Mohamed Bensalah: At last, a breath of fresh air in Algerian cinema!

After years of decline, the Algerian filmmaker, film critic, and academic sees hope for his country's film sector


Mohamed Bensalah: At last, a breath of fresh air in Algerian cinema!

According to Mohamed Bensalah, in Algeria in the 1960s, “the camera was considered to be a weapon and a tool for liberation”. The 1970s “witnessed the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers who wanted to use their know-how and skills to serve the social and political struggle”.

Their avant-garde films were a critique of society, and the political authorities responded by imposing censorship, which completely neutralised film production. During the “Black Decade” of the 1990s, many Algerian filmmakers fled the country. But this led to a new wave of Algerian films being made in exile.

"More socially committed, more daring, and technically more elaborate, films made by the new generation, whether in exile or at home, strove for a radical critique of society." So what caused such a prolific and inventive film sector’s decline? According to Bensalah, it was “the heavy cultural inertia that beat down on all cultural activities from the 1970s.

It started with the main official bodies being dismantled, then reduced to nothing.” (Read the article on the absence of fiction from Algerian television.) Filmmakers fled the country. Film clubs disappeared. The country’s big international festivals (in Constantine, Annaba, Oran...) came to a halt. “In the end, the Islamist’s arrival completely paralysed the whole sector.” But now we seem to be witnessing the timid jolts of an awakening in Algerian cinema. The ministry of culture has laid down the foundations of a new cinematic and audiovisual landscape in the country. Algeria now has several new film festivals in Oran, Algiers, and Béjaïa. “This year the Berber film festival even celebrated its 12th edition [...], handing out the 12th issue of Asaru-cinéma, the only magazine especially for cinema in our country.” There are also now more women making films.

Mohamed Bensalah has suggestions to boost film funding and distribution, as well as training in the film sector.

“Why not, to start with, think about public funding as part of a private business sector managed by the public authorities?” Distribution is also a key stage in funding films, so the country’s cinemas must be rehabilitated and perhaps new cinemas built. “Why not, beside rehabilitating old cinemas, think about building new cinema complexes by encouraging investors and distributors with a tax exemption on benefits and a revision of custom tariffs for imported [film] copies?” The filmmaker also deplores the lack of available training in Algeria, as there is only one film school in Algiers.

With youth now regaining this spirit of creativity, things should start evolving in the film sector, he says, if the state offers the right conditions for its evolution.

Source : El Moudjahid

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