Conference : “Screening Crime in the Arab World”
4 – 6 May 2023
Saint Joseph University of Beirut
This conference will focus on Arab crime films and TV series, by which are meant, broadly, works of fiction centering on crimes, criminals and criminal investigations (by law enforcement agencies or ordinary citizens), from the beginning of Arab cinema to the present. The term “Arab” is understood in a broad sense, as referring to any film or series produced in the Arab world and/or having Arabic as a main language.
The aim of the conference is not to impose a rigid taxonomy on these crime dramas, but to read them in their historical contexts of production and reception and to reflect on the multiple dimensions – narrative, cultural, social, legal, political, etc. – of crime and, where appropriate, of criminal investigations in Arab movies/shows.
The film industry in the Arab world took up the themes of crime and its investigation from an early stage. Since its rise in the 1950s, Arab cinema, particularly in Nasser’s Egypt, has featured a plethora of crimes, criminals, magistrates and investigators. The themes and atmospheres of Arab crime films are often reminiscent of American or French film noir: featuring black-and-white cinematography and dramatic music, mixing melodramatic crime stories (often murder stories) with social realism, it gives pride of place to desperate situations in which injustice, disorientation, madness and fate take centre stage.
The same applies to TV series, which were very successful long before the development of pay platforms and complex series, and often foreground criminal investigations. Parolin’s observation about Egyptian series applies to the field in general: “Enigmas or crimes often constitute the central narrative device of whole shows that are not necessarily identified as belonging to the same genre” (Parolin 2021a). The prominence of these enigmas or crimes is today reinforced by the emergence of platforms such as Shahid VIP, which were conceived under the influence of Netflix. These contribute to revitalize popular genres and to root the crime genre in the television habits of Arab audiences.
The substantial corpus of noir films and police or crime series, their place in the movie/TV landscapes of the Arab world, the formal or aesthetic expressiveness to which they aspire, the sometimes complex and elaborate discourses which they formulate on the world of crime, their appropriation of thematic or stylistic motifs from other cinemas (notably Hollywood), their critical reception and popular success: all these aspects invite us to think of them in terms of genre and to investigate their contexts, their codes, their characteristics, as well as the variety of readings they allow.
A few cinematic and serial milestones
Early cinematic representations of crime include such milestones as Rayā wa Sakīna (Raya and Sakina, 1953) or al-Waḥš (The Monster, 1954) by director Salah Abou Sayf, based on scripts by Naguib Mahfouz. Although investigations may be haphazard, the pursuit of the culprit at the head of an organized criminal system and the suspense that characterise them bring them close to the gangster film or film noir. These films also show that, while rooted in a local context, the cinema of the Egyptian classical period explicitly refers to certain Hollywood authors and codes. This trend can also be seen in Youssef Chahine’s Bāb al-ḥadīd (Cairo Station, 1957) or al-Iḫtiyār (The Choice, 1971). More recently, the German-Danish-Swedish production The Nile Hilton Incident, a multi- award-winning film by Swedish-Egyptian director Tarik Saleh (2017), has been largely perceived as “true film noir” in the Egyptian style (Jean-François Rauger, Le Monde, 2017).
Crime films appeared in the Maghreb in the mid-1970s, but only gained international visibility at the turn of the millennium. Thus Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s Casanegra (2008, in Moroccan dialect) or Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Bay‛ al-mawt (Death for Sale, 2011) are powerful testimonies to the breakdowns and vulnerabilities of Arab societies.
Literature helps to fuel the cinema with tales of enigmatic murders. The Franco-Algerian film Morituri (2007), directed by Okacha Touita, is adapted from the novel of the same name by the writer Yasmina Khadra. The Egyptian Ahmad Mourad wrote the screenplays for the films adapted from his own noir novels: al-Fīl al-azraq (The Blue Elephant, 2014) and Turāb al-mās (Diamond Dust, 2018), directed by Marwan Hamed. In Morocco, Abdulillah Hamdoushi wrote a screenplay based on his novel al-Ḥanaš (al-Ḥanaš, 2017).
