Cinemas of the Arab World - March 2010

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Cinemas of the Arab World
Call for papers - special issue of Wide Screen
Editor: Latika Padgaonkar (film scholar, former Executive Editor, Cinemaya and festival director, Osian's Cinefan Festival)

The Arab world may be bound by language and religion, but it is in no sense homogeneous, neither in its history nor in its customs. Yet, over the years, what has largely been common to many Arab countries in the field of cinema is a set of shared problems: decline in film production, closure of halls consequent to the video revolution, censorship, issues of distribution, diminishing investment, narrowing of the domestic market and the invasion of American films and television programmes, quite apart from the pervasive and longstanding influence of Egyptian cinema to which several countries were called upon to adjust in an earlier day.

For all that, a large number of Arab films have, in recent years, made a mark in the international arena. These films have been made in the face of odds – economic, material and psychological. They continue to grapple with their past and, increasingly, with their present: a past linked to their colonial experience, war and displacement, and a present that is trying to shape an identity. The colonial yoke may have been shed but the region is now battling turbulent issues of another kind.

Wide Screen attempts an engagement with cinemas of the Arab world by asking questions on a variety of topics that are pertinent to this region – from censorship to the new cinema, from the position of women to the question of identity, from the implications of foreign funding to the diversities and similarities of the cinemas of these countries.

Apart from inviting general articles that may be specific to a director, film or a theme in Arab cinema (as a whole or from a particular film culture), here are a few very broad ideas that can be incorporated in the suggestions we make to people who want to write for the journal and even as guidelines for ourselves.

* Focus on one director – an entire section of the special issue could have articles/essays and interviews and reviews of films made by one director.

* Censorship – articles dealing with censorship in Arab cinema. Is it just censorship of content by the state machinery, or is it also self-censorship – a kind of moral policing done socially. Is there also a censorship of form? How accepting is the audience and the state to non-linear forms? How much has that changed over the years.

* Showcasing cinema – the rest of the world knows precious little about the cinephile culture in Arab countries despite a growing cinema culture. Examination of cinema halls, the kinds of films they showcase, box office returns etc can be interesting to look at. Furthermore, what is the kind of give-and-take with other popular cinemas, for instance Hollywood and popular Indian cinema. Do locally produced films get more popular than foreign films? What is the state and role of film festivals in Arab countries.

* Articles dealing with Arab audience and also audience of Arab cinema

* Identity – film cultures across the world, be they art films or popular ones have obsessed over questions of a Muslim identity ever since 9/11. How does Arab cinema engage with this question? Is Arab cinema (and within it cinemas of individual countries) put on a defensive, loaded with the notion of proving innocence? Apart from content, how does form deal with this question? The most important question here is, What is Arab cinema?

* Women – when it comes to Arab cinema, a look at the representation and position of women in the film industry is inevitable. How many women directors are there? Are big actors ready to work with them? Are female stars paid as much as their male counterparts. Who are the directors that are working on issues relating to women. What is the kind of opposition they have to face.

Deadline for paper submission: 15 March 2009.

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