!’ libel is harmful not only because it censors debate about Israel’s racism and human rights abuses but because it trivializes the ugly history of Jew-hatred.” (Handleman, Scott, “Trivializing Jew-Hatred,” in The Politics of Anti-Semitism, ed. Alexander Cockburn, 2003)

To which should be added that the Palestinians are Semitic too in the original meaning of the term, [see Edward Said’s seminal study on ‘Orientalism’, 1978). It seems to me that, like many other terms tossed about in varied discourses, “Anti-Semitism” needs to presented in inverted commas [as is done with “race”] to protect our use of language.

Ken Loach: honoured and pilloried

This post should celebrate Ken Loach receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. I am not really sure what purpose Honorary Doctorates serve but I do admire Ken Loach’s film output and I am happy to see it celebrated. But this event has become clouded because of charges of anti-Semitism against the film-maker. Of course he is in good company: a host of committed supporters of the Palestinian National Liberation Struggle have been subjected to this type of smear. It appears that some media, including The Guardian newspaper, The Tablet weekly and the BBC, are happy to offer space to a dubious campaign protecting Israel from criticism. The Guardian has printed a number of articles about the problem of so-called “anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party and the BBC regularly reports on the issue. Yet I have yet to see or hear a report in the paper or on the radio about the Al Jazeera series that exposed collusion between staff at the Israeli Embassy and the Labour Friends of Israel, The Lobby.

It seems that Ken wrote a riposte to one of his accusers, Jonathan Freedland, but that The Guardian declined to print it. The Jewish Voice for Labour has kindly done a service by publishing it online.

It is ironic that the problem is usually that the right-wing film critics attack Ken’s films. Those on The Wind that Shakes the Barley were prime examples. Now we have critics, supposedly liberal or left, attacking him, though in similar fashion they are low on specifics. We had an example of the failure of Zionist supporters to argue about the actual words, images and meanings when I posted on Waltz with Bashir. There was a series of critical comment on my article but we never heard anything from the writer on the actual film.

There is a long tradition of vilifying artists and writers who support resistance to oppression. We still await a film version of Trevor Griffith’s study of one great advocate, Tom Paine. Nearer our own times Jean-Luc Godard was among a number of French artists pilloried for criticising the French settler occupation in Algiers, Le petit Soldat (1963). Daniel Ellsberg was labelled The most dangerous man in America  by Henry Kissinger for exposing the lies and deceit around US aggression. The misuse of “anti-American” for the criticism of US foreign policy parallels the misuse of “anti-Semitism”. Such critics would be better occupied critically viewing video film of Palestinian unarmed civilians shot in the back outside the borders of Israel.

Comments:

April 29, 2018 – 8:46

Ruth Baumberg

What an intemperate rant! Anti-Semitic – conspiracy theories, holocaust equivocation, etc. Wake up and look at some genuine history This is not about Israel; it is about anti-Semitism ensconced in the British Left. I despair about politics in the UK – anti-Semitism on the left, racism against black immigrants on the right.

Reply

keith1942

This comment seems typical of Zionists or their fellow-travellers. M/s Baumberg should check the meaning of ‘rant’ before misusing it. Some of the synonyms give a sense of the word:

“diatribe, harangue, tirade, …..’

She makes no mention of Ken Loach himself, nor of the debates around the Labour Party. Nor is there any reference to the excellent Al Jazeera ‘Investigation’, which I assume she has not watched. This would provide her with some relevant information. As would the excellent series on ‘Al Nakba’ or the footage screened in the channel’s ‘news hour’ showing the Israeli Defence Force shooting unarmed civilians.

I wonder if she has watched any of the fine Palestinian films on the occupation of their homeland.

There is Elia Suleiman’s excellent historical study The Time That Remains ; the film record of Palestinian resistance, Five Broken Cameras ; and a drama depicting the brutal treatment of Palestinian women imprisoned by the Israeli’s for resistance, 3000 Nights / 300 Layal / 3000 Layla.

Fortunately supporters of the Palestinian struggle [among other activities] organise screenings of these films. We are promised another Leeds Palestinian Film Festival late in 2018. An opportunity to be properly informed on this anti-colonial struggle for which Britain bears the primary responsibility.

Further comment:

May 18, 2018 – 3:30

Ruth Baumberg

Well! Zionist as a term of abuse! – I wasn’t talking about Israel and I did indeed make reference to the Labour party, though it sounds as if you are well to the left with your neo-marxist colonialist analysis. There are plenty of other films giving a different view, in particular, have you seen “In Between” – an excellent Palestinian directed film from 2017 made in Israel about 3 flatmates in Tel Aviv.

Ken Loach, though I like most of his films – Daniel Blake in particular – has indeed got a reputation as an antisemite as does that embarrassment to the Labour party Ken Livingstone. And antisemitism does exist in the Labour left without reference to Israel/Palestine and has done for many years. Just ask any of the Jewish Labour women MPs – Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge, etc

I wouldn’t use Al-Jazeera as an independent voice as it is a partisan view. You might like to listen to Simon Schama this morning on Radio 4 on Israel at 70 for a balanced view.

Reply

May 19, 2018 – 1:39

Roy Stafford

In Between was reviewed on this blog which has discussed several significant Israeli films. The main contributors to the blog have long experience of anti-racist work as teachers. We are interested in exploring all forms of resistance to colonialist actions which include the actions of the Israeli state in its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. In that we are supported by many Jewish Israeli citizens. Smearing campaigners against the colonial actions of the Israeli state, like the film-maker Ken Loach, is completely unacceptable.

This is not a blog to discuss the inner workings of the Labour Party in the UK.

As a film and media educationist I don’t see a major difference between the BBC, the Guardian and Al Jazeera. All are partisan commentators, just as we are.

This discussion is now closed.

IN BETWEEN, (aka BAR BAHAR, aka BAR BAHR, aka LO PO, LO SHAM), poster, from left: Sana Jammelieh, Shaden Kanboura, Mouna Hawa, 2016. © Film Movement /Courtesy Everett Collection
Reporters / Everett

The Editor’s final comment is valuable, though I would want to add to it. I should note personally that I am more upset at being labelled a ‘neo-marxist’ than being accused of an “anti-Semitic rant”. I regard myself as a Marxist in the classical tradition. Marx and Engels came to recognise that colonial occupations were a barrier to freedom for both the occupier and the occupied., especially in their writings on India and Ireland.

At least M/s Baumberg goes one better than her predecessor, she actually references one film. But her choice is worth noting. I added a critical comment to the review of the film on ‘The Case for Global Film’. In Between is more obviously critical of Islamic masculinity than Israeli racism, though the latter does figure in a minor way. I put this down to the film being partially funded by Israeli institutions. It would seem that is is less upsetting for a Zionist or fellow-traveller than the more explicit Palestinian films that I mention. And the other film references, I, Daniel Blake, is actually one of Ken Loach’s less political films: a point made in my review of that film.

This is part of a wider critical discourse which dislikes overt political and didactic films. In British criticism ‘didactic’ is nearly always a negative term. Serious political representation, not just in Palestinian films but in the Ken Loach films I referenced, are seen as problematic.

Two of the Labour MPs mentioned belong to he Labour Friends of Israel, the subject of the Al Jazeera exposure. And Simon Schama is on record as arguing that ‘anti-Zionism’ has equivalence with “anti-Semitism’. He also attacked John Berger’s support for the Palestinians and, in a familiar trope, drew a a false parallel between attacks on Jews under the Third Reich and attacks on Israel.

I also notice that Ken Livingstone’s name is added to the diatribe. Livingstone’s comment on Hitler and Zionism was an exaggeration but was a reference to an actual agreement testified in the historical records. But what is more relevant is that whilst he has been disciplined for expressing an opinion which should be protected by the ‘right’ to free speech the actions by a number of Labour MPs documented in Al Jazeera’s The Lobby have been completely ignored.

Defenders of reaction frequently seize on one item or individual to buttress their arguments, regardless of how relevant. I had an example with the film journal ‘Cine action’. I wrote a letter criticising the film Kippur (Amos Gitai, 2000) and raising the issue of Zionist theme in Hollywood films; [we have just had another version of ‘Entebbe’ from the USA, the fourth]. The editor’s response was to attack me and include a reference to ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion! I had never read the document but it is available on the Internet so I checked it out. As you might expect from a document apparently produced in 1903 there is no mention of Hollywood, nor indeed of cinema at all. Clearly the function of the reference was not to inform the argument but as, what in colloquial English is called, an ‘Aunt Sally’.

Like my colleagues on ‘The case for Global Cinema’ I aim to research titles and to buttress critical comments with references to the actual film or article. Ken loach and his colleagues take an equally rigorous approach to writing the screenplays for the films that they make. What is noticeable about the Zionist critics is that they are low on this type of critical approach and rather prefer to make generalised comments along with outrageous claims proclaimed with shrill emotion. Fortunately, as a long-standing English children’s chant goes,

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’!

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Hudutlarin Kannu (The Law of the Border), Turkey 1966

Posted by keith1942 on April 16, 2018

This is a Turkish film restored by the World Cinema Foundation and screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2011. It was recommended for restoration by Fatih Akin (the young Turkish-German film-maker), who introduced the screening along with one of the surviving cast members. The film is considered important because it featured a key director of the 1960s, Orner Lüfti Akad, and as writer and star, the now well known film-maker Yilmaz Güney.

Akin writes on the film:

“Turkish cinema in the Sixties took place in a dream world. The movies of that era refused to look directly at Turkish society. . . . This was the beginning of what would later be called ‘New Cinema’ in Turkey, with its powerful cinematography and its direct and realistic depiction of social problems”.

The film is set in the South-east border region of Turkey, thus part of the area populated by Kurds. The area is policed and controlled by the army. However, the poverty and lack of resources drive people to the ‘law of the border’, smuggling. The attempts to prevent such activities are draconian, including minefields along the border.

