I started out as a war reporter and then became a director. What enriched me the most were my trips to the Middle East. This experience deepened my understanding of the situations I was dealing with. As a result, I became independent and able to do what I wanted, find my own style and voice, which I protected as much as possible when I didn’t have to make a living. I have been in many dangerous situations, but I have always tried to stand by and fight for what I believed in, to show and analyse a constantly changing Middle East, which fascinated me… In 1973, I made Les Femmes palestiniennes for the French channel Antenne 2. I wanted to show images of these Palestinian women fighters in Syria, which were very rare at the time. It was just before Sadat’s visit to Israel, and the situation was very tense. While I was editing the film at Antenne 2, Paul Nahon, then head of foreign correspondence, grabbed me by the collar and pulled me out of the editing room. Les Femmes palestiniennes was shelved and never televised.
Jocelyne Saab, interviewed by Nicole Brenez, 20 December 2015
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Jocelyne Saab. F.: Hassan Naamani. M.: Philippe Gosselet. Prod.: Jocelyne Saab. DCP. D.: 16’. Col.
Weaving together memory, myth and archival materials, Layla wa zi’ab is a significant point of intersection between the militant and anti-colonial cinema of the pioneers of Tercer Cine and feminist historiography. Ignored and forgotten, the role of Arab women in the Middle East’s political history is illuminated here for the first time and is the focus of the film. The project was made all the more ambitious by the fact that Heiny Srour does not limit her examination to a specific historical period but captures sixty years of conflict. Using narrative structure of the “mosaic”, a common device in oriental stories, Leila travels through time: from the British Mandate of Palestine to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, participating in the insurrections of the 1920s, the revolution of 1936-1939 – during which women organized a wedding to transport weapons – and the massacre of the Palestinian village of Deir-Yassin…
“I wrote the scenario in three weeks and in a kind of trance… The reason is that Tahar Cheriaa yelled at me, saying: ‘You haven’t made a film in ten years! There’s a script competition at the Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique (ACCT) and I haven’t received anything from you…’ Tahar Cheriaa had played a central role in completing The Hour of Liberation – a film he adored.
… I absolutely wanted to send him a scenario worthy of the man who had been a father to all of us young Arab and African filmmakers of the Tricontinental era. When I read it after I had sent it, I thought the committee would take me for a madwoman, as ACCT usually awarded prizes to well-crafted, neorealist scenarios. Mine was the opposite, avant-garde in content and form.”
Acclaimed by critics for its originality and the talent of its director, Layla wa zi’ab was distributed worldwide but censored in most Arab countries. Thanks to this new restoration we rediscover a work of great complexity, which even in its most imperfect moments speaks beyond its, albeit fundamental, feminist message.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Heiny Srour, Ahmed Beydoun. F.: Curtis Clark, Charlet Recors. M.: Eva Houdova. Scgf.: No’man Al Joud, Ahmed Maalla, Heiny Srour. Mus.: Zaki Nassif, Munir Bechir. Int.: Nabila Zeitouni (nei vari ruoli di Leila), Rafik Ali Ahmad, Raja Nehme, Emilia Fowad, Ferial Abillamah, Zafila Cattan, Wissal El Sayyed, Yolande Asmar, Toufic Mrad, Antoniette Negib, Mona Ramadan, Hayat Lozi, Majwa Mehdi. Prod.: Leila Films, BFI. DCP. D.: 90’. Col.
Foto © Heiny Srour
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