Born in Algiers, Merzak Allouache grew up during the Algerian struggle for independence. He studied filmmaking at Paris's celebrated IDHEC, and quickly moved on to directing feature films, documentaries, and television programs. Omar Gatlato (1976), his first feature film, set in the neighborhood of Bab el-Oued in Algiers, was such a success that it changed the course of Algerian cinema.
In 1994 Merzak returned to this same neighborhood to film Bab el-Oued City. The film captured the beginnings of the civil war that was then spreading across Algeria. Bab el-Oued City garnered the International Critics' Prize at Cannes in 1994, as well as the grand prize at the Arab Film Festival in Paris.
Merzak's other films include Adventures of a Hero/Aventures d'un heros (1978), The Man Who Watched Windows/L'Homme qui regardait les fenêtres (1982), and A Love in Paris/Un amour à Paris (1988). In 1989 he made Following October/L'après-octobre, a documentary about the riots that took place in the suburbs of Paris in 1988.
2005 recipient of the eighth Genevieve McMillan and Reba Stewart Fellowship for Distinguished Filmmaking