The key characters in the film are Hidir, (played by Güney) an expert in defeating the methods restricting border crossings. Standing against him is the new army lieutenant (his predecessor was shot), Zeki. However, the real conflict and violence is between Hidir and a rival smuggler Ali Cello. Their competition is aggravated by the actions of a local rich landowner, Dervis Aga. The conflict is also complicated by Hidir’s young son, Yusuf, and by a local teacher, Miss Ayse. Zeki is an enlightened officer, and he co-operates with Ayse to open a school in Hidir’s village, Deliviran. Because of his fears for his son’s future Hidir is torn between his success as a smuggler and the alternatives. One of these is a share cropping scheme, facilitated by Zeki. However, it depends on the landowner Dervis Aga, who is more interested in profits than in social action. His plotting with Ali Cello sets up a violent and finally tragic ending.

Güney’s Hidir is a powerful centre to the film. He was to become the most popular star in Turkish cinema. Zeki is a liberal officer who also represents progress. This applies equally to Miss Ayse, who is a modern woman wearing western clothing and even smoking on one occasion. This sets both Zeki and Ayse off from the milieu of Hidir, traditional and religious.

In introducing the film Akin had to explain the poor quality of the surviving materials used in the restoration. Apparently only one print survived a coup d’état in 1980: all other sources being seized and destroyed. The Foundation notes explain how they used these sparse sources to create a print, which is still marked by this wear and tear. It notes “some frames were missing”, but apparently this new version is more or less complete. Akin also remarked that the final film was a ‘compromise’ between film-makers and the army. The character of Zeki was presumably important in this respect. At the same time the sympathetic portrayal of what the establishment would regard as criminal and subversive presumably explains why the film was savaged later.

It took me a little time to identify the key characters and their different situations. However, once I had done this the narrative is relatively straightforward: the style less so. The film is clearly influenced by neo-realism: possibly also by spaghetti westerns, and it plays in many ways like a western, with a strong revenge motif. But is also uses unconventional techniques of other new waves, in particular the jump cut. One sequence of a shoot-out reminded me irresistibly of the work of Glauber Rocha.

There is extensive use of jump cuts, especially as the drama increases. The editing generally is often unconventional. I did wonder if there were missing sequences but it appears to be more or less complete. My wonder sprang from a series of shots inserted between scenes, which merely show characters and setting, then continue elsewhere. I assume these are intended as emblematic shots and form part of the visual commentary of the film.

By the film’s end, having got to grips with the characters and their conflicts, I found that it developed a really powerful feeling. And whilst downbeat, it is not entirely despairing, there is the possibility of a future. That is ironic as the border area continue to be a severe problem for Turkish society and the Turkish State. Specifically here the people are part of the Kurdish minority. I did not pick up a specific reference to the Kurds by name in the film but in Turkey the setting would have been obvious to audiences. Güney himself came from Kurdish stock. A film reviewed at the Leeds International Film Festival, Kosmos (2010), was set in the Bulgarian/Turkish border area, and here also there were border problems and the ever present military.

The film is worth seeing both for its quality and power, and also because so little of Turkish cinema is available in the west. It seems that in this period Turkish cinema was producing up to 300 films a year. Yet nearly all are little known, and there is little available English writing on Turkish film. Some of the later films that Güney directed are available, like Yol (1982). But largely it is another ‘unknown’ cinema.

Unfortunately the World Cinema Foundation films tend to turn up at festivals rather than getting a wider distribution. Some of the Foundation titles have appeared on DVDs but not all and the actual selection varies according to the territory: that old bugbear copyright. It is worth keeping an eye open for an opportunity to see this film. The was the last occasion which I was able to see a film by Yilmaz Güney. However the good news is that the 2018 Cinema Ritrovato is hosting a retrospective of Güney’s films. The actual titles have yet to be announced.

Hudutlarin Kannu / The Law of the Border

Turkey 1966. Director: Lüfti Akad.

Scenario, dialogue: Orner Lufti Akad, Yilmaz Güney. From the novel by Yilmaz Güney.

Cinematography: Ali Uğur. Music: Nida Tüfekçi.

Yildiz film studios. 35mm, black and white, 74 minutes.

Cast: Hidir – Yilmaz Güney. Ayse, teacher – Pervin Par. Yusuf, Hidir’s son – Hikmet Olgun. Ali Cello – Erol Tas. Bekir – Tuncel Kurtiz. Dervis Aga – Osman Alyanak. Abuzer – Aydemir Akbas. Zeki, First Lieutenant – Atilla Ergün.

Restored by the World Cinema Foundation at L’Immagine Ritrovato Laboratory.

Turkish version with French subtitles: English translation provided for screening.

Originally posted on ‘The Case for Global Film’.

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Jupiter’s Moon / Jupiter hokdja, Hungary 2017

Posted by keith1942 on February 7, 2018

This site adheres to a definition of ‘Third Cinema’ as applying to anti-colonial films. But others also include films made in the advanced capitalist states which actually practice colonialism and neocolonialism. The manifesto ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ was ambiguous on this point: whilst defining this cinema as anti-colonial it included films made in [for example] European states. However, the writings of Franz Fanon, which provide the basis for the manifesto, clearly locate such art in the anti-colonial struggle. This is a boundary that is opaque, that has always been the case. And in the era labelled as ‘global’, with ever larger migrations to advanced capitalist states, the boundaries are even more ambiguous.

Citizens from oppressed peoples and nations attempting to take up residence in advanced capitalist countries fall into this ambiguous space. Consequently the films that dramatise their situations and journeys have a certain ambiguity. Mao Zedong distinguished between the struggle of Afro-Americans which was one of civil rights and Africans struggling against colonialism and neocolonialism. I would think that distinction is still valid but where particular examples fall is a matter of judgement.

Jupiter’s Moon is a good example. The film centres on a young Syrian refugee who ends up in Hungary. Like his many fellow refugees he faces the threat of deportation back to Syria. In Hungary his case is one of civil rights, with the state ignoring the internationally agreed rights of refugees. But if deported he will return to Syria where a civil war, fuelled and armed by neocolonial practices, will threaten him.

Our protagonist is Aryan (Zsombor Jéger) who, with his father Murad, is crossing a river that separates Serbia from Hungary. Surprised by security forces Murad drowns and, trying to escape, Aryan is shot, three times. In a fantastic transformation rather than dying Aryan finds that he can escape gravity. This new magical ability is the central driver of the film’s plot.

In a refugee camp Aryan is discovered by Doctor Gabor Stern (Merab Ninidze) who helps the young man escape. But he helps Aryan because Gabor, who already makes money by providing refugees with medical certificate that enable them to leave the camp for hospital, has realised Aryan unique ability can be turned to money-making.

Gabor is assisted by his girlfriend Vera (Móni Balsai), a nurse in a main Budapest hospital. But he and Aryan are pursued by László (György Cserhalmi), a camp security officer and the man who shot Aryan. This chase is complicated by the fact that another refugee had stolen the identity papers of Aryan and Morad. He turns out to be involved in terrorist activities but is thought by the police to be Aryan.

At first Gabor is successful in his exploitation of Aryan. But as the police chase gets closer and acts of violence scar the city the complexities increase. Gabor experiences a change of heart and tries to assist Aryan in his journey. The forces of migration, profit-making enterprise and state security come together in a violent but impressive climax,

One aspect that distinguishes the film is the complexity of the characters. All the main players are driven by fairly basic emotions but as the narrative develops their stances change as the action develops. Aryan remains the character closest to his original motivation. But his abilities to levitate place him in a distinctive situation in this new world.

The levitation sequences are very well done. A friend thought that they became repetitious. This is partly true but I thought mainly due the accompanying music which does tend to repetition. Visually the sequences are distinguished by well executed backgrounds and by changing the angle of the viewer’s perspective. Approaching the climax there is a fast and brilliantly exciting car chase: equal to the famous sequences in Bullitt (1968). The closing shot maintains the ambiguity: I for one was left puzzling over its significance.

The sequences of the river crossing and later episodes in the refugee camp are visceral. The sense of violence is maintained and the plight of the refugees graphically illustrated. This comments on the current situation in Eastern Europe. And the film is in no doubt that racism and xenophobia fuel this treatment.

But by treating the central character in a manner that mirrors magical realism the film essays a an unusual standpoint for what seems at times a genre movie. The opening credit explain the reference to Jupiter’s moon ‘Europa’ which is the smallest of four moons and the one likeliest to support life forms. As noted by critics at times Aryan seems a little like an alien visitor. So aspects of the film play into science fiction. Critics at Cannes suggested that the film has too many themes. There is a lot going on besides the plight of the refugees and the actions of terrorists. The hospital comments on a dystopian but contemporary society. At least one character is an un-outed gay. And there are a number of references to religion and to angels. I did think some of these felt obvious. But for most of the films the interaction of themes is stimulating.

The film was shot on 35mm film stock with the addition of some digital techniques and CGI. These different formats have been blended together really well. The cinematography by Marvell Rév is extremely well done. At times it is visually graphic and at others the cityscape is superb. The film editing by Dávid Jancsó is equally fine, varying from the visceral to the contemplative rhythms. The music by Jed Kurzel was, for me at times, too obtrusive, but I think my tastes here are out of current fashion. The cityscape is used extremely well and the production design by  Márton Ágh blends effectively a wide range of settings.

The film was directed by  Kornél Mundruczó who also wrote the film with his long-time collaborator Kata Wéber. I thought their prevision White God (2014) was both very well done and really interesting. This is the more complex, and I think, better film.

In Britain the film is circulating on a DCP. It is in colour and at 2.35:1. The dialogue includes Hungarian, English and I think Syrian and possibly Serbian. All are sub-titled in English in the British files, including the English dialogue. Solanas and Getino defined their oppositional cinema as one that

“directly and explicitly set out to fight the System.”.

This film fights one central aspect of the system rather than the whole though I found that partially implied. It does it mainly on behalf of victims of neocolonialism. But there is also more than that in the film.

