Film Series: The 2011 Geneviève McMillan Award winning filmmaker, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche

Each year, Harvard’s Film Study Center awards the Geneviève McMillan-Reba Stewart Fellowship to a Francophone filmmaker from Africa or of African descent. The latest recipient is Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, the French filmmaker born in Algeria in 1966. The Harvard Film Archive is welcome to host a retrospective of his work, with Mr. Ameur-Zaïmeche in attendance to receive his award.

Spontaneity is the watchword of Ameur-Zaïmeche’s cinema. His films seem to arise out of the interactions between the figures onscreen, unfolding without any apparent overarching narrative thrust. They are carefully observed portraits of communities, with plot taking second place to the detailed delineation of characterization and atmosphere.

In a parallel fashion, the filmmaker’s career has progressed in stages. Each of his four films has won prizes internationally, and each has marked a new course for Ameur-Zaïmeche. After a liberal arts education, he embraced a lifelong love of cinema by setting up an independent production company in 1999. His debut,Wesh Wesh, qu’est-ce qui passe? (2001), is a low-budget affair shot in the housing project in the Parisian suburb of Saint Denis where he grew up. The film was immediately hailed as a revelatory addition to the growing cycle of French films about disaffected urban youth. Rather than risk being pigeonholed, Ameur-Zaïmeche made his next film, Back Home (2006), in his native Algeria. His return to France with Adhen(2008) marked a departure from slice-of-life realism toward political allegory tinged with humor, while his latest work, Smugglers’ Songs, is a surprising foray into historical drama, yet handled with great freeness.

Though Wesh Wesh is an eye-catching debut in large part because of the breathless immediacy of its handheld camera, Ameur-Zaïmeche’s subsequent work is calmer and quieter. These films reveal themselves slowly, taking hold of the spectator with strikingly composed, highly detailed shots. Ameur-Zaïmeche gives a performance in keeping with his style as a filmmaker: relaxed and understated.

Presented in partnership with the Film Study Center, Harvard. Special thanks to this year’s selection committee members: Dominique Bluher, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and David Pendleton, as well as to Ernst Karel, Heidi Carrell and Cozette Russell of the Film Study Center and to Sarah Sobol of Sarrazink Productions.

To read descriptions of his films, click HERE


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