Posted by: professorepler | October 6, 2010


[after screening of CAMERA ARABE] – Note: please read PART I (below) before reading this post.


Epler:  okay, so this is made 23 years ago.

Tamador: it’s the same

Epler: that’s what they said last year, it was the most depressing movie they ever saw.

Rawan: it is, yes.

Epler: but isn’t it weird? That’s some of the same things we said not one hour ago are the same they talked about in 1987 or previous to that some interviews are older.

Sana’a:  I am so angry!

Epler: at who though? At you?Your audience?The  world?

Sana’a: no, at us, not the audience and not the friggin’ governments, at the people, the artists,  it’s the same problems they had friggin’ 50 years ago, and its still the same, we get better ideas and get more creative, we whine and nag a lot, the government will not let me do that, but I mean, seriously, it’s the exact same problem. I can’t, no, I just can’t.

Epler: the word I heard the most in there was defeat, theArabis a defeated person, we are all defeated, our generation is defined by defeat. All we have known is defeat, Over and over again. And you want to just smack them in the face and say, no one is telling you you’re defeated, just go out and make some films and do your best, and say that’s the best you can do, or whatever.

Sana’a:      and even if you are defeated, do not just sit there and nag about it.

Epler: they made plenty of films,

Sana’a: yes, true.

Epler: these are the legendary film makers that gave rise to the award winning  independent features that no one sees, and they know it, but they also say what else am I supposed to do?  Shehabi.

Shehabi: it’s so depressing and it’s still the same, but they think they are defeated because at that time, their mental state was the whole idea of an Arab nation, like they were more defeated than at least our generation. Which does not affect the reality if we’re defeated or not but it affects the knowledge or thinking about it. But even now, you see additions you see more channels and internet and posters and its still the same. It makes me more angry because you don’t know where the. When you look at it people want to see and they need to see. Many things happened in the last 10 years, and I know it needs time.

Epler: that is a good point, what is different? Now?

Bachar: I need a long time, can I have this time?

Epler: oh, you’re warning me? I will give you 2 minutes, but I am timing you, go ahead.

Bachar:  about now, people and filmmakers stopped thinking of these issues like 67 and the Arab war. but this film we watched is an example of the problem, because they do not talk about cinema, they want to talk about the history and someone wants to face a memoryand someone maybe… psychologist, I did not hear any word about mise-en-scene or about story or about film or problems in financing movies. I think it was a problem of Arabian people, each one even if he was filmmaker or painter or singer they have to talk about every problem in society without knowing what he is talking about exactly. This film started with 67 and Nasser and that period and talked about facing the capitalists or like that. These issues ended years before and now we are in another problem.

Epler: great, that is my question, someone tell me what is different?

Bachar: what is different is the interest in the issues and now they want to …

Epler: the difference is that filmmakers are not interested in these social and political issues, they are just interested in making movies.  That is interesting. Let me get somebody who has not spoken yet.  Did you have your hand up tamador?

Tamador: yes but I wanted to say the same

AmerDwaik: I think those film makers were lucky. They had a reason not to succeed, they can always say that we defeated we faced these defeats. These defeats are.. Whoever.. None of us lived these defeats, yes were raised with it, but we did not really live it the way they did, but we don’t have the same we cannot get away with it.

Epler: excuses?

AmerDwaik: yes, I think recently, not only in Jordan, most of the younger generations who are trying to make films, they are aware this is not an issue, this is not an excuse not to succeed, so yes we are better. They were lucky but we are in a better situation.

Epler: do you feel defeated by anything? At all?

AmerDwaik:  no not at all.

Epler: I see many heads agree with that. Is that true around the room? Do you have no reason to feel defeated? In the sense that they felt defeated. I will take that for general agreement.

Sana’a:  no, actually, I do not agree with Amer.

Epler: you don’t?

Sana’a: maybe for the same reasons, maybe its milder now, and I am sure whenever some one goes home  and opens a book of history, and looks back at what happened, I think its innate, or born with us, same with you having to hate someone who attacked your country, I think it is passed down through blood,  this defeat, because it was so major, but  regardless if it still holds now or not, I think the most important thing that has changed, I think the excuses are still there, maybe they are different, the defeat is definitely still there, maybe its under another name, I think the medium now, we have the technology on our side, it does not have to cost you thousands and thousands of dollars to make a film and you do not have to go get clearances from each person in the government to shoot , you do not have to wait for distributers,

Epler: True

Sana’a:  if you want to make a film and get it out there, now, you can, maybe then they could not , but now, I can see no reason why that does not happen.

