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date: 18 January 2020

Libya, film in

A Dictionary of Film Studies

Annette Kuhn,

Guy Westwell

Libya, film in 

The earliest recorded film shot in Libya, Les habitants du desert de Lybie/Inhabitants of the Libyan Desert (France, 1910), like early filmmaking elsewhere in the region, was a foreign production. The country's first cinema building, located in Tripoli, was reportedly demolished after the Italian invasion in 1911. Under Italian colonial rule (1911–43), cinemas were established in major cities: these mostly screened Italian films for Italian audiences; though other imports, including Egyptian films, were also shown. During World War II, desert campaigns and battles in Libya were documented in British, German, and Italian newsreels and propaganda films. In the period after World War II, a number of documentaries and propaganda and instructional films were made by oil companies and international agencies: an educational film simply called Libya (France, 1956) is typical. In the 1950s and 1960s, films shown at cultural centres in Tripoli and Benghazi were popular with local audiences; and rural areas were served by mobile cinema units. In 1959, a cinema division formed within the Ministry of News and Guidance produced 16 mm documentaries and newsreels which toured the country; and the Ministry of Education and Learning took responsibility for producing and exhibiting educational films. A number of foreign-produced feature films were shot in Libya in this period (including A Yank In Libya (Albert Herman, US, 1942) and Desert Patrol (Guy Green, UK, 1958)); but local feature production began only in the early 1970s.

In 1973 a government body, the General Council for Cinema, assumed overall control of filmmaking and cinema building. This body later took on responsibility for all commercial cinemas in the country, and also for film imports. Foreign films were dubbed into Arabic so as to comply with the government's cultural policy, according to which films’ subject matter was required to adhere to religious law and national objectives (see censorship; dubbing; national cinema). Local production continued to be dominated by documentaries and other factual films; while fiction films were encouraged to adhere to principles of social realism, portraying issues that appealed to ordinary people (see critical realism; realism). Feature films made along these lines include al-Tariq/The Road (Yusif Sha'ban Muhamad, 1973) and Hub fi al-aziqa al-dayiqa/Love in Narrow Alleys (Muhamad Abd al-Jalil Qanidi, 1986). Perhaps the best-known film to come out of Libya is Umar al-Mukhtar: Asad al Shara/The Lion of the Desert (Moustafa Akkad, Libya/US, 1981), a feature starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and John Gielgud about the life and deeds of the Libyan resistance leader Umar al-Mukhtar during the Italian occupation. In 2009 it was announced that al-Saadi Gaddafi, a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, was a major financier behind Natural Selection, a private-equity production company that was involved in financing The Experiment (Paul Scheuring, US, 2010) and Isolation (Stephen Kay, US, 2011).

Further Reading:

al-Ubaydi, Amal Sulayman Mahmoud ‘Cinema in Libya’, in Oliver Leaman (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film 407–19, (2001).Find this resource:

Carver, Antonia ‘Arabian Lights’, Screen International, (8 December), 22–27, (2006).Find this resource: