CFP: The Circulation of Films in North Africa and the Middle East: Political Strategies, Economic Players, Audience Practices

Saint-Denis City Hall (Saint-Denis)

In partnership with the Panorama of Maghreb and Middle-Eastern Cinema (9th edition)

May 8-9, 2014

Adopting a regional focus for the analysis of cinema practices necessarily entails a certain degree of arbitrariness when tracing the boundaries of the selected area. The common characteristics of the area are usually determined not by cinema-related considerations but by political, economic or cultural factors, and this is the case for the MENA (Middle East / North Africa) region. Although the contours of the MENA region have fluctuated, this denomination has historically been constructed based on economic, religious, political and geopolitical considerations, in turn inciting us to consider these factors in our analysis of the circulation of films from and in this region.

In the past decade, the places, the forms and the terms of the relationship to film in and from the MENA region have considerably evolved. The importance assumed by new film festivals (Abu Dhabi since 2007, Doha since 2009) has reconfigured the distribution channels for local films. Morocco has now become a major film producer and there have been a number of new national and transnational initiatives. The Doha Film Fund, Euromed Audiovisual I, II and III, Euromed Cinemas are all institutional programmes that are clearly aimed at promoting film production in the different countries, facilitating national and international distribution and giving higher visibility to film from this region. The recent revolutions in certain Arab countries –Tunisia, Lybia, Egypt, Syria – has not only changed the way those in the country imagine their relationship to their government, but has also changed the way people from other parts of the world see them. This in turn has led to a new interest in films from the MENA region. The reconfiguration of the film landscape is also to be understood in the context of the digital revolution, a technological mutation that has transformed the relationship between cinema and audiovisual media, has redefined what cinema is and how the film industry functions, from issues of production and circulation to reaching the audience.

In spite of this dynamic context, films produced in the MENA region do not currently enjoy wide circulation. They are often poorly promoted and distributed, finding it hard to reach the rare screens available, and have remained largely unknown to the general audience. In order to be profitable –both economically and symbolically – these films need to circulate and be seen. The circulation of films, its absence and its limits, are thus a central issue in the current development of the MENA film industries.

MENA films have mostly been the object of academic research in the English-speaking world (Leaman 2001, Colin-Donmez 2007, Gugler 2011). Studies sometimes present a regional overview (Malkmus and Armes 1993, Shafik 1998, 2007, Serceau 2004, Hillauer 2006, Khalil 2007, Martin 2011) but usually favour a focus on a national case (Sabry 1995, Austin 2012, Dwyer 2004, Carter 2009, Orlando 2011, Austin 2012, Lang 2014). There is little French academic research in this area, although a number of texts focus on regional and national cinemas (Berrah et al. 1981, Khayati 1996, Devictor 2004, Khalil 2007, Brahimi 2009, Caillé and Martin 2012), among others. Academic research from the MENA region clearly favours national case studies (Jaidi 1999, 2001, Khélil 2002 & 2006, Chamkhi 2002 & 2009, Yazbek 2012, etc.). Existing research has until now explored MENA cinemas via three approaches: aesthetic and thematic analysis, careers of the directors, link between cinema and politics.

This conference aims at introducing a social and economic focus into the study of MENA cinemas. In order to better understand the factors determining the circulation of films in and from the area, one needs to explore public policies, institutional mechanisms, industrial, commercial strategies, current technological transformations and identify the main players of the distribution sector. This first conference aims at gathering diverse methodological approaches and creating an academic exchange around the issue of the circulation of these films; it also aims at favouring a dialogue between academics and professionals from the MENA film industries. The term ‘‘circulation’’ can be approached in three different ways: the circulation of films in their domestic market, their regional and international circulation, and the circulation from one format to another.

I – Domestic circulation in the individual MENA markets

Each country in the MENA region has developed its own relationship to film. It is thus important to explore the trajectories of the works in their home market. The circulation of local films can be understood in the context of the presence of films from other – often powerful – cinemas, either from within (Egypt) or from outside the MENA region (Hollywood, Bollywood, Europe). One could also examine the role of the state in regulating domestic films markets through practices such as censorship or screen quotas. The strategies of the distributors and exhibitors in circulating and displaying local and international films are also a key element to be considered. …

II – Regional and international circulation of the films from the MENA countries

A second issue is the circulation of films of the MENA region outside its borders. Between the extremes of films that are exclusively distributed on the domestic market, and others that are only accessible on an international market outside the region, it is possible to identify different categories of films with distinct distribution patterns. The regional and international circulation of the films can be determined by other factors, such as local and international support programmes and films festivals. One could indeed interrogate the influence of such support and selection at film festivals – both old and new, not only in the Maghreb and the Gulf states but also in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe – on the trajectories of the films. The influence of co-productions – either North/South or East/West (i.e. within the MENA region) – on the films produced is also a topic of interest.

III – Formats and Practices

The bad state of repair and the closure of many film theatres as well as the choices made by certain distributors have restricted access to the traditional exhibition circuit in the region. Films circulate on other media such as television, DVDs and the Internet (VoD, streaming, etc.). We need to consider not only legal access, which is often subject to censorship, but also illegal options that constitute a thriving underground market. This grey area in the film market makes it difficult to identify the actual spectators and trace the ways in which they access films and/or television programmes. To what extent does the larger spectrum of access to films force the film industry players to change their practices in the MENA markets? And to what extent do these alternative means of distribution represent a viable alternative to theatre exhibition for watching MENA (or non-MENA) films, both for MENA viewers and for an international public.

The first day of the conference will be dedicated to roundtables with professionals from the MENA film industries in order to initiate a dialogue with academics on the modes of circulation and the networks which determine the films’ trajectories.

Papers can be presented in English or in French.

Send your proposals to nmingant@univ-paris3.fr and patricia.caille@unistra.fr, with a 300-word (minimum) abstract, 5 bibliographical references and a mini-biography. Deadline – January 26, 2014.

Organizing committee:

Abdel Benchenna (Université de Paris XIII), Nolwenn Mingant (Université de Paris III), Patricia Caillé (Université de Strasbourg), Ghofrane Ghariani (Université de Paris III)

Scientific committee:

Hamid Aidouni (Université Abdelmaled Essaadi, Tétouan), Tarek Ben Chaabane (Université de Manouba, Tunisie), Sonia Chamkhi (Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts, Tunis), Laurent Creton (Université Sorbonne nouvelle-Paris 3), Moulay Driss Jaidi (ISCA, Rabat), Kevin Dwyer, Claude Forest (Université Sorbonne nouvelle-Paris 3), Will Higbee (Université d’Exeter), Andrea Khalil (CUNY, New York), Florence Martin (Goucher College, Baltimore), Michel Serceau, Elie Yazbek (Université Saint-Joseph, Beyrouth)

This conference has received support from: MSH Paris Nord, the City of Saint-Denis, CREW (Université Sorbonne nouvelle-Paris 3), IRCAV (Université Sorbonne nouvelle-Paris 3), LABSIC (Université Paris 13), l’Ambassade de France en Tunisie. Other applications for funding are pending.


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