Epler: okay

Tamador: to feel defeated is very bad, but I think in that period it is good that you feel defeated  but to work against it, to do something, make films, but now not to feel defeated is also bad, because we are also in a very bad situation in this region, we are not strong. For me, I feel defeated many times but I think we have to work, I feel the young generation they don’t feel anything about the world around them, they don’t feel anything, and that is strange.

Epler: you said that we are in a bad place, what does that mean? What is bad?

Tamador: I mean , for me as a Palestinian, we are the only place in the world that is occupied.

Epler: so when you say we, you mean Palestinians?

Tamador: and also I feel that we are, yes, yes.

Epler: no one is going to argue with that, you are in a bad place.

Azza: are we still answering about the difference? Can I add something else?

Epler: sure.

Azza:  okay, let us break it down easily, money, we can get, distribution we can have, people have gotten to Cannes from the Arab world, from Jordan to Sundance, that is easy, not difficult, 2 elements we can have, money and distribution, the problem is the story, and one other thing, we are well educated, we are lucky we are living in this state, it creates background, culture, history that people do not have, like for example Americans do not have, that rich history like we do.

Epler: True

Azza: so, adding to that we are lost in stories, that is one big thing I believe, even in very tight societies  , like the short film industry in Jordan, we end up doing stories that really do not concern us, sometimes, okay, so we get lost within the story.  So, I think our main problem is the story rather than the censorship, or governments or whatever, etc… because , you know, if  you want to do something you want to do it , you know, and I do not see why censorship sometimes would cause you a problem. If you are talking about red lines and crossing those red lines, then you are talking out of (inaudible). But speaking now is that we have a problem of story, a problem of understanding ourselves, of trying to identify ourselves after , like at this point.

Epler: I just want to clarify because I am a little unclear, when you say our problem is story and then you say that we need to identify ourselves is that the same thing?

Azza: yes, in a sense.

Epler: that you are not writing stories that probably define who you are?

Azza: not literally defining, I mean, we need to understand where we are, who we are, and what exactly makes us ourselves, therefore, getting a story out there. Putting our identity out there and publishing it.

Epler: your identities, maybe, plural. Hiba  did you have your hand up? I will come back to you guys in a bit.

Hiba: for me, I am no expert, but for me, I think how it was before, is because at this very moment a war has happened, everyone is really tensed up and  have something to say to the rest of the world, so at that time it was defeat, but now, we are not living the same defeat that was before, now, it is more of coexistence, we are trying to accept what happening out there, but me being Jordanian and living here, every time a bombing happens in Palestine or Lebanon, or any part of this region I would hear  a song, I would see a documentary talking about it, but in 2 weeks 3 weeks it would vanish and we would go back to coexistence, so it is not as strong as it was before. Do you get what I mean with coexistence? Like we try to accept that this is here because a long time has passed since it happened, and we do feel defeated but at the same time we try to accept that, it is what it is,

Epler: it is what it is

Hiba: we cannot do anything about it, so let’s just make a documentary or a short film, and that’s about it, let us just move on. So, that is how I see it..

Epler: okay.

Rawan: I want to comment on Azza, that the problem with the story, like you are talking money you can get, funds you can get. If you are thinking about festivals, money, they have specific stories that they are interested in, so let us say if you want to make a feature, and gets funds for it, you have to talk about something that is of interest to the west which is not out of interest to the east. Vice versa, if you want to make a film that is for the eastern audience, you need it to be of their interest which is totally different from the interest of the west. Which is also totally different from what we as independent filmmakers want to do. So you have this problem and that is why it is not working out, you know? So if I want to get funds and my target is the film festivals let’s say, it has to be something with politics, something with women issues, or something with children rights, or about the poverty in the region,

Epler: or Israel.

Rawan: yes, or Israel. Politics let’s say, that’s under politics.

Epler: oh, sorry.

Rawan: so that they would actually look at it, or it would be of interest to them, so if I want to get funding for something here in the middle east, it has to be for something that the audience wants to watch, so it’s going to go to the commercial side of what Egypt Is doing. And here lies the problem. You see?

Epler: so you see compromise on both sides?

Rawan: yes, on both sides we are compromising, yes.

Epler: okay, that sucks. But you are right, at a certain level, I think you are right. I can not think of anything that contradicts that truly. Although, Caramel seemed to cross into both but it did not do too well here.

Rawan & Tamador: no it did not. No.

Epler: no it did not. Who else?

Tamador: to compare between the two generations, they were defeated, and maybe what Azza said about looking for our identity or we not having identity, I agree with her because, for our generation, to not be defeated we are escaping from our identity,.

Epler: okay. Bachar?

