History of Algerian Cinema essay

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The important developments and occurrences in Algerian cinema history

The important developments and occurrences in Algerian cinema history since the early centuries are examined in this essay. From the colonial era to the present, it highlights the contributions made by early filmmakers to the development of the industry. The study concluded that as the political and technological landscape changed, so did the topics, content, supply, and demand of Algerian cinema. The French authorities utilized cinema as a tactic to increase their influence over Algerians during the colonial era. In contrast, the post-independence era gave award-winning filmmakers like Mohamed Lakhdar-Hamina, Rachedi Ahmed, and Amar Laskri the chance to transform the Algerian cinema into a center of entertainment. Thereafter, the sector almost collapsed as the extremist religious groups executed the cinema producers in the 1980s. However, the new generation producers are making successful steps towards regaining Algerian reputation as a leading film producing country.

Algerian Cinema History

Films have remained not only as the leading source of entertainment but also a tool for preserving Algerian history since the early 20th century. Before then, the colonial government used the movies to achieve its selfish agendas. The French employed the cinema as a tool for spreading propaganda against their subjects. The film scholars argue that most of the Algerian films produced by the French before 1954 were based on twisted stories that do not reflect on the historical facts as well as the real cultures and traditions of the nation (Austin, 2011). The films either portrayed the stereotypical image of the Algerians' pastoral lifestyles or the cultural aspects the colonial government wanted to change. Popular movies of the 1920s such as "Le Desir' and L'Atlantide" depicted the locals in negative ways and instead praised the French army officers' for their roles in civilizing the country (Hayward, 2006).

The Mid 20th Century

The French domination of the Algerian cinemas ended during the colonial wars of 1950. The National Liberation Army resorted to movies as a strategy for gaining support in other socialist nations. The fighters acquired the film-making equipment that they used to shoot programs about the growing rebellion against the colonialists. Hayward (2006) cites that the Algerian political leaders established a resistant underground cinema such as the Tebessan Film Unit in 1957. National Liberation Front (NFL) gained assistance from across the political divide. It forged allies with renowned filmmakers and journalists such as Rene Vautier. This was a French and NFL sympathizer who helped the Tebessan Film Unit to produce two documentaries such as, 'Afrique 50' in 1955 and 'Algeria in Flames' in 1958.

Post Independence

Algerian cinema expanded rapidly to become one of the largest film industries in the Arab World after it gained independence in 1962. Austin (2011) argues that the country owes the origin of its cinema to the Aures Mountains just like the colonial wars. The new government funded the production system to redeem the country's image after nine years of bad publicity by the colonialist. The authorities further built Africa's largest cinema hall in Algiers that aired more than five films per day.

The financial assistance provided opportunities for the award winning film producers such as Mohamed Lakhdar-Hamina, Rachedi Ahmed, Amar Laskri and many others to showcase their skills by sharing with the world about the plight of the disadvantaged Algerian populations such as the helpless women and children during the colonial wars. According to Sharpe (2015), the nationalities rebellion marked the beginning of the Algerian cinema popularity in the international markets. Celebrated producers like Amar Laskri and Lakdar-Hamina gave an accurate account of the country's inhuman experiences at the hands of the French soldiers.

The film 'chroniques des annes de braise' tracked the resistance movements from the beginning to the end of colonization from a perspective of a peasant family. The film showed the traumatic event that a mother experienced after the French army captured her son. Despite the dangers surrounding the Aures mountain, the woman searched desperately for her nationalists' son. Lakhdar-Hamina used the peasant family to symbolize the Algerians rising against all the odds to save their country from the exploitative French colonialist. As a result, she won Cannes Palme d'Or award in 1967. Khettab (2016) cite that Lakhdar-Hamina remains as the only Arab film producer to obtain such an outstanding international recognition to date.

Several other films such as the Battle of Algiers (La Bataille d'Alger) and 'Patrouille a' l'est' reflected the Algerians courage and dedication towards driving the colonialists away from their motherland. The Battle of Algiers received three Oscar nominations. Hayward (2006) argues that the cinemas of this generation sold Nigeria as a united country. The films praised the government in restoring stability and promoting peaceful coexistence. However, the post-independence themes of the films changed to other issues such as the shifts in the lifestyles of the urban youth. For example, the Holiday of Inspector Tahar is set in a modern recreational facility as opposed to the conservative nature of most Algerians' traditions at the time.

Similarly, the 1972 films Noua by Abdelaziz Tobi supported development agendas such as the Agrarian Revolution. The movie also featured the primary challenges that faced the rural communities ranging from traditional taboos to social matters like native feudalism. Moreover, the film criticized the marginalization of women, witchcrafts, and class stratification. Sharpe (2015) found that the Algerian cinema ignored the significant roles that the women played in the fight for independence until Assia Djebar launched two movies in 1978 and 1980. Besides criticizing the oppression of women, the films' themes empowered women to participate more actively in the national issues and leadership.