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Three features by Elia Suleiman

Posted by keith1942 on January 5, 2018

He is an important Palestinian filmmaker. Born in 1960 in Nazareth he has a Christian background [Greek Orthodox] which feeds into his films, though centrally they reflect both his identity as a Palestinian under occupation and, for much of his life, also an exile. He commenced filmmaking whilst living in New York with two critical documentaries. In 1994 he returned to Palestine to teach at the Birzeit University, close to Ramallah. His main task was to develop a Film and Media Department with funding provided by the European Community. Here he wrote and directed several films including two features. In 2008 he took up a University post in Switzerland. Since then he has made another feature set in the occupied territories.

Suleiman appears to have taught himself about filming, starting with video pieces   . His work in the USA provided him with a grasp of the medium which at that time was not available in Palestine. His early films, whilst they followed on from the arrival of the Palestinian Authorities administration of the occupied West Bank, were made before there was any infrastructure for Palestinian filmmaking. And his films have all, to a greater or less er extent, relied on overseas funding.

Since 2000 an infrastructure for various arts, including film, has developed in the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority. It is now possible to write of an indigenous Palestinian cinema. There have been a series of films by Palestinian filmmakers produced within the partial Palestinian territories and circulated in other territories as ‘Palestinian Films’. Two titles, Paradise Now (2005) and Omar (2013) has even been allowed to be submitted in the category of ‘foreign-language film’ at the Hollywood Academy. Titles have won awards at major Film Festivals, including Cannes.

There are a range of films addressing the issue of Palestine, both features and documentaries, and produced both by Palestinians and by filmmakers from elsewhere. Recently quite a few of the titles have followed the conventions of international fiction features or documentaries. A few films have adhered more closely to the conventions of art cinema or modernist documentary. Suleiman’s work definitely falls into this area and feels quite distinct from many of the other Palestinian titles. His films are extremely ironic; he aims at a dispassionate tone with the occasional almost burlesque scenes. Some writers have drawn comparisons with the film work of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. He does tend to a ‘deadpan’ tone, but is really closer to a surrealist mode. It should be noted that surrealist art in Arab culture retains the political dimension of the original movement; not always the case with western examples.

Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996) was supported and funded by companies in Palestine, Israel, USA, Germany, France, and including the European Union Media Funds. The film was in colour and standard widescreen, with the soundtrack in Arabic, Hebrew, French and English. The film appeared at the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the ‘Best First Film Prize’. It received fairly wide distribution in Europe and was released in the USA; but not seemingly in Britain.

The film has three segments: ‘Nazareth Personal Diary’, an intervening scene where Suleiman introduces his film to an audience, and then ‘Jerusalem Political Diary’. The first part of the film presents Suleiman’s return [as E.S.] to his home town after his exile in New York.. The opening shot is unsettling, an out-of-focus close-up which gradually comes into focus as the upper torso of  a man sleeping; [we realise later that this is E.S.’ father]. Initially we see the family home and also meet his mother and other relatives and neighbours There is one scene where his mother and women friends argue about the proper method to use in preparing garlic. The film then moves out into exteriors round Nazareth, the recurring settings are a bar, ‘The Holy Land’; a gift shop full of religious replicas; and, less frequently, men fishing in a boat [uncertain which waters]. Quite often what is occurring is unclear and not explained. We see other Palestinians passing the bar where Elia sits with friends and we hear the voices on an Israeli radio station. There are other sites including a garage/paint-shop and there is a journey by road. One gets a sense of people and place but not completely clarified or pinned down. Ellipses between scenes are signalled by captions on a computer screen, most frequently, ‘the day after’.

Following a caption , ‘I Moved to Jerusalem’ we see E.S. preparing to talk to an audience about his film. Then we move into the final segment, ‘Jerusalem Political Diary’.

This section is more overtly political and includes the control of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation. In a key scene E.S. observes three policemen stopping by a wall in order to urinate. There is a radio call and as they dash away to deal with the event one of the policemen drops his walkie-talkie. E.S. surreptitiously picks this up and we now regularly hear the conversation so the police. E.S. also uses the walkie-talkie to plant fake call-outs to the police resulting in their empty and confusing responses.

We visit an empty house which E.S. is renovating as his accommodation but we also return to the setting from part 1, including the bar and the family home. In the empty house E.S. watches a video of a Palestinian troupe performing a song of sadness. We see a small group who are either preparing violent acts or a drama about these. The film ends with a long shot as E.S.’s father and mother fall asleep watching Israeli television followed by a dedication

“To My Mother and Father and My Homeland’.

The portrait presented by the film is idiosyncratic and fairly subjective. This is very much the dominant mode in which Suleiman works. And his character, E.S. treats most events with a dead-pan response. But the subjective stance is deceptive because as we follow this selection of experiences and impressions there is a strong representation of the experience of Palestinians a as a community and as suffering under occupation. There is an absence of any representation of either the formal Israeli institutions of occupation or of the formal institutions of the Palestinian community. But the absence seems to suggest that neither really offer support to Palestinians: and in the period following the ‘Oslo Accords’ this can be read as a very critical standpoint.

Divine Intervention / Yadon ilaheyya , France, Morocco, Germany, Palestine, 2002.

In colour and widescreen and in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The film had a wide international release including in Britain. It won several awards including the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. There was controversy overt the film and the Hollywood Academy Awards. according to some sources the film was barred from consideration in the Category of the Best Foreign Language Film because,

“Palestine is not a state we recognize in our rules”.

A spokesperson for the Academy denied that the film had ever been submitted for consideration. However, the claims would fit with the long-standing pro-Zionist stance of many Academy members.

The central character is again E.S. [played by Suleiman]. He is the central characters in a series of vignettes in what was now the ‘Occupied West Bank’. A frequent setting is an Israeli checkpoint where E.S., living in Nazareth;’, meets his girl friend {Manal Khader) who lives in Ramallah. Thus the Israeli occupation is more prominent in this film. The assignations provide opportunities for the observation of the Israelis. As in the earlier film events are frequent surreal and humorous. The best is when E.S. launches a red balloon carrying the portrait of Yasser Arafat. The balloon proceeds to ‘buzz’ the checkpoint to the consternation of the Israeli soldiers.

The finale of the film combines action with computer game techniques. A squad of Israeli military squad use a model Palestinian woman as a target. This turn into an actual female mujahidin and she proceeds to supernaturally neutralize the Israeli fire and then to eliminate the squad and a helicopter sent to their rescue.

The Time That Remains, Britain, Italy, Belgium, France, 2009.

The film is in colour, standard widescreen and uses Arabic, English and Hebrew.

This film takes a rather different approach from the two earlier features; it presents a series of historical episodes charting the occupation of Palestinian lands from Al Nakba in 1948. Suleiman does retains his biographical approach as the key characters are his father, mother and his younger selves.

The four episodes are 1948, 1970, 1980 and the present (2009)/ The film opens in the present. E.S. (Suleiman) returns to his homeland. He takes a taxi from the airport heading [presumably] for Nazareth. However, as storm threatens, the gloomy night closes in and suddenly we are in some never-land. The film’s title interrupts the sequence and we are in a flashback to 1948. This opens in the same café seen in the earlier features and a group of armed Palestinians are sitting and waiting. A place circles, the Zionist radio calls on Palestinians to surrender.

In a hillside house the Major of Nazareth surrenders to officers of the Hagannah. We see the Zionists military attacking civilians and looting houses. In a small workshop Fuad (Suleiman elder – Saleh Bakri) works at a lathe: it emerges that he is a skilled maker of weapons. A car carrying a family, including Fuad’s girlfriend, leaves. Fuad is taken into custody by Zionists and marched to an orchard where Palestinian fighters are tied and laid on the ground.

These dramatic scenes are intercut with more surreal, slightly humorous moments: a short Zionist soldier has to stand on a stone to fix a blindfold on Fuad, who is taller. The sequence ends when Fuad is thrown over a wall and the screen fades to black.

The following section is set in 1970. Fuad is now married and lives in a modern flat in Nazareth. Their young son Elia attends a Palestinian school which is under the domination of the Israeli state. We see a sequence were Israeli dignitaries visit the school and a choir of pupils sing the Israeli anthem surrounded by bunting of Israeli flags. However, the young Elia follows his father’s mould and we see him lectured by the head teacher for using the word ‘colonialist’. Later he is again lectured when he describes the USA as ‘imperialist’. In another scene the pupils watch a 16mm print of Spartacus. Presumably they are supposed to draw parallels between the slave army and Israel. However, in the intimate scene in which Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) and Varinia (Jean Simmonds] declare their love , dishabille, in  a pool the female teacher tries to block the ‘suggestive ‘ sequence by standing in front of the projector.

There are scenes with the family and their neighbours. One of whom, clearly damaged by events, is constantly trying to set himself on fire. And there are fishing trips by Fuad and his friends. Here Suleiman’s laconic observation repeats a sequence where an Israeli military jeep keeps stopping to inspect the fisherman. At another point Fuad rescues an Israeli driver from a burning truck and we then see the paid side by side in the hospital. Fuad’s humanity here reminded me of a poetry by Mahmoud Darwish.

Late in the episode the tone moves from ironic to tragic and the announcements are made of the death of Gamel Abdel Nasser. The episode ends when Fuad is arrested and once more taken off to an Israeli jail.

The film moves forward to 1980. Fuad’s wife writes to her sister. Fuad has had a heart operation, she has diabetes. Elia is now a young man and we see him with his friends at the ‘Holy land’ café. We see Elia with his father on another fishing trip. Then a ‘friendly’ policeman calls. Elia has 24 hours to leave Israel or he will be arrested. That night there are demonstrations and Israeli Defence Force fire at Palestinians. There is a typical Suleiman sequence as we watch a tussle between medics and Israeli soldiers over a wounded man on a trolley; filmed in long shot and a long take. This is the point at which Elia commences his exile in New York.

