The Battle of Algiers Turns Fifty

On Film / Short Takes — Sep 8, 2016

Few political films have remained as incendiary or as relevant as Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, which opened in Italy on this day fifty years ago. Shot in the streets of Algiers with a ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy influenced by newsreels and cinema verité, this searing portrait of urban guerrilla warfare reconstructs key episodes in the Algerian struggle for independence from French colonial power. With a remarkable level of access to real-life participants in the anticolonial resistance—including National Liberation Front member Saadi Yacef, who coproduced the film—Pontecorvo presents a detailed chronicle of everyday violence, complete with accounts of the brutal tactics utilized by both the rebels and the counterinsurgency. The film’s perceived sympathy for the Algerian perspective resulted in its being banned in France, despite winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and garnering three Academy Award nominations.

Pontecorvo’s examination of the ethics and consequences of political violence has long been used as an instructional tool by the U.S. Department of Defense, and today the film continues to influence both cinema and politics. On the fiftieth anniversary of its theatrical release, and in anticipation of the premiere of a new restoration at the New York Film Festival, we’re celebrating its enduring influence on contemporary filmmakers with an excerpt from a program on our 2004 release, which features interviews with Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel, and Steven Soderbergh.


And in the below clip, Gillo Pontecorvo and Saadi Yacef discuss the making of the film: