It often seems as if some areas of the world have declared open season on cartographers, to the extent that no amount of remapping can keep pace with the changes taking place. Shifts in territories and the emergence of new cosmopolitan areas can have a dramatic effect on the cinemas of the region and, indeed, complicate attempts to define a nation-state or describe a national culture.
Benedict Anderson (2006) theorised the imagined community “as both inherently limited and sovereign”, as “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” This idea has guided film studies for so long now that this actually rather abstract theory of nationhood, which carries nationalism “as if it belonged with ‘kinship’ and ‘religion’, rather than with ‘liberalism’ or ‘fascism’” is surely ripe to be questioned by contributors to The Routledge Companion to World Cinema.
The imagined community maps belonging on to what Andrew Higson (2000) describes as “a carefully demarcated geo-political space”, one that emphasises its geographical and genetic juxtaposition with other imagined communities. But what happens when a single identity fragments into separate spaces? What community is imagined then? Reinstating sociological enquiry into the relationships between contemporary World cinema and identity demands that the centrality of Anderson’s concept be respectfully challenged. This is particularly pertinent to the shifting sands of Arab countries, which is why securing a contributor who could manage an overview of its complexity while pinpointing crucial areas of interest was vital to the ambition of The Routledge Companion to World Cinema.
Luckily, our enquiry was answered by Anne Ciecko, who is an Associate Professor of international cinema in the Department of Communication and a core faculty member in the Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where she coordinates the Graduate Certificate in Film Studies and curates the film series New Asia Cinema/Arab Cinema Panorama.
This was her abstract.
Locations and Narrative Reorientations in Arab Cinemas/World Cinema
Foregrounding the question of what constitutes an Arab film, I will introduce this essay with a brief historical overview of Arab narrative cinema and the continued use of Arab countries as filmmaking locations for international films, culminating in a mention of a controversial recent epic (in terms of genre and budget) Quatari co-production. Throughout the essay, I will address the specific ways Arab filmmakers have reclaimed regions (Levant, Arabian Peninsula, Nile Valley, Maghreb); represented cities and interstitial and contested places (e.g., Cairo, Beirut, Dubai, Palestine and the occupied territory of the West Bank, the Sahara desert); asserted or problematized the nation-state and (pan-)national/cultural identity; challenged and subverted cinematic stereotypes; and engaged with exilic, diasporic, and glocalized experiences. I will limit and balance any listings (e.g., of director names and film titles) within the article proper, with substantive discussion of carefully contextualized films that illustrate larger trends and issues. In the context of my discussion, I will identify and integrate key definitions, concepts, and debates; as well as critical, analytical, and scholarly research contributions including my own perspectives attending to modes of production, narrative strategies, and the discursive construction of contemporary Arab cinema(s) as world cinema.