Crime drama on television is also on the rise in some Arab countries, especially during Ramadan. This is the case, for instance, with Egyptian series such as Man al-ǧānī? (Who is the culprit?, 2015); Istīfā (Preliminary Report, 2015); Kalabš (Handcuffs, 2017) or Ḍidd maǧhūl (Unsolved Case, 2018). In Syria, Luġz al-ǧarīma (The Mystery of Murder, 2003); Ḫaṭṭ al-nihāya (The Path to the End, 2002-2017) or Kašf al-aqni’a (The Masks Fall, Ramadan 2011) are among the leading shows. In Morocco, al-Qaḍiyya (The Affair, 2006-2007), al-Ġūl (The Ogre, 2016) or al-Sirr al-madfūn (The Buried Secret, Ramadan 2020) illustrate the criminal phenomenon. And the list is long.
Guidelines for conference papers
The following dimensions and issues may be addressed during the conference:
- The noir/crime/detective dimensions of Arab films and series. What kinds of crimes are committed? What are the roles/functions of criminals, victims and investigators? On what principles and methods are investigations based and what do they reveal? What are the value systems, the ideologies, the historical, socio-political, economic and psychological motives, the dominant points of view, the visual style, the narrative characteristics of these crime films and series?
- The place and popularity of the crime genre in the production and distribution systems of Arab films and series, possibly in comparison with those of other countries within the region and beyond.
- The relationship with true crime. Some real stories have made the headlines and given rise to fictional adaptations – whether in films, radio or TV shows – such as the famous case of the two sisters Rayā and Sakīna (1919-1920) or, more recently, the murder of Suzanne Tamim (2008), which has inspired a number of television series, including Layālī (2009), Ahl Cairo (2010), al-Murāfaʿa (2014) or the above-mentioned film The Nile Hilton Incident. It would be interesting to address the perceptions of such cases, their fictional narrativization, the link between crime fiction and history, or to investigate the social contexts in which such adaptations are rooted.
- The many interactions and relationships between Arab crime films/series and foreign works. One may, for example, seek to shed light on their kinship with film noir or series in other countries, as well as on the specific modalities of investigation in the case of transnational transpositions, as for example in such shows as Grānd Hotel (2016) adapted from the Spanish series Gran Hotel, or Zayy iš-Šams (2017) adapted from the Italian Sorelle.
- The comparative study of literary crime fiction and its film or television adaptations. Major directors such as Salah Abou Sayf or Tawfiq Saleh were inspired by novels by Naguib Mahfouz (al-Liṣṣ wa-l-Kilāb, 1962) or Tawfiq al-Hakim (Yawmiyyāt nāʾib fī l- aryāf, 1969). (Parolin 2021b).
- The role of writers and screenwriters in the creation of these works and in the cumulative perception of a noir/crime/police genre in the Arab world.
Presentations may choose to take a panoramic view, or to focus on a particular country or historical period, or on specific creators or works, all of which are relevant to the conference.
Abstracts in Arabic, English or French and of no more than 400 words, should be received by 15 May 2022. They should include, in a Word document, the author’s name, position, institution, e-mail address and a brief biographical note.
They should be sent to Katia Ghosn: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and to Benoît Tadié: firstname.lastname@example.org
Early June 2022: sending of the scientific committee’s opinion to the authors for acceptance of the communication proposal.
Participants are responsible for their own transport and hotel expenses. They are invited to ask their research center for reimbursement.
Scientific Committee: Karl Akiki (Saint Joseph University of Beirut) ; Katia Ghosn (Paris 8 University) ; Toufic El-Khoury (Saint Joseph University of Beirut) ; Gianluca Parolin (Aga Khan University) ; Benoît Tadié (Rennes 2 University) ; Dork Zabunyan (Paris 8 University).