Bachar: I would like to refer to something for .. (inaudible) the question of how much art fits our society, or real societies in the western world, or even the Arab world,  we have to notice that cinematic art, we have to go with, only in cities or countries under the British or French (inaudible) it’s like Egypt like Indian like Australia and Singapore and Hong Kong, it drives us to know this art is for western world, like the… like everything in modern period, when we know this art and try to deal with this art,  we had a big problem, like does it fit our eastern life, religion, our something like that. And it started for example, in Egypt in the same way as in Britain, because Egypt was under the British occupation. So to know the problems of cinema in the Arabic world, we have to look at Egyptian cinema it was something funny and exciting happened in the high class fortunate ones until 52 where Abdel Nasser… after that he used the cinematic art to develop or support his opinion about revolution, after him, Sadat also used cinematic art to mention mistakes of Sadat and now to be funny and to

Epler: I hear what you are saying, it’s fascinating  look cinema is an invention that came out of a whole bunch of circumstances that lead to the industrial revolution in the west, and that is why it made sense to the west, but maybe we are looking at a historical problem that goes further back than the politics of the region , which is: is cinema really a medium that does well in the middle east  at all?

Bachar: but sorry. I am going to say I think it is a kind of people in our society interested in cinema , it is people who studied in western society or in high class, it is not popular art.

Epler: its not an art, ah, or at least, an art that is appreciated.

Bachar: or I mean for example not like sculpture or painting, it is something that takes place between very small class of people, who had studied in Europe or America or very fortunate.

Epler: would you say that is who you are? You said people who watch films are people who were educated abroad and have a lot of money.

Bachar: not people who watch, people who make ..

Epler: I am asking you, is that you?

Bachar: no

Epler: so there are exceptions.

Bachar: not me I am talking about the start of cinema

Epler: but it could also happen to us. I have to cut you off and let other people. Sana’a?

Sana’a: I just wanted to be clear if he was talking about now or in the past?

Epler: yeah, you’re talking about the past, that it was born out of privilege and western influence?

Bachar: yes

Epler: okay

Amer Dwaik: I wanted to say something but then no.

Epler: if you want to finish we will wrap up now the class.

Bachar: I am finished

Epler: because I always feel I am cutting you off and you will go home and …

Bachar: my point is that the problem of cinema is the same problem of press and problem of any western art or science that comes to our area and we still don’t know how to deal with it. We still have the same problem in press, in process and all of this we can call it modern problems.

Epler: I will let you go,

Amer Dwaik: since Tamador mentioned it I will mention it, the defeat, I think that the story is based on language, and the quality of a story can only be as good as our thoughts, so having defeat as a part of our thoughts as something we accept will affect our stories and our thoughts, so eventually this will make the middle eastern films that will come later on into  genre that has depression as a ..and I don’t think this will do the middle eastern cinema any good, I might be very much mistaken but , this is how I see it.

Epler: you’re killing me Shehabi. Go on.

Shehabi: I just want to add to what Bachar said, talking about.. since before even since 18th and 19th century, the chain of art Arab art is still the same. Language, poetry and such things but in visual to clarify from beginning maybe before it was powerful chance, theres a gap from the pharaohs, there’s another thing that popped into my head, all of this way of thinking is growing.. even now the new generation the kids are there is no mention of history especially Arab history.

Epler: so maybe now, even what Tamador was saying is some cultural naiveté, not knowing what happened might actually be an advantage?

Shehabi: I  do not kno if it is an advantage, but it’s a fact that is changing, fading

Epler: oh it is fading?

Shehabi: …

Epler: Yusef Chahine  says  that memory is confrontation, and in order to confront others you need to confront yourself, if you are going to confront memory, you can choose what to keep and what to not keep, what to use and what to throw away, say, this memory is not helping me, it is like therapy, I am going to throw it out , I am going to stop obsessing with this one and obsess with this one because this is a positive memory and I can use it, it is about what you want to use. So wrapping up, one of my favorite parts in the film is the meeting in Carthage, the first Carthage film festival, where they all, all the film makers, organize the festival and come together and talk amongst themselves about what they are going to do, and that is when Yousef Chahine is like I am through being polite, now I am going to just cause trouble, right? Which I thought was really interesting, at that point I think what they are discussing and perhaps what we should be thinking about for next week, is, what is your definition of success, individually, as a group, and as a region, what is the definition of success? For all of these; production, distribution, finance, artistic, form, content, story, audience, what is the definition of success, think about that. I will put up notes on the blog every week ,I will send you all a link to the blog, I highly encourage you to maintain the discussion online through the week as you have any conversations or thoughts of your own,  this is a very unique time where you guys can actually talk about this together in one room and not just 2 or 3 people together on a couch at 3 in the morning, so let us try to record as much of it as we can, so that you can use it later on to start more conversations in other places. Thank you have a good day.


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