Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab cinema in The era of Soviet cultural diplomacy

Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab cinema in The era of Soviet cultural diplomacy
I was a teenager watching a Bruce Lee flick with my friends at the cinema in Abidjan. Bruce Lee was our hero then. At some point in the plot, one of the bad guys was coming to attack Bruce Lee from behind while he was unaware, and suddenly one of the spectators in the theater leapt to the stage and dug a knife through the bad guy’s projection on screen. That was my first lesson in cinema.

—Philippe Lacôte, filmmaker, Сôte d'Ivoire

Saving Bruce Lee (A Prologue) is an introductory presentation of a three-year project focused on retracing the destinies of African and Arab filmmakers who studied in Soviet Russia. By making public the research-in-progress, visitors can get to know the seventeen “protagonists” and their journeys to Moscow, the key context for which was Soviet cultural diplomacy in the African and Arab worlds respectively. The research is the first of its kind to trace the influence of Soviet cinema on the work of these acclaimed filmmakers.

Developed by curators Koyo Kouoh and Rasha Salti, the research spans three generations of filmmakers who studied in the USSR at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) from the 1960s to the late 1980s. By bringing to light their little-known stories in Moscow and in other regions of the former Soviet Union, as well as influences that contributed to the aesthetic and ideological language of their films, the project represents a major breakthrough in the understanding of African and Arab film studies and history. Saving Bruce Lee is an attempt to re-write the cinematic canons and explore the place these ‘third world’ VGIK graduates occupy within it by acknowledging and researching Soviet stylistic influences in their work.

For this “prologue” exhibition, the curators are collaborating with geographer and cartographer Philippe Rekacewicz to create special maps charting the economic and political relations of the USSR with Africa and the Arab world during the Cold War. Filmmaker, Alexander Markov is also collaborating, contributing a critical deconstruction of the USSR’s ideological quest in Africa through montages of forgotten archival documentary film to explore how official representations were constructed within the realm of international socialist friendship.

A seminar will take place on July 30, 2015. Participants will include Koyo Kouoh, Rasha Salti, Catarina Simão, Filipa César and Philippe Rekacewicz. During this one-day event, curators and artists will reflect on and interrogate the academic canon of film studies. Of particular interest is the issue of how to reconcile the dissonance between oral history, personal memories and institutional archives. Artists and researchers Filipa César and Catarina Simão will reflect on their remarkable initiatives to resurrect the film archives of Guinea Bissau and Mozambique respectively. And lastly, geographer and cartographer Philippe Rekacewicz will talk about his practice.

Filmmakers include: Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauritania/Mali), Salim Cissé (Mali), Abdoulaye Ascofaré (Mali), Daouda Keita (Guinea), Khalifa Condé (Guinea), Jean-Baptiste Elanga (Congo Republic), Ousmane Sembène (Senegal), Sarah Maldoror (Guadeloupe), Salim Mohammad Ibrahim al-Noor (Sudan), Azzedine Meddour (Algeria), Mohammad Malas (Syria), Oussama Mohammed (Syria), Mohammad Abouelouakar (Morocco), Nasir al-Tayyeb al-Mak (Sudan), Hassen Bouabdellah (Algeria), Rabah Bouberras (Algeria), and writer Sonallah Ibrahim (Egypt).

Curated by Koyo Kouoh and Rasha Salti in collaboration with Alexander Markov and Phillippe Rekacewicz

Within the frames of the project on July 30 Garage will host a seminar, Research as Suture.

Information Booklet about the Garage Field Research project Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy (A Prologue).

Thanks go to Naum Kleiman; the Eisenstein Library, Moscow and especially to Ekaterina Hohlova; Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, Moscow and especially Tatjana Krivolutskaya, Tatjana Tursunova, Elena Russinova, Oleg Shukher and Anatoly Shakhov for their assistance in the research; Jean-Michel Frodon; Bernard Eisenchitz; Philippe Lacôte; Abdoulaye Ascofaré; Ossama Mohammed; and Abderrahmane Sissako.

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