Cinema El-Fourn is a very unlikely name for an open-air film theater, but this is exactly what the new initiative from the Darb 1718 Contemporary Art and Cultural Center is called.
Located in Fustat, or the pottery area of Cairo, Darb has established itself as one of the city’s hottest new spaces for contemporary art by local and international talents.
The garden adjoining the Darb center was never used for screenings before. While watching an unplanned projection on the towering wall on its far side, Myriam Makhoul and Moataz Nasr, the founder and manager of Darb, realized how suitable it could be as a screen.
“In that instance, we said ‘let’s make it a cinema!’ says Makhoul, who along with Bahaa Talis, has been instrumental in converting the garden into a venue for screening films.
Throwing light on the choice of name, Makhoul says it was inspired by the old pottery kiln, or “fourn, that stood in the center of the garden. No longer used for firing pottery, the oven is used for sound installations or video projections so it was logical to name the cinema after it.
Cinema El-Fourn aims to provide independent filmmakers with an opportunity to showcase their work. But are there enough short films and documentaries in Egypt to warrant the foundation of the theater?
“There is no dearth of talent, asserts Makhoul; “Digital art is booming because of new cameras in the market, which lends the same quality to the films as the 35mm movies but there are not many places where the short films can be screened.
Elaborating further, she says that there is no focal point or hub that independent filmmakers can gravitate towards to bring to fruition their creativity – and Cinema El-Fourn intends to fill that gap, expanding to conduct workshops in screenplay writing, lighting and other aspects of filmmaking.
The inaugural screenings at Cinema El-Fourn were spread over three days – the first was dedicated to international short films from the French film festival Corto Del Med. Makhoul says that showing a number of animation offerings on the first day was deliberate since the art of animation is not well developed in Egypt, despite the availability of the requisite equipment and creativity.
Through the exhibition of different kinds of animation films including stop-motion, 2D and 3D, Darb attempted to demystify the use of animation in filmmaking. The choice to screen non-Egyptian films on the first day was intended to expose Egyptian filmmakers to international trends in filmmaking, added Talis, “to get them thinking out of their box.
The second and the third day were dedicated to Egyptian documentaries and fiction films, the most notable of which were “26 seconds in Pakistan by indie maverick Ibrahim El-Batout and “Ramses the Car by Rami Abdul Jabbar.
This is just the beginning of many things to come. Makhoul intends to archive all short movies and documentaries in Egypt and hold weekly screenings, based on a theme followed by a discussion. She also plans to send the exceptionally well-made films to film festivals.
Encouraged by the response to the initiative, Makhoul hopes to take on additional space so that Cinema El-Fourn can accommodate more than its current capacity of 100 people. As in most cases, the possibilities are only limited by the availability of funds.
Describing their vision for Cinema El-Fourn as the “Kaaba of independent filmmaking, Talis dreams of transforming the venue into a place where independent filmmakers, aspiring or otherwise, can get information and advice on making, archiving or screening. It also aims to create a platform to discuss and debate various aspects of digital filmmaking.
There is a long way to go for this dream to be realized. In the meantime, picture this: Orange bean bags on green grass. Open skies for a roof. Blankets and hot drinks to keep you warm on cold winter evenings. A huge screen to enjoy some beautifully made films. Sound interesting? Head to Cinema El-Fourn.