[2016] Amateurs, stars and extras


An experimental documentary trilogy by Marwa Arsanios. Cinematographer: Karam Ghossein. Producer: Abla Khoury, Ginger Beirut. Supported by Doha Film Institute (Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar / 90” / Arabic with English subtitles)

Amateurs, Stars and Extras is a trilogy conceived as a video installation. It wants to think, through the medium of film, the production of images within a wider capitalist system of production and through mass media. It wants to look at filmmaking as a microcosm, with all its power dynamics, delving into the film and TV series industry (in Egypt and Lebanon) in order to explore questions of labor, economy and power relations within a crew. – The first film “Amateurs” uses casting as an apparatus that constructs fictional character. It invites amateur actors to perform a script; How does one identify to a character and try to perform it? – The second film “Stars” is embedded in the world of TV series and film sets, exploring filmmaking as an apparatus for the construction of the female image/role. How are social gestures, language, acting and gendered roles produced? Both films question the way roles are constructed within the industry of image making. The first one does so by building its own set and performing the apparatus of pre-production (casting) and the second one by entering an existing set and transforming its use (I embed myself in TV series and film sets). Both are also questioning the relation between language (text/script) and performance by giving the actors a script to perform. – The third film “Extras” will be working with extras from within the Egyptian film industry. I will invite them to perform the part of their favorite stars and their favorite roles. The film is concerned with materializing the desire, however unachievable, of entering the cinema industry in Egypt and becoming a celebrity. A desire that is produced by the image-making industry itself, and by a certain economy of production.


In Amateurs, the first film in the series, actors are invited to a casting call. Casting exercises take place on production set. Here, Amateur actors are invited to perform a poetic text that was scripted by a group of architects, artists and writers in 2007, tackling issues of labor, domestic work and the economy of gambling. The text uses wordplay to rethink the very meaning of vernacular words used in everyday parlance. The amateurs will be invited one after the other to read the text, playing parts of activists and socially engaged people that have a certain civic responsibility. What does activism mean for those amateurs who mostly come from a middle class background? Where does the line between playing and becoming stand? And how can playing a role trigger a certain social consciousness? How can the act of embodying a role or becoming someone affect a general social becoming? Or how can fictional roles inspire social change? To perform a revolutionary role for amateurs with a middle class background is a way of questioning the apparatus of production of this specific role of the activist.


Stars is the second installment in this film series. I follow stars on film and TV series sets. Most of the sets follow the middle class’s typical aspiration for a luxurious lifestyle: suburban villas, restaurants, SUVs and designer clothing. A lifestyle that audiences, crewmembers and actors themselves aspire towards. And a lifestyle that reproduces a certain class system, promotes a consumerism and the reproduction of gendered stereotypes. The stars rehearse their acts and repeat the same shots as if rehearsing a middle class aspiration, a certain middle class role. How do you build the role of the middle class? How do you become middle class? How do you construct the fiction of the middle class and the fiction for the middle class? Between rehearsed dialogues and silences, in the waiting moments, in-between shots, their speech act is distorted, cut out; it oscillates between speech and silence. One of the stars becomes my accomplice. I assign her roles she performs in the shooting set.   Amateurs is performing the revolutionary aspiration of the middle class whereas Stars is performing the aspiration of becoming middle class, the aspiration of keeping a certain order running. Amateurs pretends to disturb this order. The presence of amateurs actors on the star’s set becomes the only disturbing or revolutionary instance.


The third film “Extras” invites extras working in the Egyptian film industry, to perform their favorite stars and their favorite roles, and to re-enact their favorite role they have done as an extra, which is often a silent role. The project is concerned with incarnating a desire, however unachievable, to enter the cinema industry in Egypt and become a celebrity. The extras are often the first audiences on set and the people who wait the most. They are actors but at the same time spectators. Often, they do not have the right “looks” for the industry. The stereotypes of “beauty” being very specific in the industry, extras are needed for their silent presence. They are often necessary for the film but also unecessary for the plot. Who are the extras? How do they function in the industry? What is their relationship to the stars?


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