Panel Discussion: “Of Men, Gender and Cinema – A Filmmaker’s Gaze”

After a lecture on the portrayal of masculinity in Arab cinema, director Eliane Raheb and directors Mohamed Soueid, Mohamed Hammad and Merzak Allouache had the opportunity to discuss the images of masculinity in their films together. Program leader Claudia Jubeh introduced the podium discussion, emphasizing that the concept of the Spotlight program on Reflections on Arab Masculinities was not about common themes often associated with migration and gender inequality. Rather, ALFILM wanted to look beyond the usual stereotypes and searched for individual stories of masculinity.

 

© Carman Ho

 

The first question was to Cinema Fouad director Mohamed Soueid regarding censorship in Lebanon. Soueid’s film was first produced for state television, which subsequently banned it. The film encourages young people who are homosexual, which is still prohibited in Lebanon and can be punished with up to three years in prison. As a director in Lebanon, censorship is a daily companion, one which has a lot of power and exerts a lot of pressure on artists’ work. Nevertheless, Soueid managed to create his film, disguised as a soap opera, outside of the country and finally to show it there. Unfortunately, Soueid no longer has any contact with the protagonist of the film. He has heard many rumors from prostitution to jail, but he does not really want to believe them.

Merzak Allouache then reported on his vision of the two Omars in Omar Gatlato and Madame Courage. The protagonists of both films call themselves Omar, but are part of completely different generations. Allouache said that he was certainly not a sociologist and that Omar Gatlato was not primarily concerned with making a film about masculinity. He only wanted to make a film about the life of a simple, young man in his neighborhood in Algiers. He chose a man as a protagonist because he knew life as a man and the challenges it implied in Algeria. He is unable to directly influence which conclusions the audience will draw from the film. That is the work and task of journalists and the public. Between Omar Gatlato and Madame Courage lie, said Allouache, 24 films. He did not get a lot of time to reflect on Omar Gatlato, but he emphasized the difference in generation of the two Omars. Omar Gatlato, unlike Omar in Madame Courage was perceived as a rather comedic character.

Mohamed Hammad also responded to the question of whether he deliberately chose gender as a theme in his film. In Withered Green, he wanted primarily to discuss issues such as time or the influence of religion, but not gender. Nevertheless, gender plays a role. For example, everything in Egypt is depicted as somehow relating to a man, whether in religion in the form of a male god and prophet or by all male political leaders. Therefore, Hammad wonders whether one should not believe in humanity rather than a religion or a party.

Eliane Raheb’s documentary films often portrayed masculinity in relation to war. A frequent motif is the heroic fighter, who later becomes a fallen hero felled by numerous problems. How does Raheb choose the men for her films? Raheb said she did not really care if she chose a man or a woman for a role. It would be much more on the individual history of humanity.

However, she said that many men would likely change their attitudes about the different topics that had been discussed after seeing themselves represented on a big screen. Thus documentary films, said Raheb, could also have a positive effect on attitudes towards topics such as gender. She is particularly interested, as her second film Sleeples Nights shows, in the connection of weapons and masculinity. The protagonist Haykal in Those Who Remain shows another less brutal form of masculinity. Raheb emphasized that masculinity manifests itself differently in Haykal, namely through agricultural work or the building of a house and not by violent force. It was this point which fascinated her. In a new project, she now wants to focus on the topic of sexual identity. She found it sad that homosexuality in Lebanon is still frowned upon. She finds it strange that tourists who are homosexual are completely accepted tourists, but that Arabs can not be openly gay.