Cinema Regarding Nations

The research on which this site is based originated with a PhD thesis completed in September 2007. It is published here as a resource for use by other researchers.

The tabbed sections below provide brief commentaries on each of the major sections and serve as a top-level annotated index. The text itself is available as a set of Adobe PDF files which may be downloaded using the links provided. All downloads open in a new window (or Tab if you enable Tabs on your browser).

If you wish to quote from this work, please use the following citation:

Kennedy, Tim. 2007. “Cinema Regarding Nations: Re-imagining Armenian, Kurdish, and Palestinian national identity in film”. PhD Thesis, Department of Film, Theatre, and Television at the University of Reading, U.K.

The body of the thesis consists of three case studies, each split into two chapters. These include detailed textual analysis of a number of key films, relating them to the social and political context of each nation.

The complete thesis is available from this link: Download (3.7 Mb).


  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Case Studies
  • Conclusions
  • References

The thesis examines how film contributes to the collection of visual images and narratives that enables a community to imagine itself as a nation. It focuses on three such communities, the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Palestinians, who have been (or remain) stateless. It argues that, in the face of external threats, stateless nations and their diasporas require repeated re-imagining to ensure their continued existence. A starting point for the study is that cinema is an important site for this re-imagining in the way that it continually highlights concerns with national identity.

Using a diverse collection of film in each case, the analysis identifies national themes, key symbols, and formal structures employed by film-makers to depict these nations. The films are categorised by means of the concept of "cinema regarding nations", that is they are specifically about the respective nations. Through this categorisation, the thesis contributes to national cinema studies by facilitating the critical examination of a body of work which otherwise remains fragmented.

The study is comparative and uses a combination of textual and contextual analysis that enables the films from each case to be related to their political and social circumstances. The cases represent nations with arguably widely different origins, from the "historic" Armenians to the more "modern" Palestinians. Thus, the thesis also contributes to the debate in studies of national identity and nationalism between those who argue the nation is a modern political invention and those who argue that cultural roots are essential for the formation and persistence of nations. It reveals the relationship of the historical processes of nation formation and the persistence of national identity over time to their representation in film.

To download the front papers and table of contents, select the link Front Papers (1.3 Mb).

Chapter 1, "Cinema, State, and Nation", begins by examining the relationship between cinema and the state with particular reference to the literature on National Cinema Studies. It then focuses on alternative categorisations of film embodied in the concept of Oppositional Cinema, and introduces alternative ways of analysing films for their socio-political content through "accents", "key symbols", and "themes".

The second part of the Introduction, "Perspectives on the Nation", continues with a more detailed investigation of the meaning of the nation and national identity when applied to stateless nations and diasporas, pulling out the debates that can be explored productively through film.

It draws on previous theoretical analyses but specifically connects these arguments to cinema. Using these ideas, the case for an analysis of film based on isolating key symbols embedded in the texts is elaborated. The Introduction concludes with the definition of a set of themes that frame the subsequent examination of groups of films.

To download chapters 1 and 2, select the Introduction (284 Kb).

The Armenians

Chapter 3 examines the work of the most prominent film-makers in the period when Armenia was a Republic of the USSR. Over this time, several distinct phases of film-making are identified that reflect changes of the political mood in Moscow: from an attempt to re-vitalise national culture while at the same time modernising (1923-35), through repression (1935-56), to a new national awakening (1956-90). Chapter 4, on the other hand, is concerned with cinema from the Armenian diaspora, again splitting the work into phases: a period characterised by suppression and concealment (1915-65), followed by a national cultural resurgence in the 1970s and 80s, and then a period of deep introspection on the meaning of Armenian identity.

To download chapters 3 and 4, select the Armenian Case Study (1 Mb).

The Kurds

Chapter 5 focuses on Turkey the only country (of the four that are home to the Kurds) where important cinematic activity regarding the Kurdish community occurred before the 1980s. Much of the analysis centres on the work of Yilmaz G├╝ney and the struggle of the Kurds for recognition. Chapter 6 is more wide-ranging, looking at oppositional Turkish cinema since the early 1980s as well as the growing interest in cinema about the Kurds from Iraq and Iran, and the diaspora. It reveals the development of a Kurdish identity that transcends the notion of borders.

To download chapters 5 and 6, select the Kurdish Case Study (1.2 Mb).

The Palestinians

Chapter 7 begins with an analysis of the effects of Zionist propaganda film and anti-Arab Hollywood films on the articulation of Palestinian identity. It discusses the beginnings of a counter-narrative in the Palestinian "revolutionary cinema" of the 1960s and 70s which created a space in which Palestinian identity could be re-asserted. It concludes by identifying tensions within Palestinian society revealed in the work of a new generation of film-makers from the early 1980s. Chapter 8 focuses on the period after the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation since when film-makers have contributed significantly to the discourse of resistance.

To download chapters 7 and 8, select the Palestinian Case Study (1.3 Mb).

The case studies compare and contrast the way the development and survival of each nation has been represented and relate this to their particular historical context. The conclusion, Chapter 9, brings together various threads of the arguments to address the key questions laid out in the Introduction:

The thesis does not attempt to give an exhaustive account of the totality of film about each of the case study nations; space limited it primarily to examining narrative, some documentaries, and a few experimental films or "film art". 'Popular' film - including a wide range of musicals, comedy, and animation, each of which could claim to provide valid representations of national identity - had to be excluded

Similarly, there is no attempt to analyse all the possible interpretive frameworks that might be used to dissect national identity in film. However, the thesis avoids restrictive conventional approaches that concentrate, for example, only on the work of auteurs, "movements", genres, or "great works", relying instead on the broad framework of cinema regarding nations. The study suggests there is scope for further work on the representation of national identity in the cinema, especially the cinema regarding stateless nations and diasporas, which is the focus of this website.

To download chapter 9, select Conclusions (93 Kb).


The bibliography contains references to all the texts discussed in the thesis. These references are also available in the Resources section, as a data file which may be loaded into a bibliographic tool such as Endnote.

To download the bibliography, select Bibliography (150 Kb).


The filmography is split into two sections, Key Films and Additional Films. These references. and a wider range of material on films and filmmakers, are available in the Resources section.

To download the filmography, select Filmography (130 Kb).