By Sandra Hahn, Sr. Editor - Content Operations, ProQuest
Sixty years ago, renowned Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine made his first film on what would become his favorite theme: social injustice and the individual’s struggle against oppression . Siraa fil Wadi (Struggle in the Valley, or The Blazing Sun, 1954) also launched the career of an unknown Egyptian actor named Michel Demitri Shalhoub – who later changed his name to Omar Sharif .
Chahine, who died in 2008, did not witness the wave of popular uprisings against oppression that swept across the Middle East in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.
While media coverage of violence in the region is seemingly unending, images of nonviolence are few and far between. Middle Eastern filmmakers are stepping up to the challenge to fill in the gap by taking the camera into their own hands to document peaceful protests and inspire nonviolent resistance. But in the process of filming peace, the directors themselves often face violent responses from those who do not wish the story to be told.
Case in point: the Oscar-nominated Five Broken Cameras (2011), which was co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi . The film documents five years of nonviolent demonstrations by Palestinians – and their Israeli supporters – against settlements in the West Bank village of Bil’in. At one point in the film, Burnat thoughtfully regards his five assembled cameras, all broken at some point by Israeli soldiers. “Healing is a challenge in life,” he observes. “By healing, you resist oppression. […] I film to heal.”
Jehane Noujaim’s powerful, award-winning Al-Midan (The Square, 2013) presents the Egyptian revolution in Cairo’s Tahrir Square from the immediate viewpoint of those who made it happen . The film is all the more effective for its “unfinished” nature. As actor and political activist Khalid Abdalla remarks toward the end of the film, “We won’t know if this revolution has succeeded for decades.” (See photo at right: Courtesy of Filmmaker ).
Fictional cinema, too, is increasingly taking on themes of peace. In her whimsical tale Et maintenant on va où? (Where Do We Go Now?, 2011), Lebanese director Nadine Labaki takes a lighthearted approach to religious conflict by showing how the resourceful women of a Muslim-Christian village invent unique ways of preventing the men from killing each other .
Especially in the Middle East, filmmakers must be willing to diplomatically work within and around political and societal constraints to tell their stories.
Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda (2012) is the first film ever to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia – and the first feature film by a female Saudi director . (See top photo: Courtesy of Cineaste ). Wadjda, played by spunky newcomer Waad Mohammed, is a “quietly rebellious” 10-year-old girl, who dreams of owning a green bicycle, in a culture in which respectable girls and women don’t ride bicycles – or direct films in public. Working mostly from inside a production van, Al-Mansour shows a young girl fighting for her dreams, while her mother, inspired by love, takes a stand against tradition .
The international Muslim community is now preparing to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on June 29. Meanwhile, TV channels in the Middle East are getting ready to debut their new season lineup. Ramadan is the most popular month for TV viewing among Muslims, as families gather in the evenings to break their fast . Last year, Ramadan TV featured less of the customary escapist fare and more dramas centered on the Arab Spring and its impact on everyday life [12, 13]. Some TV channels used Ramadan programming as an opportunity to raise awareness against terrorism and violence .
As with the Olympics in 2012, Ramadan 2014 will again coincide in part with another major sporting event: the already-in-progress World Cup. May any family disputes that arise over the remote control  be resolved peacefully!
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