What We Are Reading Today: Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity

Updated 09 May 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity

  • First published in 1998, this book has become an indispensable work for scholars of film and the contemporary Middle East

Cinema is returning to Saudi Arabia — and Saudi Arabia is turning to cinema, as the Kingdom’s movie industry is to be showcased for the first time in Cannes at the 71st Film Festival, which opened this week.

Since its birth, film has been deeply entrenched in the Middle East, not least because it is such an obvious descendant of Arab storytelling and literary traditions. 

First published in 1998, this book has become an indispensable work for scholars of film and the contemporary Middle East, offering a comprehensive overview of cinema in the Arab world, tracing the industry’s development from colonial times to the present. 

The strong focus on Egyptian cinema is understandable since more than half of all Arab films originated there, and Shafik also examines the effects of that market dominance. But she also looks at films made by other Arab nations, exploring the differences and similarities among them.

The author also explains the historical, political, religious and economic context that decides what films are made, how they are made and where they are shown. The book has been updated to reflect cultural shifts in the past 20 years, highlighting the latest developments in film-making, especially in Iraq, the Gulf states, Lebanon and Palestine. 


Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

Updated 21 October 2018
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Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

BEIRUT: This evocative title, which conjures up images of the iconic Silk Road, is only a foretaste of what you experience in the book. “Beyond That Last Blue Mountain” recalls the extraordinary journey of Harriet Sandys. At 19, realizing she was completely unqualified, she wondered what a girl from her background could do. Hearing about her brother’s trip to Afghanistan and reading Wilfred Thesiger’s “Desert, Marsh and Mountain” and Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” fired her imagination, and she decided to make that journey.
Four years later, in 1977, a letter inviting her to visit the archaeological sites of Afghanistan changed the course of her life.
After learning how to repair oriental carpets, she worked for the Afghan Refugee Information Network and decided to assess the situation of Afghan refugees at the North-West Frontier. Touched by their extraordinary stoicism, she organized exhibitions of Afghan embroideries and carpets and opened a shop.
However, many of the NGO carpet-weaving programs produced rugs of inferior quality which were unsellable. Harriet wanted to find an alternative project that women could do at home. The Ikat silk-weaving project was born. Over 12 years, she traveled through Pakistan, setting up the project despite problems and setbacks. She miraculously recovered from bacterial meningitis and pursued her humanitarian aid projects in Iraqi Kurdistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After her departure, the silk-weaving project, contrary to all expectations, thrived thanks to the courage of Saleh, a 17-year-old boy she had trained in Peshawar. He brought the project back to Afghanistan and became a master weaver. The Afghan fashion event held in London in 2011 highlighted one of his creations, a stunning dark-green silk evening dress decorated with calligraphy.
“Oriot,” as she was affectionately called, defied danger, traveling in and around war zones with almost no financial support.
“Had I pondered too long and too hard on all the dangers and difficulties I might have encountered … I would have remained a secretary, regretting missed opportunities,” she said. Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story.