Bibliographie indicative / Select bibliography
- Ahmed Bedjaoui et Michel Serceau (dir.), Les cinémas arabes et la littérature, Paris, L’Harmattan, collection Images Plurielles, 2019.
- Pierre Beylot et Geneviève Sellier (dir.), Les séries policières, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2004.
- Luc Boltanski, Énigmes et complots, Paris, Gallimard, 2012.
- Raymond Borde et Étienne Chaumeton, Panorama du film noir américain (1941-1953) (1955), Paris, Flammarion, 2004.
- Denise Brahimi, 50 ans de cinéma maghrébin, Paris, Minerve, 2009.
- Ian Cameron (ed.) The Movie Book of Film Noir, Londres, Studio Vista, 1992.
- Claude-Michel Cluny, Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes, Paris, Sindbad, 1978.
- El-Khoury Toufic, Aliénation et déterminisme dans le film noir classique (1944-1949), Paris, L’Harmattan, collection Champs Visuels, 2020.
- Jennifer Fay et Justus Nieland, Film Noir. Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalisation, Londres et New York, Routledge, 2010.
- Jane Gaffney, «The Egyptian Cinema: Industry and Art in a Changing Society », in Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol.9, N°1, Belmont, 1987, p. 53-75.
- Katia Ghosn et Benoît Tadié (dir.), Le récit policier arabe/Arabic Crime Fiction, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz verlag, 2021.
- Terri Ginsberg and Chris Lippard (eds.), Historical Dictionary: Middle Eastern Cinema, Lanham, Scarecrow Press, 2010.
- Nathaniel Greenberg, The Aesthetic of Revolution in the Film and Literature of Naguib Mahfouz (1952-1967), Lanham/Londres, Lexington Books, 2014.
- Sebastien Layerle et Monique Martineau-Hennebelle (dir.), « Chroniques de la naissance du cinéma algérien », Collection CinémAction, N°166, Charles Corlet, 2018.
- Berrah Mourry (dir.), « Les cinémas arabes », Éditions Charles Corlet, collection CinémAction, N°43, 1987.
- Fawzī Nāǧī, Waqāʾiʿ būlīsiyya fī l-sīnimā, Le Caire, GEBO, 2012.
- Gianluca Parolin, « Bunyat al-Tahqîq fî ‘Yawmiyyât Nâʾib fî ’l-Aryâf’ Bayna al-Riwâya (1937) wa-l-Fîlm (1969) », in Salmā Mubārak & Walīd al-Ḫaššāb (eds.), al-Iqtibās: Min al-adab ilā al- sīnimā. Maḥaṭṭāt fī tārīḫ muštarak, Le Caire, al-Marāyā, 2021c, p. 141-162.
- Thomas Pillard, Le film noir français face aux bouleversements de la France d’après-guerre (1946-1960), Nantes, Éditions Joseph K, 2014.
- Samir Saif, Aflām al-ḥaraka fī l-sīnimā al-miṣriyya. 1952-1975, Le Caire, General Egyptian Book Organization, 1970.
- Galāl al-Šarqāwī, Risāla fī tārīḫ al-sīnimā al-‛arabiyya, Le Caire, General Egyptian Book organization, 1970.
- Alain Silver et Elizabeth Ward (dir.), Film Noir. An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (1979), New York, The Overlook Press, 1992.
- Dominique Sipière, Le récit dans les séries policières : d’Hercule Poirot à Mentalist, Paris, Arman Colin, 2018.
- Yves Thoraval, Regards sur le cinéma égyptien, Beyrouth, Dār al-Mašriq, 1975.
- Sue Turnbull, The TV Crime Drama, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
- Shafik Viola, Arab Cinema. History and Cultural Identity, Le Caire, The American University in Cairo Press, 1998 (2007).
- Magda Wassef (dir.), Égypte. 100 ans de cinéma, Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 1995.
- Collectif, « al-Sīnimā al-maġribiyya », Maǧallat Āfāq, n° 85-86, Rabat, Manšūrāt Ittiḥād kuttāb al-Maġrib, juin 2014.