← Part of the Issue: Heiny Srour

“I hope and pray for a massive influx of women into all fields of the film industry”


Sa‘a al-tahrir daqqat, Barra ya isti‘mar [The Hour of Liberation] (Heiny Srour, 1974)

Certainly, The Hour of Liberation has arrived. But what kind of liberation is it? Heiny Srour not only understands it in the political sense of the term, but in a more absolute sense. The liberation of Arab women is at the heart of this film, which has, unfortunately, hardly been screened in our countries. The difficulties encountered during and after the shoot of the film need to be addressed. They give you an idea of what a woman has to face when she decides not to give in and to push her project to the limit...

Heiny Srour: First some dates. The idea of making this film came to me in 1969 after meeting representatives of the Omani Front in Beirut. At the time, there was a conspiracy of silence surrounding this revolution. Palestine was in fashion, but Oman hardly existed for the rest of the Arab world. That’s what got me, a Lebanese woman, enthusiastic about this revolution. So I started the productional battle, and I was only able to do it because I was on a scholarship in Paris where I was preparing a PhD at the Sorbonne. The subject didn’t seem to interest producers, and my lack of film experience and my age didn’t encourage them to trust me either. This lasted for two years. Eventually, I was able to find a producer: German television.

Other difficulties arose when I started filming. First of all, the context in which the shoot took place: it’s a very hard country, without roads, etc. To make the film, we basically had to walk almost 500 km on foot and go underground for three months. It was quite an ordeal physically. I had an experienced cameraman and French sound engineer, but my relationship with them was pretty tense, unlike my relationship with the Yemeni assistant. They wanted to interfere with the production from a May 68 perspective. But I felt that they had no right to do so because they didn’t know the region, the language or the people. They were much more interested in military issues, whereas I was focused on human and social change, especially with regard to women and children. And some of the sequences, especially the one about the liberation of women, were sabotaged – consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know...

Nevertheless, the technical team was heroic because they risked their lives and filmed one month longer than the contract stipulated. And they still haven’t been paid... This experience made me realize how important it is for a woman to master the technique of filmmaking. I don’t think this problem would have arisen in the same way with a crew of only women... The attitude of the fighters was different. They were more supportive of me as a woman/filmmaker. The nomads freed themselves more easily from their retrograde ideas about women than the progressive European intellectuals did from their bourgeois culture...

The distribution of the film in Europe went very well. The film was offered an enormous amount of opportunities. With a few exceptions – such as the Algerian Cinematheque – it didn’t get distributed in the Arab world, although that had been the intention... This was caused by the lack of an organized mass movement in the Arab world. The cinephiles did very little to support the film (again, with a few exceptions). I think the conditions in the Arab world aren’t yet ripe for militant cinema, because militant cinema is based on a militant movement, and that doesn’t exist at the moment.

Magda Wassef: How can we encourage women’s self-expression in Arab cinema?

For my part, I hope and pray for a massive influx of women into all fields of the film industry: production, direction, technical support, etc. On the one hand because Arab women have been silent for a very long time, so they have a lot to say about themselves, things that men have never said about them. I think the first results of women entering cinema are very encouraging. Cinema has been in the hands of men for almost sixty years, and 90% of this masculine production is a disaster. On the other hand, since women got hold of the camera, none of them have produced any mass entertainment or reactionary films... The number of films shot by women in dangerous military conditions is considerable in relation to the number of films in the cinema... But the rather limited number of women filmmakers makes each of them feel isolated, which makes them more vulnerable.

There are at least three Lebanese women filmmakers, but all three live abroad. How do you explain that...?

It’s very difficult for any filmmaker to make a living in our countries at the moment; and since they don’t trust women, their situation is twice as difficult. The fact that these women filmmakers are Lebanese is due to the fact that Lebanon is at the heart of the Arab contradictions at the moment, and this situation has made it easier for these women to escape their traditional role. There’s another reason, namely the fact that, before the war, the Lebanese society that raised us was less unfavourable to women than other Arab societies. Plus, the situation of bourgeois women in our country is more favourable.

You are currently preparing a new film. Could you tell us about it?

The film will be a mix of fiction and documentary. It’s a big project, and I’m going to come up against the producers’ mistrust of women filmmakers once again. As for the theme of the film, I prefer not to go into details at the moment. All I can say is that the Arab woman is the main subject of the film...

Originally published without title in CinemArabe, 10/11 (August/November 1978).

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.