Take Me Back

Take Me Back

Artist Cinemas

Omar Amiralay, Al-Dajaj (The Chickens) (clip), 1977.

August 19, 2020
Take Me Back
A new program on Artist Cinemas, convened by Jumana Manna

e-flux is pleased to present Take Me Back, a six-part program of films, video works, and interviews put together by Jumana Manna. It is the third program in Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

Take Me Back will run for six weeks from August 19 through September 29, 2020, screening a new film each week accompanied by an interview with the filmmaker(s) by the program’s curator and invited guests. 

The program opens with Omar Amiralay’s The Chickens (1977), introduced by Manna.

Take Me Back
With films by Omar Amiralay, Caroline Monnet, Ibrahim Shaddad, Deborah Stratman, and Mikhail Lylov and Elke Marhöfer; interviews with the filmmakers and texts by Shuruq Harb, Shahira Issa, and Jumana Manna; and other filmmakers and participants to be announced

Convened by Jumana Manna

The largest migration of the twentieth century was not the consequence of a “natural catastrophe” or a war involving armed conflict, but a war of another kind—a perpetual war waged against soil, sustenance agriculture, and its knowledge forms, which resulted in overwhelming consequences for the social structures of rural life. Between the 1980s and the 2010s, more than 70 million people left the countryside for the cities in the Arab world alone. A great many of them sought to replace disappeared livelihoods, while others aspired towards the modern lifestyles and teleology of progress that cities offer. This rural-urban exodus was largely set off by a controversial array of agrarian reforms and state reconfigurations in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s (known as the “Green Revolution”) that introduced three central ingredients to the Global South: high-yield seeds, intensive irrigation techniques, and chemical inputs—among them, the chemicals that blew up Beirut on August 4. 

In the weeks before we began mourning and raging over the destruction of one of the last few livable cities of the Middle East, the region, like many others, was experiencing new heights of precaution and paranoia with the second wave of Covid-19 cases. We would cross to the other side of the street to avoid germ-carrying humans, and make ourselves smaller amidst supermarket racks—spaces of potential virus transmission that are also a reminder of the world’s ecological imbalance. We planned for the great escape to quieter and greener landscapes, either temporarily (although we don’t quite understand what that means anymore) or, for some, permanently—as a lifestyle change we had been meaning to make but didn’t yet have the time, guts, or excuse to.

The city that before signaled pioneering lifestyles and progress appears today as a symbol of danger and defilement, of overconsumption, overpopulation, claustrophobia, and deferred futures. And the countryside and wilderness are projected as the place of safety and liberty, cleanliness and truth: of original happiness where age-old wisdoms were born and aged, only to suffocate into the amnesia of the city. This dichotomy has been set up since early modernity, sustained with each new historical rupture and economic turn, and now gains new optics with the spread of the pandemic. 

In parallel to the urge to “return,” from early cinema till today filmmakers have been going back to the land, to study and draw inspiration from it—its traditions, its music, its cultural behaviors as a place of authenticity—either to critique ideological representations and claims to the countryside, or to perpetuate its imaginary in the name of the Nation. Sometimes, unwillingly doing both. Pushed out of their fields and ancestral lands, rural communities re-emerge as moving images of experimental film, fiction, and documentary. They remind us of the complexity of rural-urban relations and most importantly, the construction of the notion of authenticity. Modernity’s disregard for agrarian life and its historically deep knowledge-forms is challenged in the lenses of some of the filmmakers featured in this program, with works that date from the 1960s to today. 

In Ibrahim Shaddad and Deborah Stratman, the rural is shown to be a place of deep-seated racism, of desired freedoms met with borders both mental and military; in Omar Amiralay, as struggle and resilience against the erasures of a violent regime’s centralized control. Caroline Monnet reshuffles archives that represent native life and labor, while Mikhail Lylov/Elke Marhöfer propose that soil is an archive of life in and of itself, which migrates as much as, if not more than, human lives. 

The films compiled in this program are from different localities, not because we are all the same now, but because the impacts of global capitalism, of which the pandemic is mutant, have created uncannily similar forms of violence and resistance.


Week #1: Wednesday, August 19–Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Omar Amiralay, Al-Dajaj (The Chickens), 1977
40 minutes
With an introduction by Jumana Manna

The inhabitants of Sadad, a village in the Syrian countryside, are seduced by promises that chicken farming will make them rich. After they abandon their previous activities, their new investment turns to disaster under the watchful gaze of government officials driving Mercedes cars. 