The final section return sup to the present. Elia arrives at the family flat. it would appear that his father has died in his absence, though the film omits Elia’s return to the territory in 1996. Part of the section presents his relationship with his increasingly ill mother, a relationship that is mainly unspoken. We visit some of the familiar settings and the pattern of life appears little changed. There is long sequence in a hospital which mainly involves waiting. And Elia at another point watches a confrontation between Israeli troops an Palestinian protesters. The section and the film end with Elia in his room, framed against a widows of in the background Nazareth.

Elia Suleiman’s film offer a distinctive take on the Palestinian experience. They are unlike all of the other films that I have seen from this quarter. There are however connections to other examples of Arab cinema. At times one is reminded of Youssef Chahine and the films have parallels with some of the surreal approaches in Arab cinema.

His films tend to the long shot and the long take. This offers a sense of the observational but they are not documentaries. The narratives are elliptical; quite often the relationship between segments is unclear or only achieves clarity well after the commencement. The films emphasise repetition in settings, incidents and characters. There is the sense that the pattern of life frames people’s experience. At the same time that experience includes frequent events that are not in any sense normal. The contrast contributes to the surreal sense. And in the centre of this is the character of E.S., as deadpan as the more famous Keaton. And that tone is as subversive here as it was in the silent comedies.

Little in the film is overly political in the usual sense of the term. Yet both in its representations and in its comparisons and contrasts there emerges a powerful critique of the way that occupation limits and oppresses Palestinian ,life. It is interesting that the most recent film, which is closer to a history than a personal portrait, offers the most explicit representation of Israeli violence. Al Nakba has been a constant in Palestinian life and culture since 1948. But there is a sense in which the unfulfilled hopes from the 1990s have made that memory more potent for Palestinians. Whilst it is only implied, that sense is as critical of Palestinian leadership as it is of the settler occupier.

There are a number of interviews with Elia Suleiman online, including quite an extensive one at the Sarajevo Film Festival. He lists among his influence Ozu Yasujiro, Robert Bresson and Hou Hsiao-hsien; not really any surprises but interesting, He also mentions John Berger, an influence and a personal friend; and the parallels re clear here as well.

He talks about his preparation of the films. He starts with observations, often the tableaux’s which appear in the film. In shooting the films he admits to be obsessive about every frame and image and the placement of the camera. And he takes equal care over the foreground, middle ground and background. He remarks that the sound is frequently ‘outside the image’, i.e. off-screen; a technique that constantly reminds viewers of a more complex world being presented. This is interesting because the films tend to suggest that the filmmakers have captured events as they happen but it is most carefully produced. I suspect partly that this is because of the parallels and connections that Suleiman wants to develop across a film. One becomes aware that small detail is very important, like the recurring settings.

Suleiman uses both professional performers and non-professional. The non-professional tend to improvise. He recalled one shot from The Time That Remains, a discussion by his mother and her friends regarding the preparation of garlic for cooking, where he just set up a fixed camera and left the participants to their talk and argument.

Since The Time That Remains Suleiman contributed a segment to 7 Days in Havana (2012) a portmanteau film set in the Cuban capital. His own film work, relying on varied international funding, develops slowly. We wait to see if he will produce another film and what will be his next contribution to the Palestinian struggle.

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Leeds Palestinian Film Festival 2017

Posted by keith1942 on November 7, 2017

The 2017 Festival launches during the Leeds International Film Festival with a new documentary Gaza Surf Club. The film has been directed by two young filmmakers with funding from German Public Broadcasting Company, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln. In Gaza there is a small band of enthusiasts who ride the surf in the coastal waters. The added dangers of the sport here are the Israeli blockade and maritime restrictions. This would seem to be another film that takes an audience into the everyday lives of the oppressed Palestinians. It is in colour and with both English and Arabic.

The Occupation of the American Mind is a documentary produced by the Media Education Foundation. The writers and directors Loretta Alper, and Jeremy Earp have provided an exploration of that central movement attempting to protect Israel from scrutiny and justice in the USA, headed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This committee in particular has successfully influenced and financed much of the US political elite. And their nefarious work is replicated to a smaller extent in Britain as well. Filmed in colour and all in English. The film will be followed by a talk and discussion with former Reuters journalist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi. Naomi is a leading campaigner for ‘Free Speech on Israel’.

Firefighters Under Occupation is a distinctive documentary. Sponsored by the Fire Brigade Union it was filmed by a South Wales firefighter on a trip to the Occupied West Bank where indigenous firefighters operate the equipment donated by their comrades in Britain. The event also has a distinctive venue, the converted Gipton Fire Station now an East Leeds Community venue.

The Time That Remains is the most recent feature by Elia Suleiman released in 2009. Suleiman is a pioneer of Palestinian cinema, his first films in the 1990s were produced before the present expanded cycle of films made in the occupied territories emerged. This titles benefitted from financial support from a range of European film companies and institutions and the soundtrack includes Arabic, Hebrew and English. Dramatising his own life and that of his father Fuad Suleiman produces a complex narrative setting out both the Israeli domination of Palestinians and their resistance. The film relies to a great degree on irony and that particular type of surrealism found in Arabic cultures.

The Idol from the 2016 Festival at a new venue. This title dramatises the story of Muhammad Assaf, the Gazan wedding singer who won the prestigious Television Contest ‘Arab idol’. The film had some fine sequences set in Gaza in his childhood and returns there at the end with actual footage of the celebrations on his success.

Also returning from 2016 is Balls, Barriers & Bulldozers, a documentary following a British tour of the West Bank playing against  Palestinian women football teams. The film is about the sport and about the experience of visiting the Occupied Territories.

‘Existence is Resistance’ is an evening with short films and an exhibition of photographs. The theme is ‘Sumud’, that is ‘steadfast’. The short films are Sumud: Everyday Resistance; Journey of a Sofa; and Shireen of al-Walaja the portrait of a popular resistance leader.

Finally we have ‘Film Maker as Activist – an afternoon of short films and discussion with Jon Pullman’. The Forgotten addresses the condition of the millions of Palestinian refugees who still wait for the liberation of their homeland. The filmmaker will also talk about his planned film, The Lynching, which will deal with the current ‘anti-semiotic’ witch-hunt in the British Labour Party.

The Festival offers a varied selection of films in both theatrical and community settings. Now well established the Festival brings a political edge to film viewing in West Yorkshire.

Check out the programme: http://www.leedspff.org.uk/

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The Promise, Channel Four Television.

Posted by keith1942 on September 8, 2017

This filmed drama was transmitted in four episodes in 2011. It was written and directed by Peter Kosminsky who has directed several successful television serials and several films. Channel Four has just finished transmitting his most recent television production, Secret State. It follows three British recruits to Daesh or Islamic State in Syria. This serial was interesting but I thought it was weak on analysis and motivations. But it appears to have been relatively successful and Channel Four have placed the earlier serial, The Promise, on its catch-up platform. So, I watched all four episodes [running to 85 minutes an episode, quite long for this format] over the last week.

This is an interesting drama set in Palestine and in two separate periods: the time leading up the Nakba and the erection of the Zionist State: and contemporary occupied Palestine, i.e. 2011. The first episode introduces Erin Matthews (Claire Foy) using her gap year before Higher Education to accompany her close friend Ziphora (Yvonne Caterfled) to her home in Israel. Ziphora has been educated in Britain and is now returning to undertake the compulsory military service with the Israeli Defence Force. We also meet Ziphora’s liberal parents and her brother Paul (Itay Tiran). Paul served in the Israeli Defence Force in occupied Hebron and the experience has made him a vocal critic of the Israeli occupation. He has a Palestinian friend Omar (Hass Sleiman).

We revisit Palestine between 1945 and 1948 through the diary of Erin’s grandfather Leonard Matthews. He served in the British army of occupation in that period and Erin has bought the diary with her. In 1945 Sergeant Leonard Matthews (Christian Cook) served in the invasion of Germany and was stationed for period at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. During his service in  Palestine we also see several of his army colleagues: a Jewish girlfriend, Klara (Katherina Schüttler) and his Arab servant Abu Hassan-Mohammed (Ali Suliman), whom Leonard calls Mohammed.

Wikipedia has a detailed plot synopsis of all four episodes as well as production details and extracts from some of the responses. So, I want to first offer my comments on the series as I watched it. Then I want to discuss some of the positive and negative criticism.

In the opening episode, we follow Erin to Israel. Her grandfather is in hospital after suffering a stroke. And she is carrying the diary she found whilst sorting out his belongings with her mother: there is no mention of her father, presumably moved on or dead. We get flashbacks to the 1940s as Erin reads the diary, initially chronologically. At times, the flashback appears not to be motivated by Erin’s reading. And sometimes a flashback is cut in abruptly and briefly to events in the contemporary time frame.

The diary open with Sergeant Leonard’s appalled responses to Buchenwald. Then we see him serving in Palestine and uneasy and concerned that he has to police and imprison refugees who were inmates of the Concentration camps. This struck me as rather conventional in the way that films relate the Holocaust and the migration of Jews to Palestine. In fact, we only meet an Arab, Omar, over an hour into the first episode. And the first ‘terrorist’ incident is an attack on Israeli coffee bar in which Paul is injured.

By the second episode Leonard has met and started going out with Klara. He is also involved in assisting the British Army Intelligence, which leads to him being an accessory to the shooting of a wanted Zionist. There follows the well-known bombing of the King David Hotel by the Zionist Irgun. This is intercut with the aftermath of the contemporary bombing of the coffee bar. In an argument at Paul’ family home Erin learns that he and Ziphora’s grandfather was a member of the Irgun and was party to the bombing of the King David Hotel.

“He is unapologetic, and tells them that his father, mother, sister and brother had all died in German camps. He says that his generation had been determined that the Jewish people would never again capitulate in the face of genocide, and want to secure a land that could be safe for ever. He explains that the British stood in their way, so they wiped them out.”

She also reads the final written pages of the diary. She learns that her grandfather feels guilty because he failed to keep a promise to Mohammed and that this related to his later imprisonment by the Military Authorities: a family secret that she did not know about.

