In the wake of postcolonial liberation the Global South was contested terrain, caught between the two superpowers of the Cold War for the deployment of influence and allegiance. At a time when cinema was a fertile field for forging national identity, film scholarships represented one of the USSR’s tools for “cultural diplomacy.”
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, many filmmakers from the Arab world and African continent who would later become prominent received their diplomas from the prestigious Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow. Alluding to the fabrication of national icons, popular imaginaries, and ideology reflected in cinematic works, Saving Bruce Lee revisits their craft and lived experience. A three-day program brings together the former students and other film experts, recovering virtually unknown diploma films which will be screened together with prominent works of the filmmakers.
Before Bruce Lee action flicks reached the Arab world and the African continent, there were other heroes: those who had expelled colonizers and fought for independence. Some of them became presidents while others ended up prisoners as new-born republics became autocratic. Within two decades, Bruce Lee came to prevail on the screens of movie theaters in African and Arab cities, his prowess and sense of justice making him a perennial hero. State-funded national cinema carried the expectation of narrating the people’s version of history and elegizing heroes from the struggle for independence. Back home, the Moscow graduates told stories of everyday people instead, and did not shy away from criticizing the reigning order. Sometimes the price paid for making subversive films was marginalization, in other cases filmmakers were sentenced to prison, their films being banned.
Saving Bruce Lee invites VGIK graduates Ossama Mohammed, Suliman Mohamed Ibrahim Elnur, and Mohamed Abouelouakar to present their own films and engage with filmmakers Suhaib Gasmelbari, Ali Essafi, Jihan El Tahri, and Valérie Osouf. They will give insight into their research on this rarely considered versant in film history, and interrogate canons of African and Arab cinema.
Saving Bruce Lee – African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy
19th – 21th Jan 2018
HKW | John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10 | 10557 Berlin