22  09  2005

cinema - algeria

Algerian Cinema at a Turning Point

The free market economy model being applied in Algeria is prompting some deep grumbling from filmmakers. According to film critic Djamel-Eddine Merdaci, Algerian cinema faces serious financial difficulties and can’t access the funding needed for ending productions. And worst still, cinemas across the country are shutting down. This double death threat for Algerian cinema represents a serious cause for concern.

Ahmed Ouyahia’s government, between 1998 and 1999, took three irreversible measures: it shut down the Centre algérien des arts et de l’industrie cinématographiques (CAAIC), the centre of l’Entreprise nationale de production audiovisuelle (ENPA) and the Agence nationale des actualités filmées (ANAF).

The government then proposed to establish a new institution to re-launch Algerian cinema. But the flag-bearers of free market economy decreed that filmmaking does not generate profits, thus, there is no need to fund it. Says Mohamed Chouikh: “We lack the culture of financing projects.

We live in a hostile environment. Filmmaking is not an exact science – banks do not help us, sponsors don’t exist. Making movies is extremely difficult.” Tewfik Farès states that other production facilities should have been put in place. More bluntly, Brahim Tsaki (Histoire d’une rencontre and Les Enfants du Néon) considers that most Algerian films are made with French money: “There are some perverse dynamics at work. Just look at the career path of some African filmmakers. They make a first, deeply committed movie that gains prizes – and Western producers suddenly show up. With their money also come subtle but pervasive pressures: these outsiders demand that movies are altered so to gain greater audiences.”

The filmmaker Amar Laskri (Patrouille à l’Est, El Moufid, Les portes du silence, Fleur de lotus) considers that: “The Government was probably tempted to exit from an unprofitable sector which drained precious finances. However, it did not consider that, whether we like it or not, cinema constitutes an important part of the country’s cultural identity.”

The country’s historical and cultural identity is an issue which the leaders of Algeria have at heart – especially on the occasion of the Année de l’Algérie in France, as the one theme Algerian filmmakers develop in particular is the nation’s colonial past. And this is why more than fourteen films have been accepted. Among these, Les Suspects by Kamel Dahane, Mehdi d’Alger by Saïd Ould-Khelifa, Beur et margarine by Mahmoud Zemmouri, Le Vent de l’oubli by Belkacem Hadjadj, Le Soleil assassiné by Abdelkrim Bahloul, Dix millions de centimes by Bachir Derraïs, Viva Laldjérie by Nadir Moknèche or Chronique des années pub by Othmane Ariouet, La Voisine by Ghouti Bendedouche, Si Mohand U M’hand by Rachid Benallel and Yazid Khodja, Le Rapid d’Oran by Rachid Benbrahim, Le Clandestin II by Benamar Bakhti and some shorts: Cessez-le-feu by Ahmed Zir or Le Silence de la douleur by Yamina Kassar.

All these are movies which received some funding from the Millénaire d’Alger initiative. Though far from being a solution, this rapprochement with filmmaking is intimately linked with the efforts of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika: he assigns to movies an important role in the affirmation of a national sentiment. However hazy the arrangements regarding Algeria’s filmmaking future may seem, there is another significant event: the government’s decision to transform the Centre de diffusion cinématographique (CDC) into a Centre national de la cinématographie et de l’audiovisuel (CNCA).

In a culture-adverse environment, ruled by inertia, the choice made by the Minister of Culture to lay the foundations of a new filmmaking institution represents, according to movie director and academic Mohamed Bensalah, a tangible sign of a much needed awakening of Algerian filmmaking.

Bensalah signals his appreciation of Khalida Toumi’s initiative, but also draws the Culture Minister’s attention to the fact that “the new, ambitious, legislation on cinema is a first step. Our Minister must know that there is no room for backtracking.

Also, this political will must come accompanied by the availability of funding”. But most importantly, audiences must be enticed back to cinema. Toumi’s initiative generates respect because she managed to insert it among the priorities of the Head of State and also because it comes as a form of resistance to the past disaffection towards cinema.

Furthermore, the Minister’s determination also assured an increase in funding and the establishment of a filmmaking school. All this comes at a moment in which the Algerian Cinémathèque is on the verge of reclaiming its original vocation, thanks to its transformation into a modern cinema museum with all the technology necessary for the conservation of film. After having witnessed the carefully orchestrated death of their art, Algerian filmmakers know all too well that images must not be entangled with a dominant discourse, that they must not be bearers of morality and that their reality simply stems out of their immediate meaning.

Copyright Locarno Film Festival

Abdelhakim Meziani, Journalist and writer - Copyright Locarno Film Festival