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Title: The Aesthetics of Moderation in Documentaries by North African Women
Authors: Van de Peer, Stefanie E.
Supervisor(s): Murphy, David
Ezra, Elizabeth
Keywords: North Africa
Ateyyat El Abnoudy
Selma Baccar
Assia Djebar
Izza Genini
Chabab Cinema
New Arab Cinema
Transnational Cinema
Third Cinema
Issue Date: 6-May-2011
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This thesis focuses on documentaries by North African women, who have been marginalised within the limited space of the field of African filmmaking. I illustrate how North African cinema has suffered from neglect in studies on African as well as Arab culture and particularly African and Arab cinema. I discuss the work of four pioneering women documentary makers in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Consecutively I will discuss Ateyyat El Abnoudy, Selma Baccar, Assia Djebar and Izza Génini’s work. My approach is transnational and Bakhtinian in the sense that I am an outsider looking in. I promote a constant self-awareness as a Western European and an academic interested in the area that is defined as the Middle East. Like the documentary makers, I take the nation state as a starting point so as to understand its effects, in order to be able to critique it and place the films in a transnational context. The documentaries in this thesis illustrate that films of a socio-political nature contest the notion of a singular national identity and can become a means of self-definition. Asserting one’s own cultural and national identity, and subjectively offering the spectator an individual’s interpretation of that self-definition, is a way towards female emancipation. Going against the grain and avoiding stereotypes, evading censorship and dependence on state control, these directors find ways to give a different dimension to their identity. Analysing the work of these four pioneering filmmakers, I uncover diverse female subject matters treated by a similar aesthetic. I argue that through overlooked cinematic techniques, they succeed in subverting the censor and communicating a subtle but convincing critique of the patriarchal system in their respective countries. Their preoccupation with representing ‘the other half’ puts a new and under-explored spin on perceptions of anti-establishment filming with subtly emancipating consequences. I suggest that their common aesthetic is one that develops moderation in terms of context, content and style. There is a cinematic way of implicitly subverting not only the (colonial) past but also the (neo-colonial) present which goes further than re-inscription or compensation: new modes of resistance co-exist with the more rebellious and heroic ones. These women’s films rewrite, imply and contemplate rather than denounce and attack heroically. They do not reject as much as interrogate their situations, counting on the empathic and intersubjective abilities of the spectator. A relationship of trust between director, subject and spectator is crucial if we want to believe in the subalterns’ aptitude for voicing issues and gazing back. I reveal a different approach to communication beyond the verbal, and a belief in the subjects’ capacities to speak and listen. This is echoed in the filmmaker’s sensitive analysis of the subjects’ expression and voice and the non-vocal expression – the gaze. The intended outcome is dependent on the willingness of the spectator to take part in the intersubjective communication triangle. I conclude with the idea that moderation is the foundational concept of a post-Third Cinema transnational aesthetic in North Africa. Ateyyat El Abnoudy, Selma Baccar, Assia Djebar and Izza Génini are pioneers of women’s filmmaking in North Africa, who opened up a space for underrepresented subjects, voices and gazes.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Department of Film and Media Studies

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