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New Dictionary Of Algerian Cinema & Films On Algeria Covers 100 Years In 1,150 Pages

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 14, 2013 1:35 PM
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Algerian Cinema

From a L'Expression report, which I had to translate, although Google's translation service isn't the greatest, so I had to piece words together...

A newly-published work from Achour Cheurfi that should be of interest (it most certainly is to me) titled Dictionary of Algerian Cinema and Foreign Films about Algeria, covers 100 years of Algerian cinema in 1,150 pages - on films, filmmakers and actors. 

The book was recently published by Casbah Editions in Algeria.

The author outlines the beginnings of cinema during colonial times, between 1897 and 1962, then explores national film productions and foreign films about Algeria from 1957 to 2012. 

The dictionary points out that the Lumière brothers were the first to shoot images of Algeria in 1895, but that it was not until 1897 that Felix Mesguich directed his first feature film in Algiers, Ali Bouf' à l’huile.

The author sees Tahar Hanache, who directed the documentary Aux portes du Sahara (At the doors of the Sahara) in 1938, as "the pioneer of Algerian cinema", while the year 1957 marks the birth of the "struggle for independence cinema" with René Vautier’s L’Algérie en flammes (Algeria in flames).

The author recalls the the many actions carried out by the Algerian government during the first decade after independence, in favor of cinema, such as the creation of the national film library.

It was also during these years that the classic The Battle of Algiers was released.

The film enjoyed a "very successful international career” and won several awards, paving the way for a series of other successes, like Merzak Alouache’s Omar Gatlato released in 1976. Omar Gatlato is considered a "turning point" in Algerian cinema, "breaking away from the war thematic and an ideologically controlled cinema," notes the author.

Achour Cheurfi lists about 30 feature films from the 1970s that were inspired by the agrarian revolution and that paved the way for the new cinema movement, adopted by Sid Ali Fettar, Abdelaziz Tolbi, and Lamine Merbah among others to "make cinema a tool for political mobilization".

This movement is also embodied in Mustapha Badie’s La Nuit a Peur du Soleil, and Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina’s Chronicles of the Years of Fire, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1975. These works made of the 1970s the Golden Age of Algerian cinema.

In the 1980s, Algerian cinema was characterised by a commitment to social themes and the rise of Algerian-French co-productions about immigration.

Speaking of Algerian cinema this century, author Cheurfi believes that "Algerian cinema seems to be reborn after years in a coma" with films "highlighting hopeful and dynamic youth working towards a return to freedom of expression through cinema in a country in constant change."

The "new wave" can be summed up with the quote, "Quiet - cameras rolling against all obstacles!" And this is happening despite the absence of a distribution network and a lack of cinemas in which to screen films.

Algerian cinema is still very foreign to me. There's so much I don't know, and I'm continuously looking for opportunities to learn as much as I can. There's a whole world of cinema happening in Northern Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria especially) that doesn't really get the attention it deserves. A massive chronological database like this one authored by Cheurfi would be incredibly handy! I'll be looking for it. It doesn't appear to be available in the USA yet. In fact, I couldn't find it for sale anywhere online. But I'm on alert, and when I learn anything new, I'll share here.

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