By this stage we have met Mohammed and his family, including his son Hassan. It also becomes clear where the emotional commitment of the serial lies: Hassan has a puppy, the only family pet seen in the film. Sure enough the puppy will die later. Moreover, whilst we see both Arab and Jewish children, in Palestine it is only the Arab children who are victims of the contemporary Zionist settlers. The episode closes as Leonard and two colleagues are shot by Jewish fighters.

Episode 3 finds Leonard in hospital. When he comes out he continues to visit Mohammed and starts to tutor Hassan in mathematics. Leonard’s relationship with Klara becomes problematic because he wonders if she might be passing information to the Jewish underground. Then he finds her ‘tarred and feather’, apparently because she is dating a British NCO. Trying to support and re-assure her he lets out information about a meeting with a Jewish informant. The meeting is ambushed and Leonard and two colleagues are kidnapped. They are held for 15 days. Leonard is rescued but the other two are executed.

In the contemporary time Erin visits Hebron looking for Mohammed or his family. She witnesses the persecution of Arabs by the Jewish settlers and the way that the Israeli army passively supports the settlers.

In the final episode Erin has sex with both Omar and Paul: both acts seem rather casual. Still trying to find Mohammed family she persuades Omar to smuggled her into Gaza. There she is a witness as the IDF blow up the house of a family of s suicide bomber. She supports the daughter of the family.

Back in 1948 The British are withdrawing and we see Zionists celebrating the UN partition of Palestine. Leonard persuades Mohammed to leave his home with his family to avoid the massacres already underway. Hassan goes missing and Leonard goes to find him. Whilst doing this he also helps a group of armed Arabs fighting back against the Zionist forces. But Hassan is killed and Leonard is arrested: ending up in a military prison. Hassan has been carrying the key to the family home. And it is Hassan’s death and his failure to return the key to Mohammed that is the promise Leonard feels he has broken.

Erin meanwhile finally reads the remaining parts of Leonard’s dairy. And she is able to return the key to the last surviving member of Mohammed’s family: his daughter, a teenager when Leonard knew the family. Erin returns to Britain and explains what she has done to the hospitalised Leopard. He is cannot speak but he cries.

Wikipedia has notes on the production background of the serial. One of Kosminsky’s earlier television works was Warriors (1999) which dramatised the experiences of British troops stationed in Bosnia during the 1990s war. It seems that the suggestion was made that Kosminsky could produce something parallel on the experiences of the British soldiers in Palestine under the Mandate. When Kosminsky returned to the idea after 2002 the BBC agreed to support the project. There was detailed research over 12 months including interviewing 82 veterans who served in Palestine. When the BBC pulled out Kosminsky was able to take the project to Channel Four.

“Kosminsky says that his overriding aim was to present the experience of the 100,000 British soldiers who served in Palestine.”

I think this aim probably got at least partly deflected over the development of the project. The period 1945 to 1948 in the serial is presented from Leonard’s point of view.

“Overwhelmingly, the veterans told a similar story: they had started out “incredibly pro-Jewish”[10] but they had shifted their allegiance and by the end “were feeling a great deal of sympathy for the Arabs”

And this is how the flashbacks based on Leonard’s diary present the story. But the serial also renders this in dramatic form. So, I believe that, as in the serial, there were British soldiers secretly working for the Zionists. And I know than there were cases where Palestinian Jews, serving in the British Army, secretly smuggled Jewish refugees to Palestine. I do wonder if there is a case of a British soldiers fighting with Arabs against the Zionist forces.

But what deflects the original property even more is the contemporary part of the serial. The writing dramatizes Erin’s story so that her experience parallel those that she is reading about in the diary. However, this does rather ‘stretch the long arm of co-incidence to dislocation’, as we follow her to an affluent Israeli home, across the Israeli wall to a small village and then to Hebron and finally under the fencing to Gaza. In fact, in the plotline the relation between the present with Erin and the past with Leonard can be confusing. Supposedly the flashbacks that we see are motivated by Erin reading the diary. However, on quite a few occasions this motivation seems lacking. The most glaring example is the cuts from the aftermath of the coffee bar bombing to that in 1947 at the King David Hotel. I am not sure if Erin is carrying the diary with her but she can hardly be reading it in the aftermath of an explosion and when she is trying to determine the fate of Paul.

In the flashbacks Leonard is present at the assassination of a Zionist activist; is there when the explosion at the King David Hotel occurs; is shot in a Zionist ambush; and a, little later kidnapped and is eventually the only survivor. And the most extreme example is that he is present during the notorious massacre at Deir Yassin. Was any British representative three during this barbarous event?

Erin’s odyssey seems intended to parallel that of her grandfather. But this is a very different situation. The sequences of her journey round occupied Palestine, whilst it presents another occupation, is also the scene of a very different war. But the series gives little sense of the resistance, including armed resistance, of the Palestinians. We see armed Palestinian fighters in the flashback, we do not see them in the present. The most problematic example is Gaza. Where are Hamas whilst the Israeli army are blowing up Palestinian houses? Should we seriously believe they sit back and watch,

The representations in the series are simplistic. Initially we see the European refugees arriving and being imprisoned by the British. Then we leave them behind. All we see from then on in the flashbacks are armed Zionists [usually presented as the Irgun]; passively supportive Jewish immigrants; and Jews like Klara who apparently befriend the British but really support armed Zionism. At one point, after a successful search of a Kibbutz, Leonard, alone in his jeep, is serenaded by Jewish children and presented with a red flower. Later the Intelligence Officer Rowntree (Lukas Gregorowicz) explains that the flowers,

“ are anemones, or kalaniot in Hebrew: “red for the paratrooper’s beret; black for his heart”.

This is a Manichean division between Jewish victims and Jewish ‘terrorists’. The actual situation was clearly more complex.

And there is parallel problem is the representation of Palestinian Arabs. The script makes good uses of recognisable motifs, such as the key, an example of the Palestinian tie to their land and homes. But the Palestinians are uniformly victims. Omar, who was in the Al Aqsa brigade, is now involved in joint meetings with Israelis, apparently having surrendered the gun. The armed Palestinians in the flashback are not competent; Leonard takes them in charge and instructs them. And in Hebron and in Gaza all we see is Palestinians on the receiving end of Israeli violence.

Whilst the narrative is problematic in number of ways the series is effectively produced and presented. It was filmed on super 16 film stock and the definition and contrast of the image is good. The editing is extremely effective, though [as I suggest] at times it does seem somewhat abrupt. The sound is clear and relies [as is typical in mainstream] on music at certain dramatic points. The bulk of the dialogue is in English though we also hear Arabic and Yiddish; but in these cases, there is nearly always a translator amongst the characters. When Erin first sees and hears Omar at a Palestinian meeting in the West Bank Paul is translated into Arabic, and Omar is translated into English: the latter apparently for the sole benefit of Erin.

As is probably apparent the series follows mainstream conventions and exhibits the influence of other works in what is a genre about colonial oppression. There is also the influence of Kosminsky’s own productions including Warriors. And the use of illness/death, a surviving diary and an odyssey conducted in part in flashback recalls Ken Loach’s fine Land and Freedom (1995). The tropes of oppression, resistance, massacres, betrayals and failure are central to both films. However, The Promise does not essay the sort of sequence typical of Loach [in both Land and Freedom and The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)] where an in-depth discussion/debate about the politics of the war occurs.

The series was relatively successful. The first episode garnered 1.8 million viewers; subsequent episodes all achieved over a million strong audience. And there were further audiences in other territories and more recently on Channel 4’s catch-up service.

The series produced some positive criticism and as one might expect, some strong opposition.

“By the second episode Andrew Billon, writing in The Times, was concerned that both Len and Erin were meeting from the Arabs a “little too much kindness for the comfort of all of us hoping that Kosminsky will parcel out recriminations in exactly equal proportions”; but nonetheless applauded the “immersive and emotional” quality of the series.”

This reflects the point I made above. The series is essentially melodrama and this mode tends to draw characters in stark oppositions. The flashbacks do not address the resistance of the Arabs. Thus, the Palestinians had organized a rebellion against the British occupation and Zionist take-over of land in 1939. This is referred to only in a line of dialogue. Some Arabs clearly had a misplaced faith/hope in British protection, an aspect represented by Mohammed: but there was also a movement that clearly recognized the British oppression and coming perfidy.

The problematic representation of the British was picked up by a pro-Zionist critic rather than by British left or liberal writers.

“2011, Jonathan Freedland, having seen the first episode of The Promise, said Kosminsky used anti-Semitic tropes, misrepresenting Israel and Zionism as being a consequence of the Holocaust, whose imagery he had abused. Historian, Professor David Cesarani, accused Kosminsky of “deceit…massive historical distortion”: omitting the Balfour Declaration’s promise of a Jewish national home; downplaying selfish British geo-strategy; and exculpating the British, “chief architects of the Palestine tragedy…making responsible…only the Jews”; turning a tricorn conflict of British, Arabs and Jews “into a one-sided rant.”

The point about the European Holocaust is well made. Because of the structure of the series we start with the arrival of European refugees, victims of the Third Reich genocidal policy. There are brief references to an earlier Palestine. But there is not really a sense of the long-term Zionist colonisation and Palestine resistance, not just in 1939, but going back to the 1920s. The claim, made by the ex-Irgun member, that they would grasp the land to protect Jews in the future appears as the motivation for the Zionist seizure of land and for their conduct when that had erected an illegal state on that land. In fact Zionism going back to the 1890s and the project of migration and land accumulation started almost immediately.

Equally the Balfour Declaration is crucial to the long colonization of Palestine and the oppression of it people. I am pretty sure that the Balfour Declaration never gets a mention in the series. Neither does the Sykes-Picot Agreement, in which Palestine was part of a Middle East strategy of domination and theft, particularly of the region’s oil wealth.

The sharpest criticisms came from the media that supports Zionism and from Zionist organizations.

