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Political Hotspot Cinema

Political Hotspot Cinema

It’s not a circumscribed genre, but it could be, especially in the last few years: “political hotspot cinema” — those films that deal with conflicts and crises around the world, often with the intention of raising awareness for particular issues or simply offering a window onto a misunderstood culture. That’s what I was thinking, at least, when I pitched this course to the New School: “Political Hotspot Cinema: Films from Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and Korea.” The class begins the day I return from Sundance, Jan. 25, and I’m still looking for interested students. If you know someone who might be interested, please forward along the info.

Here’s the course description and a link to the New School site.

“Political crises often lead to powerful, provocative art. This course examines cinema from some of the world’s current political hotspots–from George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” nations (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea) to Israel and Palestine. Surveying recent and contemporary documentary and narrative work, the course goes beyond news headlines to reveal the richness and complexities of these nations’ cinemas and cultures. We study the prolific movie industry of Iran, which presents a vision of the country in stark contrast to Western media representations; documentaries about contemporary Iraq from both U.S. and Arab filmmakers; movies from both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; work from the thriving South Korean film industry, with attention to the way films portray the painful division with the North. Do these films reflect a national consciousness? What do they say that is not conveyed in the nightly news? Can cinema help to heal the rifts both within these countries and with the West?”

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Helpful information:

Who’s who in Palestinian cinema

Hany Abu Assad
Lives and works in the Netherlands. Most well-known for this acclaimed film “Paradise Now” which was nominated for and Oscar and won the Golden Globes. Abu-Assad’s work is humorous and engaging.

Tawfiq Abu Wael
Lives and works in Tel Aviv. Abu Wael’s work is quiet, little dialogue and a very strong visual style. His work deals with rural life and patriarchy. One of the most “visual” of the filmmakers.

Annemarie Jacir
Lives and works in Ramallah. The only female working in fiction, her work is controversial, intelligent, with a strong visual and cinematic eye. Her work deals with borders, movement and class.

Michel Khleifi
Lives and works in Belgium. One of the first Palestinian filmmakers, though he has little recent work. His films focus on gender and self-identity.

Rashid Mashrawi
Lives and works between Paris and Ramallah. Raised in Gaza, began working in film production in Tel Aviv. Masharawi, one of the most original of the filmmakers, works in documentary, fiction and art installation/experimental video. He produces work often, always showing diversity and freshness.

Mai Masri.
Lives and works in Beirut. Masri is one of the earliest and most important documentary filmmakers. Honest, passionate and heart-felt. Her work deals with war and the flight of the Palestinian refugees.

Elia Suleiman
Lives and works in Paris. The most well known of all the filmmakers receiving awards from across the globe. His work is intelligent, dark-humored, resembles Jacques Tati at his best. A distinct visual style and has added meaning to the idea of the vignette.

Sameh Zoabi
Lives and works in New York. The “Hollywood” filmmaker of the Palestinian scene. One short film to date which received attention in Cannes. His work is conventional, reflects an American-style of storytelling, and light.


Wow, what an ambitious effort. I wish I was in NYC to take the class.

Specific to the West, I believe that cinema can effect social change (and hopefully heal), but if the film does not reach a broad audience (the way some television does) can it really be used as an advocacy tool? It is a monumental challenge even for English language films (the recent success of An Inconvenient Truth, about a global malaise, is an exception), and more so for foreign-language films that offer a local perspective that may be contrary to what is commonly believed. We can accuse the nightly news and broadcast television shows for having limited perspectives, but we must also take responsibility as individuals for what we learn for ourselves, so thanks for taking the initiative with this course.

Separate from appreciating the films as artistic representations of these distinct cultures (itself, a true value), if your exam of them intends to seriously weigh their value as agents of social change (or at least, awareness) in the West, you should consider ways of achieving that that aren’t as fruitless as force feeding foreign lingo pics. As our world becomes more globalized, and minorities become majorities, and walls are erected to define where one nation begins and another ends, the “universal language of cinema” has never felt more arcane. More important than stomping our feet because there is little appreciation for foreign-language films, we should find ways of accessing American audiences (at least, immediately), and then at some point introduce the local films of those countries [which may require an artistic compromise, but eventually there may be a greater appetite for the local (foreign-language) films]. I know it’s a stretch, and I know they don’t reflect current events, but I think Clint Eastwood’s recent double-feature is an okay example of this (Letters may be a glossy studio film, but it’s still effective); the slight box-office may also be evidence that there isn’t an appetite for these types of films. Creatively, I despise American made films of foreign subjects that don’t use the language of the setting; but it’s often the best way to engage an otherwise uninterested audience.

Will you also explore the cinematic landscape of China? Both locally and globally, their film community is a major presence; and especially in the near future, they will be an important ally to our nation, and ever present in our daily lives, so we should seek to better understand through film their culture and history and economy – outside of the epic martial arts genre, which can sometimes find a broad audience (unfortunately, most audiences don’t pay enough attention to the nuances and underlying themes to realize just how epic some of those films are). It’s a subject probably better served by its own course.

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