Cinema bloggers of the Middle East boast free, unbiased voice

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07 Jan 2018 || Al-Monitor

CAIRO — A quick google search shows that cinema blogging in the Middle East is an ever-growing field. Some blogs are written by a single person, others by small teams; some of the bloggers are in the Middle East, others are based in Europe. Their tone varies from academic to downright chatty. Yet in terms of number and the variety of style, cinema bloggers are head-to-head with political and “mommy bloggers,” two huge groups in the blogger space.

It is difficult to trace the pioneers of cinema blogging in the Middle East. Many blogs are written by individuals or teams of young critics and bloggers. Most bloggers generate their own content, but there are a few who just reproduce press releases and announcements of large film companies and distributors.

Most Middle Eastern bloggers define their blogs as an open space where they express their opinions on cinema free from the bias seen in large media outlets.

“Recently, the number of blogs has clearly skyrocketed, as they provide an open space where bloggers or readers can express their opinions freely without restrictions by a media outlet’s editorial board,” Ismail Sona, a Saudi blogger and specialist in cinema, told Al-Monitor.

According to Sona, the relationship between some media outlets and the cinema companies prevent critics from expressing a critical opinion on some of the films. “Opinions published in newspapers and media institutions may be influenced by the relations between the media institutions and some production companies or filmmakers. Therefore, editorial boards of these institutions urge film critics to review films in line with those relationships,” Sona said.

He noted that bloggers do not have the same kind of relationships with the cinema companies as the media outlets. He said the blogs that do have sponsors have more than one, and so the content winds up being more balanced. He added that allowing readers to post opinions also increases the chances for a balanced review.

Sona’s blog, which includes reviews of modern and classic Arab, European, American, Indian, Latin and Asian films, was launched in 2013. The blog also hosts ads on the latest films and news on film festivals as well as local and international prize nominations.

For many bloggers, a cinema blog is a way to educate the public about different countries’ cinema and, indirectly, set a higher standard for local filmmakers.

“Many filmmakers in Turkey are interested in improving the film industry in Turkey, particularly after the success of some Turkish TV series, which are now shown in countries [from the Balkans to the Middle East],” Turkish critic and blogger Eylem Atakav told Al-Monitor. “Blogs raise the awareness of the cinema-going audience — they reveal mistakes in a film or they show strong points. They expose the variety in the film sector, including that of other countries.”

Atakav added, “We can say that an educated viewership means an advanced drama and filmmaking that seek to align with the level of such an audience, which raises the industry to worldwide levels.”

Atakav, a senior lecturer in film and television studies at the University of East Anglia in the United Arab Emirates, said that an educated audience would raise the demand for better films and put pressure on the filmmakers to supply them. Atakav’s blog, launched in 2011, also offers a focus on women in Middle Eastern films and series.

Egyptian critic Amir Emary, whose two blogs, the Eye on Cinema and Life in Cinema, are among the top Arabic-language blogs, told Al-Monitor that the bloggers themselves have to be well-informed, professional and careful in their reviews.

“Many blogs give a negative opinion on films, based on first impressions. This is considered a lack of professionalism where the language is offensive. These bloggers simply snub, insult or even swear at directors, filmmakers and some classical films of the region,” Emary told Al-Monitor. “Their reviews are simply destructive criticism, not an enrichment to the reader.”

Eye on Cinema and Life in Cinema were both launched in 2008 from London where Emary resides. Eye on Cinema reads like a cinema magazine, with diverse news, investigative journalism in the cinema sector and a diverse opinion section. The material in Life in Cinema is written and edited only by Emary.

Syrian blogger Jaber al-Ghul, who blogs for Film Magazine, agreed, saying, “Many bloggers do not differentiate between analysis-based criticism and opinions based on shallow viewing or impressions.”

“Analysis-based criticism does not necessarily have to be produced by a professional critic but rather a true connoisseur of art,” Ghul told Al-Monitor. He noted that the review should be professional, unbiased and clear rather than an expression of personal like or dislike or emotional opinion toward the actors or director.

For many of the bloggers, diversity of opinion is important. Jordanian blogger Mohannad al-Jundi launched the Film Magazine blog in 2010 with a team of cinema critics and bloggers who presented different perspectives on cinema. The blog presents reviews and even spoilers on many films and entertainment news.

Despite their downsides, blogs have succeeded in attracting audiences and raising their awareness. The new trend is now vlogging (video blogging) on YouTube. One example is Film Gamed (A Wonderful Film) presented by Mohamed Mahdy and another is Eltahleel Elestreteejy (Strategic Analysis) by Hesham Afifi — vlogs that criticize films, series, songs and ads in a comic way.

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