“A press attaché at the Israeli embassy in London, however, condemned the drama to ‘The Jewish Chronicle’ as the worst example of anti-Israel propaganda he had seen on television, saying it “created a new category of hostility towards Israel”. The Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies of British Jews both also lodged letters of complaint. The Jewish Chronicle itself took the view that rather than “attempt to tell both sides of what is a complex and contentious story”, the series had turned out to be “a depressing study in how to select historical facts to convey a politically loaded message”.“

The term ‘anti-Semitic’ turned up frequently.

There were also complaints to OFCOM [British Office of Communications]“

“The broadcasting regulator Ofcom received 44 complaints about the series, but concluded in a ten-page report that it did not breach its code of conduct. Viewers complained that the drama was anti-Semitic, used upsetting footage of concentration camps, incited racial hatred, was biased against Israel and presented historical inaccuracies. But, Ofcom said: “Just because some individual Jewish and Israeli characters were portrayed in a negative light does not mean the programmed was, or was intended to be, anti-Semitic… Just as there were Jewish/Israeli characters that could be seen in a negative light, so there were British and Palestinian characters that could also be seen in a negative light.”

Similar responses occurred in France and Australia.

On the other hand the serial was supported and publicized by Palestinian Solidarity Organizations. One felt that as it annoyed and dismayed Zionists it must be ‘good’. Unfortunately, some Palestinian support groups still recognize the term of ‘anti-Semitism’. In fact, historically it is a dubious concept. It was initially publicized a by groups who publicised and practiced anti-Jewish racism. More recently it has been hijacked by the Zionists. It is also a concept that suffers from relying on a ‘hierarchy of the oppressed’: not a basis for progressive thought or action.

Overall, I would judge that the series offers emotional support for the Palestinians and rather simplistic criticism of Zionism. The actions and events shown in the episodes are, as the regulators judged, more or less accurate. However, the structure and organisations of these does not seem to prompt deeper consideration. Typically of mainstream melodrama it weakest aspect is that of analysis, So the Palestinian people and their resistance is longer, larger and more direct than suggested here. And Zionism is a more complex, more dangerous movement, though it its viciousness is addressed.

The films can be clearly sited in the ‘auteur’ strata. Kosminsky’s film making regularly addresses contentions social and political issues. But it does so on the basis of individualised stories. Thus ‘Secret State’ follows three individuals who journey to Syria. We learn their individual stories and see something of the hard-line values and practice of Daesh. But the complexities of the Syrian war and foreign interventions is not really addressed. An earlier drama, Britz (2007) contrasted the experiences of an Asian Officer in MI5 and his sister recruited by an Islamist organisation. I found this powerful, but again the full politics of this world were not really presented.

Solanas and Getino commented on the

“so-called ‘author’s cinema’ … This alternative signified a step forward inasmuch as it demanded that the film-maker be free to express himself in non-standard language and inasmuch as it was an attempt at cultural decolonisation. But such attempts have already reached, or are about to reach, the outer limits of what the system permits.”

In fact, Kosminsky does not really use ‘non-standard language’, his films are fairly conventional and parallel mainstream film and television. This is where I find Ken Loach more radical. However, I have critically examined the limits of Loach’s Land and Freedom. So to be fair to Kosminsky that film also fails to address in particular the important aspects of colonialism and its relation to the Spanish Civil War.

The Promise does not progress far beyond the apparent views of the British veterans who provided the basis for the story. Justified criticism of Zionism is good, and solidarity with Palestinians is good. But the Israeli State is not just about an occupation of Palestinian land: it perpetuates in a neo-colonial way, the domination of Arab lands represented by Balfour, Sykes-Picot and the artificial structure of the modern Middle East.

Apart from ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, all the quotations are taken from the Wikipedia post on The Promise.

 

 

 

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Sarraounia, Burkina-Faso, France 1986.

Posted by keith1942 on August 26, 2017

This was the third feature by Med Hondo presented at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017. I was slightly disappointed as it only had one screening and I was planning to chivvy friends and colleagues who missed that one to come along to a second. It is also a shame as this is a magnificent example of African cinema and one that adheres to the maxims of Franz Fanon, ‘a fighting film, a revolutionary film and a national film’. Though with the latter concept we are talking about a Pan-African art.

The film was introduced by the director Med Hondo. He explained how the story is taken from historical events in ‘African resistance’. The scenario is adapted from a book by Abdoulaye Mamani which chronicles how Sarraounia Mangou, a chief/priestess of the Azna subgroup of the Hausa, fought French colonial troops in 1899. [Wikipedia has pages on this]. The film sets this in the context of the French imperial drive to bring unity to the colonial possessions in West Africa. The majority of tribal leaders either submitted to the French army or co-operated with them.

In an interview in the Festival Catalogue Med Hondo explained:

“I wanted to illustrate historical facts to show that the African continent was not easily colonised and had a history of resistance to colonialism. There were a number of African women involved in the fight against colonialism. Queen Sarraounia in Niger, Jinga in Angola, Ranavalona in Madagascar, Beatrice of the Congo, to name a few. We never speak of the role of African women in history but they headed kingdoms and had an important status in matriarchal societies.”

Hondo also recounted the problems associated with the production. It took several years to raise the finance, about one million Francs, not a large sum for the period. Then permission to film in Niger was withdrawn. It was then that Burkina Faso came to the rescue with some funding and locations and extras. But the travails were not ended. When the film premiered it Paris it had a very limited release, possibly [but unprovable] political pressure. Fellow African filmmakers like Ousmane Sembène and Souleymane Cissé protested on behalf of the film, as did progressive European filmmakers like Constantin Costa-Gavras and Bertrand Tavernier. But the film did not receive the wide distribution of the audiences it deserved though it was honoured at Fespaco [Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou]. I think it only had a few screenings in Britain and when Channel Four aired the film [in a season of African films] it was cropped from widescreen to Aacademy ratio.

Unlike most of his other films this title has a linear narrative, is presented in broadly dramatic terms and has much less of a sardonic tone. This follows from its function as a celebration of a people’s story: whilst Sarraounia is the leading character in the film this is very much a drama about the conflict between Africans and colonising Europeans. The film does use editing not only to draw parallels and contrasts but to point up themes and contradictions in the situations.

In a sense the film offers a number of worlds that are participants in a fundamental cultural and military conflict. The leading characters are to a degree psychologically drawn but they also function as ‘types’ and this is the main focus on the large array of supporting characters. Quite a few listings [IMDB for one] do not include all of the actors playing African characters.

At the centre of the film is Queen Sarraounia (Aï Keïta), chief of the Azna tribe. We meet her first as a young girl when we follow her education in the indigenous culture by the older teacher, Dawa (Tagara Yacouba Traore). He instructs her in military matters, medicinal and herbal recipes and importantly in the characteristics needed by a Queen.

“don’t confine your beauty. No selfish man will ever control you” [English subtitles].

This is demonstrated when we encounter Sarraounia as an adult and Queen. An early scene shows her consort, a skilled general, Baka (Aboubacar Traore or Ben Idriss Traore) angry and leaving the city because of her insistence on autonomy. This is also a sequence where we witness her status among her people,. After a display of wrestling a singer [griot] offers the song,

“Sweet Sarraounia”.

At various stages of the film we see Sarraounia organising and leading the resistance to the colonial army. She is a skilled strategist and also an inspirational leader. Importantly her forces are increased when the estranged Baka returns with his warriors, And, against the grain of other rulers, Dan Zarki (Jean-François Ouedraogo) , a young prince, brings his Moslem men to fight with the Aznas. After the military defeat but a successful resistance she celebrates the diversity but common interests of the people.

Other scenes present the various leaders of other tribes. It is clear that there is a common antagonism to Sarraounia, described as a ‘witch’. But almost uniformly these tribal leaders are suborned by the French or in some cases act as active collaborators. A prime example if the Emir of Sokoto (Sekou Tall), who with his advisers advocates,

“let the Europeans crush the devil witch”.

And there are Tuareg slave-traders, benefitting from French actions whilst not overtly co-operative: and apparently an addition to the story presented in the original novel.

We also see the ordinary Africans including the members of the Aznas tribe who fight under Sarraounia. And we see the sufferings of other villages unable to resist the colonial firepower. This includes the Fulani tribe, traditional enemies of the Aznas. There is a violent scene where the French and their colonial troops massacre an entire village, even after the leaders pleaded for mercy.

The French invaders are central to the story. The leaders are a group of white officers led by Captain Voulet (Jean-Roger Milo) and a large number of African troops, tirailleurs. The officer are full of racist disdain for the Africans. Voulet is an imperious leader, who increwasingly suffers from hubris as the expedition continues. An important element in the story is his increasing contempt and differences with his command, sited back in Timbuktu.

The ordinary soldiers are under direct supervision of an Arab aide. To a degree they are dominated by the colonial ideology, thus as one point they sing

“We are children of France”.

But their main motivation is material acquisition. So after battles or massacres they are allowed to loot and pillage, and captured women are available for rape. There is also an element of fear. Late in the film  one officer remarks,

“If they find out we are men like them …..!”

The film constantly cuts [usually in parallel edits] between the various forces. However, the prime focus of the story is between Sarraounia and her people and the French invaders. The film spends an amount of time in the development within the French army. Captain Voulet’s leadership leads to increasing and brutal violence: it also leads to increasing dissensions. Whilst the French are able to defeat Sarraounia and her army in pitched battle the guerrilla warfare that follows is harder for them to handle. And the dissensions within the army lead to a breakdown in the dominance that the French officers exercise over the African mercenaries. Finally, the French h army is destroyed by psychotic leadership and sectarianism. Vices usually assigned to the African enemy.

The film also contrasts the culture of the invaders with that of the indigenous people. So even when the French Officers dine in the open-air they ‘enjoy’ all the accoutrements of the affluent European mealtimes. There are some telling cuts between the cloth covered dining table of the Officers and the cooking pots and wood fires of the soldiery. Whilst the Officers obviously regard the Africans with contempt at the same time they also sexually exploit the African women. Their often inappropriate military behaviour and arrangements are exemplified when a storm strikes the camp and they struggle to maintain order amidst the chaos.