From the 1980s to 2000

From the 1980s to 2000, the Algerian film industry took an unexpected turn in the 1980s. Political instability and depression resulted in a steep decline in the demand and supply of the various forms of entertainment. The film industry's output fell steadily as most production firms collapsed. The situation deteriorated in the midst of the civil unrest of the 1990s also known as the 'Black Decade.' According to Khettab (2016), the industry comprised of more than 400 cinemas prior the political war. However, it decreased by over 90% to about ten firms by 2004. Similarly, the audience attendance fell by more than tenfold from 40 million to 50,000. Hayward (2006) also argues that only the Algiers Cinematheque remained operational at the time. The indigenous films' production stopped.

Previously, the state controlled the cinema industry. Therefore, most of the films celebrated the famous FNL leaders. On the other hand, the government lost the influence in the mid-1980s. Caille (2013) cites that the leaders of the Algerian-Islamist groups and extremist political figure denounced watching cinemas claiming that it was an illegal recreational activity that contradicts with the teachings of the Koran. The insurgents raided the cinema raided the film centers and murdered the movie directors and their fans. As a result, most producers fled to other countries and those who remained in Algeria shifted to other professions. Only the courageous filmmakers such as Merzak Allouche continued to shoot movies. In fact, his 1994's film "Bab El-Qued City" captured the rivalry between the government and the radical groups (Caille, 2013). The film pointed the social ills that arose from the insurgency such as high unemployment rates, political corruption, murder, rape, shortages of housing facilities and many others.

The fundamentalist attempt to shut down the Algerian cinema sector did not succeed. Instead, the extremists provided the filmmakers with new story lines. The producers both in exile and within Algeria dedicated their time to sharing with the world about the real impacts of terrorist activities. For example, Allounce shot another film, "Salute Cousin" in 1996 to pay tribute to the Algerians who sought refuge in other countries (Caille, 2013). According to the movie, as much as the individuals cannot go back to Algeria because of political reasons they will never feel at home in France. A 2002's film "Bachir-Chouikh's Rachida" depicts the troubles a young school teacher went through while escaping from a terror group that tried to force her to bomb her innocent students and work colleagues. In other words, watching the movie, the movies produced between 1980 and 2000 shifted focus from other national issues to the consequences of the insurgency (Sharpe, 2015).

From the 2000s to Date

From the 2000s to date, the cinema sector remained a risky business venture to pursue in Algeria. This is due to the negative publicity that associated movies to forbidden pass time activity. Hayward (2006) found that the Algerians who considered film production as a profession lacked access to infrastructure until the civil unrest ended in 2002. However, the local colleges were still reluctant to offer filmmaking courses due to the controversies surrounding spending time at the cinemas. Consequently, the filmmakers trained themselves or enrolled for the programs in international institutions.

Like in the earlier periods, the most recent cinemas incorporate the latest real life encounters into their main themes. According to Hayward (2006), the industry witnessed the significant transition from militaristic films that glorified warfare to diverse themes on everyday life. The film's story lines changed from the liberation war to more interesting issues. For examples, the widely watched films such as the 2008 Masquerades employs the misconceptions about the western cultures to make fun of the traditions of a small Berber village. The movie also satirizes the strict censorship limiting the citizens' right to expression. For example, the leading character wishes to venture into a video rental business. The film further indicates that he will struggle to find regular customers because the Algerians are yet to embrace cinema going as an acceptable form of entertainment (Khettab, 2016).

Nevertheless, with the new generation of filmmakers entering the industry, the cinema sector is tackling these challenges. The young people are both digital enthusiast and open minded hence are making remarkable progress towards addressing the contradictions. Caille (2013) cites that Algeria is producing better quality films than it has ever achieved in its entire history. More business people are investing in mobile cinemas as well as home made films. Recently, there was an international film festival that provided opportunities for the young Algerians to showcase their talents alongside their peers from France, Brazil, and Portugal. The attendance is also growing at an increasing rate (Khettab, 2016).

In conclusion

In conclusion, the Algerian Cinema industry evolved with the changes in the political and technological environment. At first, the French government used movies as a means of expanding their influence on the Algerians. In contrast, the end of the colonial era made the country a leading filmmaking center. Mohamed Lakhdar-Hamina revolutionized the industry by producing an award-winning movie based on the horrifying experiences the country encounter at the hands of the French army. Thereafter, the cinema sector almost collapsed as the extremist religious groups executed the producers as well as those who visited the theaters. The Algerian film industry lag behind peer nations because of the negative experiences witnessed during the black decade. However, the new generation cinema producers are making successful contributions towards regaining the country's reputation as a leading Arab World's filmmaking hub.

References

Austin, G.(2011). Spaces of the dispossessed in Algerian cinema. Modern & Contemporary France, 19(2), 195 -208.

Caille, P. (2013). Cinemas of the Maghreb: Reflections on the transnational and polycentric dimensions of regional cinema. Studies in French Cinema 13(3), 241 -256.

Hayward, S. (2006). Cinema studies: The key concepts. London: Routledge.

Khettab, D. (2016). Algerian cinema: A new wave is emerging. The Middle East Eye. Retrieved from http://www.middleeasteye.net/in-depth/features/cinema-algerias-new-wave-emerging-1385200367

Sharpe, M. (2015). Representing masculinity in postcolonial Algerian cinema. The Journal of North African Studies, 20(3), 450-465.

March 17, 2023
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