Elizabeth Fernea

Elizabeth W. Fernea (1927-2008) was a pathbreaking and influential writer and filmmaker whose work focused on the Middle East, particularly women and the family. Her last film, Living with the Past: Historic Cairo premiered at the Middle East Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco in 2001 (she was a past president of MESA). Funded by the Ford Foundation, this one-hour documentary is an intimate portrait of the neighborhood of Darb al-Ahmar, in the heart of the old city of Cairo.

Elizabeth Fernea produced five other documentaries, including A Veiled Revolution: Women and Religion in Egypt for Channel Four, London; and The Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians for PBS in America. She also worked as a writer and associate producer on two films for Granada International, Some Women of Marrakech and Saints and Spirits.

Fernea's latest book In Search of Islamic Feminism (Anchor/Doubleday) was called "a remarkable, stereotype-shattering, gender-bending study of Middle Eastern women" by Kirkus Reviews. An accessible account of travel and personal interviews with women in nine different countries, from Uzbekistan to Saudi Arabia, the work explores women's attitudes and reactions to their present and future.

Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village, her first book, published by Anchor/Doubleday in 1965 and still continuously in print, has been cited as one of the 500 "Great Books by Women" in a recent Penguin Readers Guide (1996). Newsweek magazine recently listed it as one of the ten best books to read about the Middle East since the September 11 crisis.

Fernea's films were selected for showing at the Margaret Mead Film Festival, American Museum of Natural History, New York; the Royal Anthropological Institute's International Ethnographic Film Festival in England; the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Utrecht University, Holland; and the Stockholm, Sweden Ethnographic Museum. The London Film Theatre presented a special showing of Women Under Seige, a portrait of women in a Palestinian refugee camp.

Before she died in 2008, Elizabeth Fernea was Professor Emeritus of English and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where she taught for 25 years and was one of the founders of the Women's Studies program.

Icarus Films is proud to distribute all of her films and to have done so for over 30 years. Discover more of our featured filmmakers.


Cairo is one of the few medieval cities in the world that remains relatively intact. This a portrait of Darb al-Ahmar, a neighborhood in the old city now facing a process of radical change.

Maysoon Pachachi | 2001 | 56 minutes | Color | English | English subtitles

Examines the effect of non-domestic work on five Egyptian women.

Marilyn Gaunt | 1982 | 26 minutes | Color

Explores the implications of an historic crossroads in Israeli-Palestinian relations - a process now in great jeopardy.

Elizabeth Fernea and Yaron Shemer | 1996 | 58 minutes | Color

Explores the personal dimensions of Islam during three religious events in Morocco.

Melissa Llewelyn-Davies | 1979 | 26 minutes | Color

Introduces grassroots organizations with very different perspectives on how to bring about a peaceful settlement to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Steven Talley | 1991 | 57 minutes | Color

Considers the possible reasons for modern Egyptian women's turn back to tradition.

Marilyn Gaunt | 1982 | 26 minutes | Color

Looks at the daily lives of six women in a besieged Palestinian refugee camp.

Marilyn Gaunt | 1982 | 26 minutes | Color