2021 Theses Doctoral
Specters of Liberation, Children of Violence: Experimental Film in Algeria 1965-1979
In this dissertation, I map the experimental margin of Algerian cinema between 1965 and 1979 against the paradigmatic film about Algeria, Gillo Pontecorvo and Yacef Saadi’s The Battle of Algiers (1965). I focus on the period immediately following the successful conclusion of an eight-year war waged by the Algerian National Liberation Front against France. It is known as the “Golden Age” of Algerian cinema, a span of nearly fifteen years after the film industry was nationalized when culture was generously financed by newly exploited petrochemical resources in the Sahara.
This mapping has two aims, the first of which is straightforward: I read four films made in Algeria by Algerian filmmakers closely in light of their socio-political contexts and I argue that together they represent a significant and overlooked minor history in Algerian film. The films are Tahia Ya Didou! by Mohamed Zinet (1969), Omar Gatlato by Merzack Allouache (1976), La Nouba des Femmes du Mont Chenoua by Assia Djebar (1976), and Nahla by Farouk Beloufa (1979). They are significant formally and in terms of their critical reception at the time and since the late 1960s and early 1970s among Algerian filmmakers, but they are crucially significant as ambivalent testimony about life after the colonial period and about the traumatic effect of the long and violent struggle for liberation.
Second, I read these films against the Battle of Algiers in its socio-political context. I argue that the aspects of the War of Liberation that fall out of this canonical portrait of decolonial resistance are precisely those taken up by the experimental margin I examine elsewhere in the dissertation. My reading of Pontecorvo and Saadi’s classic film is critical not only in terms of its representation of violence perpetrated by the French but also in the aspects of Algerian history it occludes, namely the history of women. If the margin provides a space for testimony for the trauma of the war, the Battle of Algiers reifies a Fanonian understanding of revolutionary violence, an understanding that is constitutively exclusive of women’s role in the war.
I read extensively with Karima Lazali on the clinical situation of Algerians post-war. I draw on archival materials from Algeria and France including production notes and documentation of contemporary reception, especially by Algerians. On contextual questions, I read Algerian sociologists, politicians, filmmakers, and film critics as much as possible. My commitment to de-centering especially a French perspective on Algeria allows the rich semiotic exchange between filmmakers, artists, architects, and political activists to emerge and to challenge the hegemonic perspective that Algerian culture post-war was entirely dominated by its authoritarian government.
This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2026-02-09.
More About This Work
- Academic Units
- Art History and Archaeology
- Thesis Advisors
- Alberro, Alexander
- Ph.D., Columbia University
- Published Here
- February 22, 2021