The contrast is the city and the people ruled by Sarraounia, a community composed of several tribes.. Here the Queen exhorts her people to respect each other’s cultures, beliefs and mores. Their cultures are exhibited the film through activities like the wrestling, through their clothing, precious objects and their rituals Fine production design by Jacques d’Ovidio and supporting craft people in costumes and props. Most importantly they are presented through the ‘griots’, the traditional story-tellers and singers. At key points they record and celebrate the deeds of the Queen and the people. In the final song of the film they praise ‘our signers’.

” What great deeds would survive without our songs.”

The film was shot on Fuji colour stock and in Techovision; the cinematography is excellent. The colour and widescreen give full range to the epic scope of the story. The battle scenes and massacres are violent but less so than the historical reality. Whilst the key characters are individualised in performances the film devotes as much attention to groupings: both the dominated tirailleurs and the indigenous people who fight with Sarraounia. And the editing and cross-cutting draw forth parallels and contrasts in a way that brings illuminations beyond the central story. The continuing relevance of the events and character is drawn out in the final contemporary shot that closes the film.

We enjoyed a good 35mm print from Havard Film Archive with English sub-titles. In fact, there is a mix of languages in the film. Med Hondo, in an interview in the Monthly Film Bulletin (January 1988) explained.

“Language is a very big question, a contradictory and complex question. It’s a historical reality that, in various countries, because we were colonised, we speak French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and so on. Of course, language is not neutral. But also language is not be itself revolutionary. …

In Sarraounia, there are three African languages; each group speaks its own language. The Queen and the people speak Djoula, the Emir of Sokoto speaks Peuhl, and the Tuareg speaks Tamashek. They speak exactly the language that would have been spoken in that area at that time. Of course, there is also French. And pidgin French, petit nègre (little nigger). And when i was shooting, I said no, it’s not petit nègre, it’s petit blanc.”

Hondo also stressed how the production had a parallel coming together and variety that is presented in the film.

“I tried to involve people from many countries. First, to learn, because it was the first CinemaScope film from Africa south of the Sahara. Second, to show and educate people in the realities of the cinema. The writer of the book is from Niger; I worked with another Mauritanian, whom I’m training in filming; the editing woman [Marie-Thérèse Boiché) was from Cameroon; the set was built by people from Benin; the music was made by people from Burkina and Gabon (Pierre Akendengué, Abdoulaye Cissé and Issouf Compaore). “

James Leahy, in his Monthly Film Bulletin Review praised the film as

“a landmark in the history of African cinema … [and suggested] It would be nice to think it might become a landmark in world cinema.”

Hopefully The Film Foundation’s World Cinema project will quickly move on to a restoration and distribution of this film so it can achieve that objective,

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West Indies, France, Algeria, Mauritania, 1979.

Posted by keith1942 on August 5, 2017

The film was adapted by Med Hondo from a stage play by Daniel Boukman written in 1972, ‘The Slavers’. Boukman is a Martinique writer, apparently little known outside the Caribbean as it would seem is his play. He is noted for using a carnivalesque form, full of irony and parody, and aiming at ‘distance’ in the sense theorised by Bertold Brecht. Boukman receives a credit for dialogue in the film so it would seem that the film relies extensively on the theatrical original. To what degree the film also follows the staging of the play is unclear but certainly it also relies on a carnival atmosphere and on ironic detachment. It is suggested, [in ‘Daniel Boukman : A Poetics of ‘Detour’] that Boukman’s narration resembles the function of the ‘griot’ in African cultures. And that too applies to the film. Hondo had already staged the play in 1972 with the theatrical company he had co-founded before commencing work in film.

The screening at Il Cinema Ritrovato was introduced by Med Hondo himself. He advised us that this print ‘used the final cut’, which suggests that the filming suffered from restraints by producers or by censors. Th. Mpoyi-Buatu [in an article in ‘Film & Politics in the Third World’, edited by John D. H. Downing, 1987] writes that it took seven years to raise all the funding, including individual contributions from Africans. He also gives

‘The film’s full title is this: West Indies or the Nigger Maroons of Freedom.”

Attributing g the main title to the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén and explaining the term ‘maroon’ as

“a term used in Jamaica for slaves who ran away and founded their own independent villages and settlements in remote areas as far from the Europeans as possible.”

I did not note any reference to this sub-title at the screening but the film certainly refers to the phenomena cited by Mpoyi-Buatu.

The setting for this historical parable is a sailing ship, one that is of the type that carried the kidnapped Africans across the Atlantic to slavery. A colleague thought that Hondo had had this set created in the Gare d’Orsay where Orson Welles filmed much of his 1962 version of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. 1978/9, the time of filming, was just before work started on converting the disused railway station  into what is now a prime art gallery, Musée d’Orsay.

“The ship’s different levels indicate rather well the strata of Caribbean society: the slaves, the people, in the old; the middle classes, the assimilated, on the lower bridge; the masters, the colonists, on the upper bridge.” (Th. Mpoyi-Buatu).

Like his earlier Soleil Ő this film relies on a form of montage, cutting between different sites and periods and with a tone that is both ironic and sardonic.  The film commences in the 1960s or early 1970s and on a Caribbean Island: not identified but clearly one of those colonised by the French [Guadalupe, Dominica, St Lucia, ….Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti are directly named in the commentary]. The narrative then moves back and forth to various stages in the development and exploitation of Africans kidnapped into slavery and transported to both the Caribbean and mainland Americas. Dates, names and places are indicated by titles onscreen. A narrative voice both provides information and comment. The chronology runs from 1640 with the arrival of the sugar cane crop on the Islands; the development of an enslaved labour force transported from Africa by the British, French, Dutch and Danish; the events following the Revolution of 1789; the subsequent uprisings, including the successful rebellion in Haiti; the re-imposition following the Napoleonic coup-d’etat; the gradual abolition of the trade and of slavery; and then the post second World War reverse movements up until the 1960s.

Whilst the cast act, speak, sing, dance and perform in various guises, they appear as ‘types’ rather in the style of early Soviet cinema. These song and dance sequences are vibrant and colourful, sometimes celebratory, sometimes dramatic. There are both crowd scenes and individual actors, though the latter are not psychologically individualised.

The opening of the film introduces the audience to a group of bourgeois Caribbean politicians and bureaucrats meeting in a large cabin below deck and this is intercut with footage of ordinary African slaves working on harvesting sugar cane. The bourgeois meeting is concerned to avoid economic problems by encouraging emigration from the Caribbean to metropolitan France: a reversal of the voyages of transportation that bought the Africans across the Atlantic. This is the basic premise of the film, an inversion of the original enslavement.

The upper bridge offers a succession of French colonial rulers and French settlers who lord over the central deck space. Here are the masses of the people, and here are presented the songs, dances, mimes and crowd actions. The dancers frequently used masks and the props vary but include both torches and at one point machetes. Below them,  in a stairwell, are a small group of radicals who constantly oppose the dominant politics above with lines of resistance. Their props include machetes and a candle; the extinguishing of the candle light is a sign of the triumph of the dominant values.

Intercut with the varied performances on the several decks are footage of the slaves transported across the oceans; and of ‘maroon’ settlements where some autonomy is possible., One particular ‘maroon’ is an old man seated by a tree; the tree has a particular resonance from African culture.

“The Ancestor, in West Indies, is the tribe’s legitimacy figure. He does not possess the secret of survival, but a least he demonstrates the positive existence of an opposition force.” (Th. Mpoye-Buatu).

This character uses ‘peasant Creole’, and the film also features ‘immigrant Creole’, ‘pidgin-English’ and French: the languages marking, along with other devices, the classes and strata presented in the film.

The time and spatial span of the film together with the intercutting between these settings makes for a more complex film than Soleil Ő. The film also enjoys higher production values, fruits of the long pre-production work . The staging, in the single and impressive set, is excellent. There is no credit for the choreography, and presumably this was also directed by Hondo.  François Catonné’s cinematography captures the vibrancy of the performance, both in the use of tracks and dollies and at certain points fluid long takes. The editing by Youcef Tobni is at times relatively fast but maintains a coherent if elliptical narrative line. The music offers composition by Georges Rabol and Frank Valmont whilst also using traditional and popular songs and music.

It is difficult to take in all the aspects of the film at one viewing: it is certainly a film that would/will repay further viewings, if and when possible. What it does do is draw together sets of social action of domination that, at a surface level, appear discrete but which are manifestations of the same underlying exploitation and oppression: the manner in which colonial relations have transformed into neo-colonial relations. Importantly the film is constructed to prompt viewers to reflect as they witness the drama unfold. Th. Mpoye-Buatu finally comments:

“So, then, the aesthetic intention is sustained by a critical process of a kind which neither mystifies that process, nor the spectacle presented, nor those to whom it is presented. It is for that reason that … West Indies is a film of ambition, both in its magnificent spirit and in its aesthetics: its corrosive quality only matched by the effectiveness of its strategy. The strategy itslef is simple: to know all the devices of slavery and to combat them by every means.”

The screening was a 35mm colour print running 110 minutes. this was the French version with English sub-titles from the Havard Film Archive.

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Soleil Ȏ / Oh, Sun, Mauritania 1970.

Posted by keith1942 on July 25, 2017

This key film and the filmmaker Med Hondo featured at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017. The film has been restored as part of the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project. As is their practice the new version has been restored from existing 35mm and 16mm prints and made available on a DCP in the original French and Arabic with English sub-tittles. The digital version is presumably to aid distribution though whilst I have seen a number of their restorations at Festivals they do not seem to reach ordinary exhibition in the British/Irish territory.

The filmmaker Med Hondo was also invited to the Festival and we also had the opportunity to see two of his other films. He received a warm reception and was visibly moved by this. He also retained and voiced the passionate political commitment which is apparent in his films.

