Middle East Film Series Examines History’s Upheavals Through Human Stories

Idriss Jebari, Bowdoin’s Andrew W. Mellon Post Doctoral Teaching Fellow in Middle East History

This fall, a 12-part film series on the Middle East is part of Idriss Jebari’s plan to bring thought-provoking discussions about the Middle East and its history to campus. Jebari is two months into his time at Bowdoin as the Andrew W. Mellon Post Doctoral Teaching Fellow in Middle East History. In his two years as part of this fellowship, Jebari will teach classes and continue to work on his research toward the publication of his first book.

The idea for Jebari’s series came from his experience as a PhD student. He recalls watching many films with other students outside of class, which would often lead to lively discussions. He hopes that the films he shows at Bowdoin will stimulate similar conversations.

Jebari said he believes “history is also about social change and the story of people” and that it is important to look at the past through this lens. He added that he hopes that through this films series and his teaching at Bowdoin, he can help students better approach the Middle East and overcome dominant misconceptions.

Arguing that “people evolve based on the constraints and obstacles they face,” he said each film in the series looks at some of these constraints and obstacles in a way that humanizes those who live in a region often subject to hurtful stereotypes. Below are short descriptions of why Jebari selected each movie in the series.

 

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Indigenes

Indigenes depicts North African Soldiers who fought for France in World War II. This movie adds a human perspective to war and it depicts it from a different perspective—from the perspective of the colonized. This movie also created an instantaneous political change in France after it was released.

Lawrence of Arabia

A classic movie, Jebari said he chose this movie in order to capture an important historical episode—when Britain intervened to shake up the Ottoman Empire.

West Beirut

This film tells the story of a group of young innocent friends during the Lebanese Civil War. West Beirut is one of Jebari’s favorites in this film series.

Waltz with Bashir

This animated movie plays a lot with the questions of what is real?, what is a dream?, and what is a memory? It unsettles the way we normally watch a movie, according to Jebari. It looks at the long term and less visible effects of war and how individuals deal with them.

Caramel

With cuts and shortages, a beauty salon in Lebanon is forced to use caramel instead of shaving cream. The essential aspects of this movie is the interactions between the women in the hair salon and how these relationships mimic the dynamics of the Lebanese nation.

The Yaqubian Building

This movie a story within one contained building in Egypt, shedding insight onto Egyptian society.

Where do we go now?

This movie depicts a rural village that had a long history of cohabitation between Muslims and Christians. Political conflicts and finally some tourists from elsewhere, shaking up the village’s social dynamics in a comedic and genuine way.

Marock

Although this is a simple story about one girl and her family from a privileged environment in Casablanca, Jebari said he loves it because it “exposes Moroccan society and all its contradictions.”

The Wanted 18

A village in occupied Palestine hides 18 cows from the Israeli army. Jebari said he likes how this movie highlights how “war is not just about politics, but also it’s about economy and different interests.”

Last Days of the City

This film captures the closing moments of many important pieces of a young man’s life in Cairo. Through this story, the viewer learns about Cairo while also looking at very real human challenges such as nostalgia and melancholia.

Clash

Clash takes place in the back of a van during the Arab Spring. In this closed space we see the interactions of police officers and many different protesters. Jebari believes the strong emotions in this movie help people understand what it is like to be in places during times of momentous change and upheaval.

One thought on “Middle East Film Series Examines History’s Upheavals Through Human Stories

  1. Eric M Weis

    Quite disappointed that this series includes no film about the indigenous people of the area, namely Mizrahi Jews, nor their cousins, the Sfardim who were forced to be refugees against their will, displaced from their ancestral homelands. I can recommend two films, if anyone is interested.

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