Nabil Maleh


Father of Syrian cinema By using social realism Nabil Maleh challenged authority and was acclaimed as the father of Syrian cinema. His first feature film 'The Leopard' (1972) based on a novel of a Syrian author won first prize at the Locarno Film Festival that year. It tells the story of a lone rebel who defends his village against corrupt local authorities. His other best-known film is 'The Extras' (1993), the story of a young couple trying to keep their affair a secret. In that film, Nabil Maleh used the themes of surveillance and claustrophobia in a society rigidly controlled by both the government and strict social mores to make a larger statement about life in an authoritarian state. His 2006 documentary 'The Road to Damascus' was prescient in examining conditions that led to the 2011 uprising. It deals with the poverty and corruption that had resulted in an exodus from rural Syria to Damascus, with job seekers and their families settling in ramshackle housing on the city's outskirts. The film was never shown in Syria. He made about 150 films, both shorts and features. He also worked in television, wrote screenplays and articles, and painted. The Dubai International Film Festival honoured Nabil Maleh with a lifetime achievement award in 2006, calling him 'one of the first Arab filmmakers to use experimental techniques, which paved the way for a new cinematographic language.' Nabil Maleh was born in Damascus to a doctor. He studied at Prague Film School — he was said to be his country's first graduate of a European film academy — and returned to Syria in 1964. He taught at the University of Texas, Austin, and the University of California, Los Angeles, before moving to Switzerland and then to Greece. He returned to Syria in 1993. Nabil Maleh left Syria in 2011. He never returned to his homeland, which was the subject and setting of almost all his films. He suffered with lung cancer and died in Dubai.

Compiler: M. Nauman Khan

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