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The University of Southampton
FilmPart of Humanities

Creativity under Constraint: Three Tactical Insights from the Middle Eastern Road Movie Seminar

16:00 - 17:00
10 May 2022

Event details

Further information to follow.

Inside the car is another world' runs the tagline of Speed Sisters (2015), Amber Fares's documentary about an all-female Palestinian motor-racing team. In road movies, the open road tapering to a vanishing point on the horizon bears the promise of freedom and mobility. When the genre is transplanted to the Middle East, it often dramatises contrasts between these mythologies and the starker realities of the territories in which the films are set, including what Rebecca Stein calls 'discrepant mobility' – a term that she uses for the effects of the 1948 expulsions and limits upon free movement in occupied Palestine, but that has relevance to the broader Middle East and beyond. The road movie, with its tropes of freedom and movement, vividly dramatises the injustices of discrepant mobility in the region. However, discrepant mobility is not just a thematic concern; it underlies the conditions in which these films are made and distributed. Filmmaking, since it often involves being on the road, rests precariously on the ever-shifting ground of travel permits and other obstacles to free movement, affecting the ease with which cast and crew can move to and from different places, depending on their citizenship status and the geopolitical situation.

Yet, the road movie has also provided filmmakers with the creative impetus to overcome limitations on freedom and movement, a resourcefulness displayed in this paper's case study films. The genre, as we shall see, is not just about vehicular traffic; it is also about the tactics that enable films to be produced and to circulate both within and outside geopolitical borders. In this paper, Shohini Chaudhuri sketches out three tactical insights that filmmakers have drawn from the genre, showing how the car has afforded them possibilities for freedom of expression. Firstly, blocked passage stimulates creativity, as illustrated in Speed Sisters. Secondly, as a simultaneously private and public space, the car allows filmmakers to engage with controversial subjects, pushing the boundaries of what is permissible to portray. This tactical insight, realised by Abbas Kiarostami, is put to further innovative uses in Jafar Panahi's Taxi Tehran (2015). Although the car is usually enclosed, the outside world is glimpsed through its windscreens and side windows as it travels through politically contested landscapes, bringing those geopolitics into the story in a dynamic relationship between foreground and background. This third tactical insight is exemplified by Roy Dib's experimental short film Mondial 2010 (2013) which, by ingeniously splicing together foreground and background, constructs the space of a gay road movie, following the 'impossible' journey of a Lebanese gay couple in Palestine.

This paper is based on a chapter from Shohini Chaudhuri's forthcoming book, Crisis Cinema in the Middle East: Creativity and Constraint in Iran and the Arab World (Bloomsbury, 2022), which identifies nine creative strategies – witnessing, child protagonists, animation, psychogeography, road movies, humour, stories within stories, archives and sci-fi dystopia – that filmmakers employ for producing films under conditions of constraints and crisis.

Our Speaker:

Shohini Chaudhuri is a Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex, UK. Her current work builds on her research and curatorial interests in Middle Eastern cinema over the last twenty years, as well as her scholarship on world cinema and film and human rights. She is author of Crisis Cinema in the Middle East: Creativity and Constraint in Iran and the Arab World (2022), Cinema of the Dark Side: Atrocity and the Ethics of Film Spectatorship (2014), Feminist Film Theorists (2006) and Contemporary World Cinema (2005).

Please register using Eventbrite and you will then be sent a Outlook meeting request which will include the link to the seminar. Please note the seminar will take place online using Microsoft Teams. The deadline for registering for this event is 3pm on the day of the seminar (10/05/2022).

Any questions or queries please contact Tracy Storey on

Watch below the recording of this seminar:

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