News / Middle East

Young Libyans Find Escape in 'Secret' Cinema

Reuters
In the basement of a villa in central Tripoli, young Libyans seeking an escape from violence and disorder watch an American movie classic screened using a simple projector and laptop.
 
They may feel they have plenty to relate to in James Dean's teenage character as he battles society's constraints and institutions in “Rebel Without A Cause''.
 
Nearly two years after the revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's progress towards democracy has been stalled by political infighting and the growing boldness of some of the powerful rebel factions that helped end his 42-year rule.
 
“It's now part of our routine. We wait patiently every week for the next screening, as these movie classics are unavailable on television channels,'' said Mohammad Nattah, a 23-year-old medical student.
 
“It's free and our way of escaping our current reality.''
 
Every week, the young crowd files down the villa's stairs to the lower level where rows of white, plastic chairs are lined up facing the wall that serves as a screen. Latecomers miss out on the unglamorous seating and make do with the floor.
 
The program ranges from Hollywood mainstays like “The Godfather'' to “Ahlaam'', a film about the Iraq war, told from an Iraqi point of view. The films are shown with Arabic subtitles.
 
Screenings are open to everyone but the organizers try to keep a low profile. Libya's biggest political party is founded on liberal values, but society is deeply conservative.
 
Sharia (Islamic law), for instance, is taken for granted. The difference, say members of the audience, is how it is interpreted, although strict attitudes tend to prevail.
 
In Libya's capital, unrelated men and women are rarely seen mingling in public, in keeping with traditional Islam, and the most radical groups are opposed to cinematography altogether.
 
This week's “Rebel Without a Cause'', a 1955 film about a conflicted teenager who gets into trouble and is misunderstood by his parents, is especially poignant for the audience, whose ages range between 18 and 30 years old.
 
In one corner of the basement, a couple that missed out on seats cuddle against a wall, behavior unheard of in public places in the new Libya.
 
Hope of reviving Libyan film-making
 
Discussion after the film is encouraged. The founders of the cinema club want to revive the Libyan film industry and hope debates about classics will help achieve this goal.
 
“I was astonished to discover there is a young generation that understands and appreciates this art,'' said one organizer, Khaled Mattawa, a well-known Libyan poet who teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan in the United States.
 
“My idea was, we have a projector, we have the films and the walls of course, so why not make this place our cinema? When we started, we just didn't expect to have so many fans.''
 
Mattawa, who is spending time in the capital teaching at the University of Tripoli, argues cinematography is one of the most democratic means of expression because it reaches out to a broad spectrum of people.
 
“Art is the process of learning a culture of co-existence,'' he said. “Films lead to novels, and novels lead to philosophy.''
 
Going to the cinema was among the many activities that Gaddafi outlawed for periods of his dictatorship to protect his regime from what he regarded as the threat of cultural invasion.
 
Hundreds of media outlets, artists and musicians sprang up when Libya was freed from his rule. But with security across the country again starting to deteriorate, some in the audience worry that Libya is moving in the wrong direction.
 
“Even though this movie was filmed in the 50s... the production quality is very good compared to what Libyan film makers are able to do in 2013,'' said Turkia Bensaoud, a woman in her early twenties who works for a charitable agency.
 
“The quality of life presented in the movie is also very good compared to us today. That's why we keep asking ourselves - are we moving backwards?''
 
While recent film festivals in the capital and in Benghazi, Libya's second city in the east, have proved hugely popular, they have also been targeted by Islamist militants.
 
The festivals have mostly screened films made in the region, with many produced by Egypt's well-established movie industry, but also from Iraq and several African countries.
 
In a recent example, Tripoli's movie festival held at the Radisson Hotel a couple of weeks ago was cut short on its third day after receiving bomb threats.
 
“Perhaps this activity will upset those who do not want us to live with other cultures, but we have to take a chance and enjoy the freedom for which we Libyans fought,'' said Bensaoud.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More