by Rebecca King
Beginning September 29 and running through November 17, the Department of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (JINELC) will show four films as part of the annual Middle East – North African Fall Film series. The series was founded in fall 2006 by Nancy Reynolds, associate professor of history, JINELC, and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Younasse Tarbouni, a senior lecturer of Arabic. Since then, Professor Tarbouni has organized and coordinated the series.
Tarbouni says they founded the series with the idea that the Arabic movies could act “as a window on Middle Eastern culture in general.” He views the series as a way for “students to virtually visit the streets of Cairo, Amman, Beirut through the eyes of native film directors and hopefully give our audience that missing angle in other non-Arabic films.” However, representing the diverse region, even over the course of four films, is no easy task.
“The driving force really is the pluralism not portrayed in typical Hollywood movies,” says Tarbouni. “We always strive to present films that cover the MENA region, and this year is no exception. The constant and refreshing curiosity of our students—especially Arabic and JINELC students—motivates us to seek films that set the scene for a healthy debate and introduce them to the MENA culture(s), exploring them in [their] authentic language and varieties.”
The series aims to start open conversation about the topics of the films. Following each showing, Tarbouni hopes the community will stay to take part in the post-film discussion to explore issues as varied as “immigration, language and politics, religions of the MENA region, social Arab movements and revolutions, [and] human rights.”
Professor Nancy Reynolds adds, "I find that films spark incredible discussions, especially because of the sense of immediacy created by the visual nature of film. This is particularly useful in teaching about a part of the world that American media usually presents as so different, exotic, and troubled. The film industry in the Middle East has a long and very important history, so we are lucky to have many outstanding and sophisticated documentaries and feature films that we can show in the film series."
Students who are interested in topics presented by the films can also find courses that expand on some of these ideas, as many of the films compliment courses offered in JINELC, Tarbouni explains, but the theme for each year’s film series changes. “At times we chose a theme for the series and selected movies around the same theme; other semesters we selected films representing the languages offered within the department. One of our most successful series was the coordination between the Hebrew and Arabic [language] sections, focusing mainly on the Levant area.”
This year, however, the films were chosen in reaction to current events. Tarbouni says, “In light of the recent developments in the MENA region this past summer, we wanted to shed light on the region's history. The series hopefully will start a conversation about Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, and Egypt for further discussion. We intend to cover the North African [and] Arab speaking regions in the spring.”
You can read more about the four films selected for the fall semester on JINELC’s website.