Under the guise of documenting chicken farms, the late Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay (1944–2011) delivers a scathing critique of his government. Produced by Syrian national television in 1977, The Chickens remains banned in Syria to this day. In lieu of an interview, it is presented here with an introductory text by Jumana Manna, as the first installment of Take Me Back.

Week #2: Wednesday, August 26–Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Caroline Monnet, Mobilize, 2015
3 minutes

Mobilize takes us on a journey from the northern lands to the urban south. The rhythmic montage, composed entirely from the archival footage of the NFB (National Film Board of Canada), follows indigenous bodies constantly on the move through radically different landscapes, performing the strength and skill of everyday life. Edited to the beat of Tanya Tagaq’s song “Uja,” hands thread sinew through snowshoes, axes peel birch bark to make a canoe, a paddler navigates icy white waters, young men and women arrive into the city as construction workers and city drifters. Mobilize negotiates notions of labor and its representation between urban/modern and traditional/native lands.

Week #3: Wednesday, September 2–Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Deborah Stratman, O’er the Land, 2009
51 minutes

“[O’er the Land is a] meditation on the milieu of elevated threat addressing national identity, gun culture, wilderness, consumption, patriotism, and the possibility of personal transcendence. Of particular interest are the ways Americans have come to understand freedom and the increasingly technological reiterations of manifest destiny. While channeling our national psyche, the film is interrupted by the story of Colonel William Rankin who in 1959, was forced to eject from his F8U fighter jet at 48,000 feet without a pressure suit, only to get trapped for 45 minutes in the up and down drafts of a massive thunderstorm. Remarkably, he survived. 

This film is concerned with the sudden, simple, thorough ways that events can separate us from the system of things, and place us in a kind of limbo. Like when we fall. Or cross a border. Or get shot. Or saved. The film forces together culturally acceptable icons of heroic national tradition with the suggestion of unacceptable historical consequences, so that seemingly benign locations become zones of moral angst.”
—Deborah Stratman

Week #4: Wednesday, September 9–Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Ibrahim Shaddad, Jagdpartie (Hunting Party), 1964
41 minutes

“Ibrahim Shaddad—of the Sudanese Film Group—came to West Germany to study agriculture but ended up a film student in East Berlin. There, he made The Hunting Party (1964), an existentialist Western replete with canted angles and looming close-ups, about a black man on the run from a lynch mob. The film dramatizes working-class solidarity across the color line, signally achieved through shared labor, but culminates in the violent foreclosure of this common horizon.”
—Nikolaus Perneczky

Week #5: Wednesday, September 16–Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Mikhail Lylov and Elke Marhöfer, Soil – Habit – Plants, 2018
12 minutes

The short film Soils – Habit – Plants poses the question: Is it possible to understand nature not only as background for a proceeding human history and human consciousness? Can soils and plants, with their specific habits and image politics, teach us for example a useful, yet less human-centered way of looking at the world?

Week #6: Wednesday, September 23–Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Closing film to be announced

Jumana Manna (b. 1987) is a visual artist working primarily with film and sculpture. Her work explores how power is articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body and on materiality in relation to narratives of nationalism, and histories of place. She was awarded the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Palestinian Artist Award in 2012 and the Ars Viva Prize for Visual Arts in 2017. Manna has participated in various film festivals including the 54th and 56th Viennale International Film Festival, the 66th and 68th Berlinale, and CPH:DOX 2018 where her film Wild Relatives won the New:Visions award; and in exhibitions including at Henie Onstad Museum, Norway, 2018; Mercer Union, Canada, 2017; Jeu de Paume and CAPC Bordeaux, France, 2017; SculptureCenter, USA, 2014; Marrakech Biennale 6, 2016; and The Nordic Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. Manna was raised in Jerusalem and is based in Berlin.

About Artist Cinemas
Artist Cinemas is a new e-flux platform focusing on exploring the moving image as understood by people who make film. It is informed by the vulnerability and enchantment of the artistic process—producing non-linear forms of knowledge and expertise that exist outside of academic or institutional frameworks. It will also acknowledge the circles of friendship and mutual inspiration that bind the artistic community. Over time this platform will trace new contours and produce different understandings of the moving image.

For more information, contact program [​at​] e-flux.com.

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August 19, 2020

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