In preparation for our upcoming women’s showcase, 6 Days/6 Nights – Revolutionary Arab Women in the Arts, we wanted to feature some of the amazing women whose work we are presenting. Our first feature is of filmmaker Heiny Srour, whose documentary The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived provided the inspiration for this showcase and will open the series on Thursday, March 25th.
Heiny Srour was born in Beirut, Lebanon in the mid-40’s. She studied anthropology at the Sorbonne under Maxime Rodinson, a renowned Orientalist and Social Anthropologist. It was during this time that she became interested in film, influenced by the ethnological films of French filmmaker Jean Rouch who also taught at the Sorbonne. While in this program she created her debut film – Saat El Tahrir Dakkat (The Hour of Liberation has Arrived), released in 1974. She had made one film prior to that, a short entitled Bread of Our Mountains (1968), whose footage was unfortunately lost during the Lebanese Civil War.
The Hour of Liberation has Arrived is a documentary that chronicles the uprising in Dhofar by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) against the British-backed Sultanate of Oman. Srour chose to make this film after an interview with a member of PFLOAG for Africasia, an anti-colonial magazine where she was a film critic. Srour said in an interview how surprised she was when this male PFLOAG member brought up the subject of women in the organization and said that they were fighting against women’s oppression “because women were not just oppressed by imperialism and class society, but also by their father, husband, brothers.” Srour goes on to say that after hearing that, she dropped everything and put her full focus into the film. The struggle for liberation in Oman is considered one of the most radical in the Arab world. Women and children were an active part of it all, including on the front lines of fighting. Srour and her team crossed 500 miles of desert and mountains by foot, under bombardment by the British Royal Air Force, to reach the conflict zone and capture this. The People’s Liberation Army— barefoot, without rank or salary— freed a third of the territory, while undertaking a vast program of social reforms and infrastructure projects— schools, farms, hospitals, and roads were built, while illiterate teenage shepherdesses became feminists and 8-year-old school children learned to practice democracy. It is a portrait of liberated society and an exploration of the role of oil in U.S. and British involvement in the Middle East. Despite being banned in her home country as well as most of the Arab World, The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived was widely well-received and was selected to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, making it the first film by an Arab woman to do so and solidifying Srour’s place in filmmaking history. The film was restored in 2019 by Nadi Lekol Nas.
Her next film was her first and only feature-length fiction film, entitled Leila wa al ziap (Leila and the Wolves), released in 1984. It tells the story of Leila, a young Lebanese woman residing in London who time-travels throughout twentieth-century Lebanon and Palestine. The film is an exploration of the collective historical memory of Arab women told through dramatizations of situations faced by women in these countries. Women are a central theme in Srour’s work. In an interview with Mary Jiramanus Saba about The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived, Srour speaks of her motivation for making that film, which clearly extended into her other work. She said ” My aspirations for the film were artistic and feminist. In terms of style, my favorite filmmaker was Fellini. And when I saw 8 ½, I realized that cinema was a very powerful medium that could express everything I wanted to say. But my main motivation in overcoming so many hurdles was feminist.” She is extremely vocal about her position of women in Arab society and in 1978 she, along with other Arab women in film, set up a new assistance fund “for the self-expression of women in cinema”.
Heiny Srour continued her work as a filmmaker into the early 2000’s, releasing a number of shorts and documentaries, many of which reflect the same themes seen in these two features, but on a global scale. They include: The Singing Sheikh (1991), Women of Vietnam (1992), The Eyes of the Heart (1994), and Woman Global Strike (2000). She has also written several screenplays, co-produced her films and she taught at the London International Film School and Goldsmith College in the 1980’s.
The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived will screen virtually on Thursday, March 25th to open our showcase 6 Days/6 Nights – Revolutionary Arab Women in the Arts. The movie will be followed by an exclusive conversation with director Heiny Srour! All screenings will take place on the Arab Cinema ReImagined platform. To attend, you can either purchase an individual ticket or a pass for the entire showcase.
If you would like to read more about Heiny Srour and The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived, I recommend the following readings that helped guide my personal research:
Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers by Rebecca Hillauer
Heiny Srour on The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived by Mary Jirmanus Saba on Screen Slate
The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived Review by Giovanni Vimercati on Rusted Radishes