CineLab • Thematic Cycle

Problematising reality – encounters between art and philosophy

Esther Leslie, Jihan El Tahri


Salam Cinema (1995, 75 min.) by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Esther Leslie, Jihan El Tahri

The second edition of Problematising reality – Encounters between art and philosophy is a partnership between CAM / Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, IFILNOVA (CineLab) / FCSH / UNL and Maumaus / Lumiar Cité. This is a series of six discussion sessions and four seminars taking place at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, focusing on the moment when art and philosophy establish productive dialogues, proposing diverse approaches to contemporary thought.

Prompted by the screening of Salam Cinema by filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the fifth session of the Encounters brings together researcher Esther Leslie and visual artist Jihan El Tahri in a reflection on art as a place of expression for silenced experiences and identities. In 1995, in connection with the celebrations of cinema’s centenary, Makhmalbaf, a leading figure in the new wave of Iranian cinema, decided to make a film, placing an ad in the press to hire a hundred actors and actresses. Around 5,000 people turn up for the auditions, which led to riots and various accidents and mishaps. During the auditions, candidates expressed their love of cinema while commenting on the concerns, ambitions, and contradictions that govern their daily lives, such as women made invisible by political power. Ultimately, this eulogy to cinema, which premièred internationally at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995, straddles the fine line between fiction and documentary to reveal the potential of film as a means of communicating and revealing silenced realities, particularly in societies where freedom of expression is restricted.

To talk about the themes evoked by the film, we invited Jihan El Tahrit, who has worked on the identities of the modern African and Arab worlds, and Esther Leslie, whose research has explored art’s response to liberating revolutionary situations and its instrumentalisation by authoritarian regimes.

Esther Leslie (UK) is Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research has focused on Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, Nazi cinema and photography and Stalinist Socialist Realism. Her books include The Rise and Fall of Imperial Chemical Industries: Synthetics, Sensism and the Environment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2023) and Dissonant Waves: Ernst Schoen and Experimental Sound in the Twentieth Century (with Sam Dolbear, Goldsmiths Press, 2023).

Jihan El Tahri (Egypt/France) is a filmmaker, visual artist, writer and producer. Her work has been presented in museums, biennials and other spaces, including Dak’Art (Dakar), Bamako Encounters, Centre Pompidou (Paris) and HKW-Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin). Her award-winning documentaries include Nasser (2015, premiered in the official selection of TIFF – Toronto International Film Festival), Behind the Rainbow (2008), Cuba, an African Odyssey (2007) and House of Saud (2004, nominated for an Emmy).

Session duration: 150 min. | +12 | Entry is free and limited to the number of seats available. Film spoken in Persian and subtitled in English and Portuguese; the discussion will be in English, with simultaneous translation to Portuguese.

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Partnership: CAM / FCG, IFILNOVA (CineLab) / FCSH / UNL, Maumaus / Lumiar Cité
Support: Ministério da Cultura / Direção-Geral das Artes, FCT — Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Câmara Municipal de Lisboa

Event supported by the Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e para a Tecnologia) of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science under the projects UIDB/00183/2020 and UIDP/00183/2020.