Hondo’s film work is experimental, didactic and sardonic. His tone is exemplified by the opening of Les Bricot Negres in which a smiling black African man, in close-up, addresses the camera directly:

“So you have come to the cinema —But certainly we all love the cinema very much, don’t we? … the camera, the film, the projectors, the techniques, who invented all this? Not us certainly. —

So, to provide us with entertainment – and also to take from us a little dough – sorry, a little money – the “Toubabs” [Westerners] have built theatres for us, they installed their machines,, and we, curious as we are went to see the CI-NE-MA.” (Prologue printed in ‘Framework’ Spring 1978).

It is clear that Hondo’s film provide a directly oppositional cinema to that kindly provided by the benefactors from Europe and North America.

1970 was the release date of this film when it played at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Hondo, who wrote the story and directed the film, had commenced it in 1965 and completed it by 1967. But finding distribution was as difficult as it had been earlier to find funding. Hondo and his collaborators basically made the film on their own for about $30,000. Much of the money was raised buy Hondo who worked dubbing US films into French. Hondo later wrote of the production:

“it was purely by chance that we ended up being artists ‘of colour’ as the term usually used. In Paris together for basically the same reasons, Bachir, Touré, Robert [Liensol] and I found ourselves right in the middle of a country, a city, where we had to get by, for lack of better words, where we had to work: being an actor, a musician, a singer. And where we realized immediately the doors were closed […]. As a solution we thought of creating a theater group and, in the meantime, we all made Soleil Ȏ.” ( Med Hondo in 1970 quoted in the Festival Catalogue).

The film is best conceived as agit-prop. Whilst the narrative is fictional, it is expresses the experiences of black Africans in Paris and is predominately shot in actual locations. The film weaves of complex tapestry of characters, settings, scenes and actions and discussions. These are not presented in a linear fashion; the film constantly cuts between separate scenes, many of which we return to several times. The basic form of the film is montage in the sense developed by the Soviet pioneers. So not only does the film constantly cut between separate characters and settings bit it is full of discontinuities. Equally the sound follows the manifesto produced by Sergey Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Grigori Aleksandrov,; whilst dialogue scenes mainly used synchronisation the soundtrack frequently features dialogue, music and noise that appears asynchronous. This is especially so as the film moves towards its climax.

The film opens with ma pre-credit sequence of Africans playing and communing by a river followed by a cut and film of Africans in Paris. This sets up the contradiction between Africans own cultures and their experiences under colonial domination, be it at home in Africa or when they sits the ‘mother-country’.

After the credits there is an animated section. Then film set in Africa with a dramatised but symbolic treatment of the oppression of Africans by European cultural forms. Africans are shown dominated by European religion: they are accorded identities through baptism and naming with European names. This is followed by  a procession with wooden crosses. In a sardonic move the crosses are inverted and Africans become soldiers/servants in military service: a service that involves fighting amongst themselves. This is pure agit-prop and sets up the cultural dominance that the film portrays.

We then move to a large city, Paris where an African migrant arrives, The rest of the film is a series of dramatised sequences but shot in actual locations and, at times, using actual footage both of the white French natives and the visiting Africans. These separate sequences are constantly intercut and for most of the time a particular action or discussion is not completed, but returned to later in the film.

So we have an African seeking a place to live: mainly suffering racist rejection.. An African seeking work: and suffering racist responses that range from outright rejection to paternalistic employment. The latter is represented by a factory class for African recruits where the white teachers assume that these ‘foreign’ workers re naïve and possibly illiterate. There is a recurring discussion between an African man and a an employer where the latter appears at times sympathetic but take position that such exploitation is necessary.

Later in the film we examples of African workers being housed in Gerry-built buildings, in excessive numbers and the profits that exploiting landlord can make. There are also scenes where sexual exploitation is addressed. There is a sardonic episode where a visiting African President, clearly corrupted by the colonial situation, uses a white French prostitute.

There are signs of solidarity. At a garage regarding a vacancy the proletarian working there advised and assists the African. But later another sardonic episode shows the competing left groupings, basically sectarian, offering rhetoric rather than actual support for African fighting racism.

Actual solidarity occurs in a sequences where we see African socialising together. There are several set in a restaurant where the Africans eat, drink and socialise. There is also a singer there: note, not all the lyrics are translated. One is ‘Soleil Ȏ’, a song from slaves in the West |Indies, which provides the title of the film.

The film develops a crushing weight of racism, discrimination and oppression alongside the exploitation which is the norm in a capitalist society. As we watch the end of the film the protagonist runs through a series of settings, desolate waste land, railways, motorways and more desolation in a forest. Flames appear on the screen and images are superimposed on the frame, of Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Mehdi Ben Barka and Patrice Lumumba. The protagonist grasps and armalite rifle. This is accompanied by increasingly strident screams, drums and percussive noises. The film ends with the onscreen title ‘To Be Continued’.

That continuation could be seen in the other titles screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Soleil Ȏ set up a radical discourse that continued in West Indies (1979) and Sarraounia (1986). The film shares a common influence from the ideas and writings of Franz Fanon found in other African directors, for example Ousmane Sembène. There is also the influence of Soviet montage, Neo-realism and European Cinéma vérité. All are combined in a distinctly radical cinematic expression.

Hondo later critically commented, in an article ‘The Cinema of Exile’ (in ‘Film & Politics in the Third World’, edited by John D. H. Downing, Automedia 1987).

The approach in Soleil Ȏ had been constructed from a very elaborate script, and improvisations had remained limited and always under constraint.”

He comments more generally,

“Were I to make a film in Mauritania tomorrow, my film language would not be the same.”

And developments can be seen in his later films screened at the Il Cinema Ritrovato. So Soleil Ȏ is a film of a certain time and place. But it is also a key film in developing an African and African Diaspora cinema. The good work of the World Cinema Project is welcome: let us hope the film is widely seen and discussed.

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The Film Foundation World Cinema Project – 2017

Posted by keith1942 on July 9, 2017

Med Hondo introducing his film

The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project is now an established event at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Over a number of years we have enjoyed fine restorations of key films at this Festival. The Foundation has now embarked on a project to restore fifty key films from Africa: there are now eight features restored and available . So, as a real treat, we were able to see three films by Med Hondo. Born in Mauritania Hondo worked elsewhere in Africa and then in France. He took up acting and founded his own company in 1966. Then, working in television and film he moved into cinema. Like some other notable filmmakers he has funded his film direction by his work as an actor: he has done extensive work dubbing voices in films. Since 1967 he has been able to make nine films, seven features and two documentaries: like his fellow African film pioneer Ousmane Sembène his output has been limited by the commercial restraints in world cinema and especially in Africa.

The Foundation has produced a restoration of his first, Soleil Ȏ (Oh Sun, Mauritania, 1970 – DCP). Shot in black and white the film uses avant-garde techniques but it is better described as an ‘agit-prop’ documentary. Whilst it has a dramatised plot line the film presents the experiences of black people in Paris in this period.

“All the scenes were based on reality. Because racism isn’t invented, especially in film. It’s like a kind of cloak put on you, that you’re forced to live with.” (Med Hondo, 1970 quoted in the Festival Catalogue).

It is powerful document and stands up as relevant forty years on.

The programme also included two of Hondo’s later films in 35mm prints from the Harvard Film Archive. West Indies (France, Algeria, Mauritania, 1979) could be described as a period musical. The film presents

“a giant slave ship that symbolizes the triangular relationship between Africa, Europe and the Caribbean – as it explores the parallels between the forced migration of the Atlantic slave trade and the contemporary migration of Afro-Caribbean subjects to former colonial metropoles.” (Aboubakar Sanogo in the Festival Catalogue).

Sarraounia (Burkino Faso, Mauritania, France, 1986) dramatised the historical record and the successful resistance to a French colonial expedition in the late C19th led by Queen Sarraounia in the Niger. The film  had a more conventional linear narrative and was shot in colour and Techovision. Using African locations [but Burkino Faso not Niger], African songs, griots and cultural artefacts , the film celebrated both African culture and African resistance. It also inverted the stereotypes of mainstream cinema with the psychotic French commander reduced to brutal sectarian violence.

Med Hondo was present to his introduce his films. He was clearly moved by his reception and by the re-emergence of his cinema. Hondo also was passionate about his films and the radical political content. The writings of Franz Fanon would seem to be central to his standpoint whilst stylistically the films use montage, both visual and aural, to create their effect.

The Foundation, as is its custom, has produced the restorations on DCPs. I assume this is to assist in circulation. However, to date, there seems to have been few cinematic screenings in Britain. I think only Soleil Ȏ has been screened cinematically in the UK. Channel 4 screened the three films in its ‘Africa Film’ season in the 1980s, but Sarraounia was cropped to Academy ratio.

The Foundation also continued its work in restoring Cuban classics. This year we had Lucía (1968). The film, directed by Humberto Solás and also scripted  by him together with Julio Garcia Espinosa and Nelson Rodriguez, is a fairly epic work with three stories and running 160 minutes (DCP). The three tales present three women of the same name, from 1895, 1933 and in the present.

“Lucia is not a film about women, it’s a film about society. But within society, I chose the most vulnerable character, the one who is more transcendentally affected at any given moment by contradictions and change. ” (Humberto Solás, quoted in the Catalogue).

There were also two films by Tomás Gutiérrez Aléa restored by the Academy Film Archive: Una pelea Cubana contra los demonios / A Cuban Fight Against Demons (1971 – DCP) and Los Sobrevivientes / The Survivors (1970). The latter film bears some comparison with films by Luis Bunuel, though without his visceral tone. Here a bourgeois family attempt to avoid the expropriations bought about by the 1959 revolution and retreat into their plantation. The results are as sardonic as many presented by Bunuel.

The programme was rounded off by a selection of ICAIC Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano (1960 – 1970): the complete series has been restored and digitised by ina.fr and is available on their website. This is clearly a welcome archival source: my main  reservation is that it seems that INA have bought and hold possession of the archive, which would be better retained and controlled in Cuba.

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